6 Shows Saved by First-Run Syndication

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One little-known adage in the world of TV sitcoms is "when the networks hand you lemons, there's always first-run syndication." Occasionally, when a series fails to land a place on the network schedule, there is someone on the production staff who believes in the project enough (or who has a well-placed relative at a UHF station) that it finds a home in first-run syndication. Here are six examples.

1. She's the Sheriff

She's the Sheriff (1987-89) was a major slice of humble pie for Suzanne Somers. After spending several years on magazine covers and posters as a result of her success on Three's Company, she found herself almost blacklisted after a salary dispute. Not only was she shown the door, the Three's Company legal team also invoked a "cease and desist" order that essentially prevented Somers from accepting any roles that even remotely resembled Chrissy Snow. The major networks were reluctant to get involved in a potentially sticky situation, and the series offers that had been flooding her manager's office were quietly rescinded. Desperate for work, Somers signed on for She's the Sheriff, in which her character inherits Lakes County, Nevada's most important law enforcement position after the death of her husband.

2. Small Wonder

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Small Wonder always seems to rate tops on "bottom" lists, but the show had a four-year run (1985-89), so someone must have been watching it. Tiffany Brissette was suitably mechanical in her portrayal of Vicki, the Voice Input Child Identicant built by her robotics engineer father. Much of the humor was based on the fact that Vicki was incapable of emotion and interpreted most commands literally (a schtick Get Smart's Hymie the Robot had already done to death). Tiffany Brissette eventually left the business and took up distance running. She has successfully placed in many marathons over the years, and is now in nursing school.

3. Out of This World

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Out of This World aired from 1987-1991 and was one of many "aliens on Earth" sitcoms of that era. In this case, 13-year-old Evie Garland was the offspring of an Earthling mother (Saturday Night Fever's Donna Pescow) and an unseen father from the planet Antareus. Evie communicated with dad via an illuminated cube similar to those decorative lights available at Spencer Gifts. Dad's voice was provided by Burt Reynolds, who was in the midst of a "between Smokey and the Bandit Part 3 and Evening Shade" career lull.

4. Madame's Place

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Madame's Place only ran for one season, but it seemed much longer because, unlike most sitcoms, it was filmed to air five episodes per week. The star of the show was ventriloquist Wayland Flowers' sarcastic diva puppet, Madame. The series used an arsenal of attention-getting devices: Madame's bawdy humor, celebrity guest stars on the talk show-within-a-show, and a scantily clad Landers sister, but it was usually banished to a late-night time slot in most markets and was never able to develop a large audience base.

5. Mama's Family

Mama's Family started out on NBC but was canceled in 1984 after one season. Lorimar Telepictures saw some potential in the series, however, and the show returned in syndicated form from 1986 through 1990. Rue McClanahan and Betty White were regulars during the NBC season but were unavailable for the syndicated version thanks to some other show they got involved with called The Golden Girls. Mama's Family was actually inspired by this classic skit on The Carol Burnett Show; it was supposed to be a one-off, but was so well-received that it turned into a recurring bit:

6. Charles in Charge

charles-in-chargeWho didn't want Charles in Charge of them? The answer is CBS apparently, since the network canned the series after one season in 1985. But Scott Baio still had enough of the teen idol vibe left over from his Happy Days stint that he was able to carry this show for an additional four years in syndication. The Pembroke Family, which had employed Charles as a babysitter during the show's first season, moved to Seattle and sublet their home to the Powells. The Powell patriarch was in the military and consequently spent most of his time away from home, which gave Charles an excuse to continue to live downstairs rent-free. Apart from giving Meg Ryan one of her earliest TV appearances, Charles in Charge also afforded Baio the opportunity to get his feet wet as a director (which he did under the name "Scott Vincent Baio" in order to assert his Seriousness Credentials.)
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Let's see who is brave enough to admit that they watched She's the Sheriff just to see Suzanne in uniform, or that they know all the words to the Charles in Charge theme song.

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November 19, 2009 - 8:14am
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