Could one ‘Good Wife’ marry CBS and Netflix? Here’s why it should

Behind every successful woman... (Amazon)

The personal is political, and vice versa, for the hard-working women and men of The Good Wife. After three seasons of masterfully blending the procedural and the serial, it’s time for this show to cash in with an off-network syndication deal.

It’s a well-written, engaging, critically acclaimed show with an all star cast. It’s topical, culturally relevant, and unafraid to assail the hypocrisy of human nature, especially in matters of gender politics, capitalism, and public policy.

But there’s a twist: it’s too serial and not procedural enough that standalone episodes make good repeat viewing. CBS has been quick to sub in reality shows or other programming instead of TGW reruns. This problem could explain why no cable network has jumped in to acquire the show for syndication. Though it likely wouldn’t begin airing until 2013, it’s standard practice for buyers to snap up popular shows years before they make their syndicated debuts.

One benefit of these deals is they ensure the continued production of new episodes, because the studio knows they have a deal in place to make their investment back. For serialized shows, there’s one place in particular that’s become a popular landing strip: Netflix.

In recent weeks, baby network The CW struck deals with streaming services Netflix and Hulu to provide all its shows a non-exclusive home after their initial broadcasts. This solves a problem for The CW, as Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva explains:

“[T]he CW airs serialized young-skewing dramas. They don’t repeat well, leading to stretches of dismal ratings for the network with no originals and generating virtually no syndication value for the CW co-owners CBS and Warner Bros….”

This flies in the face of CBS CEO Leslie Moonves’ long-held belief that offering episodes of currently airing network shows hurts not only their syndication value but also their profitability during their initial runs. If viewers can choose to stream episodes, commercial-free in the case of Netflix, what incentive do they have to tune in? There’s an argument to be made that it’s no coincidence that CBS has been so profitable in recent years.

But this CW deal shows that maybe Moonves is willing to make deals on a case-by-case basis, if the price is right. And there’s precedent for a well-regarded, stylish, serialized workplace drama being sold to Netflix via offnet syndication. It happened this year with Mad Men.

Facing similar concerns about the more traditional cable or broadcast syndication outlets, Lions Gate took Mad Men to a place where new audiences and old fans could consume the show at their own pace, while still commanding in the neighborhood of $1 million per episode in an exclusive deal. That’s a fair price, and it’s on par with what the show was likely to command if it found a cable suitor instead.

Netflix is coming off of the darkest days in its history, having taken a drubbing from customers, investors, and the press over its recent pricing changes. But it’s got a long-term game plan with new or renewed content deals for The CW, ABC, and NBC Universal, and the launch of its first original acquisition, House of Cards, in 2012.

As Andreeva points out in that same analysis:

The broadcast network business was built on close-ended procedurals that repeat well to allow nets to maintain stable ratings levels throughout the year and producing studios to sell those shows in broadcast and especially cable syndication for top dollar. Then streaming services like Netflix came along where serialized dramas whose syndication value is almost non-existent are far more attractive.

CBS will likely renew The Good Wife for a fourth season when May 2012 rolls around. The show’s ratings aren’t great, but its prestige is worth having around. And it’s a much easier sell when the network, which has a financial stake in the show, knows it can expect to make its money back. Mr. Moonves, if no cable suitors are forthcoming, and it appears they aren’t, why not cut a deal with your new friends at Netflix?

There’s nothing wrong with procedurals and sitcoms; they’re the bread and butter of the business. That’s why syndication models are designed around them. But shows like Mad Men and The Good Wife are a meatier meal best enjoyed on demand, and platforms like Netflix give them an opportunity to be profitable, which means many happy returns for content owners, distributors, and consumers. It’s win-win.

THE GOOD WIFE season 3
Sundays, 9p/8c, CBS

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