Why hasn’t Chicago Fire landed a syndication deal?

CHICAGO FIRE -- "The Grand Gesture" Episode 623 -- Pictured: Taylor Kinney as Kelly Severide -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Morris/NBC)
CHICAGO FIRE -- "The Grand Gesture" Episode 623 -- Pictured: Taylor Kinney as Kelly Severide -- (Photo by: Elizabeth Morris/NBC) /

Chicago PD has now been sold into syndication on four channels, so why hasn’t Chicago Fire been able to make it into the syndication market?

Reruns of Chicago PD have become big business for NBCUniversal. ION bought the rights to air repeats of the show this week—the third syndication deal that’s been struck for the show since last year.

By spring 2019, Chicago PD will be airing on four different channels every week, in addition to its first-run episodes on NBC.

Meanwhile, Chicago Fire continues to sit on the sidelines. Despite having passed the 100-episode minimum needed for syndication last season, having a season more episodes than PD to offer, and being the founding series of the One Chicago franchise, it doesn’t have a single syndication deal yet.

So what’s the hold-up? Why is one show making an impressive amount of extra money for Dick Wolf and Universal Television, while its predecessor has gone ignored?

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One possibility is that it could just come down to the premise. There’s a reason there are a lot of procedurals on TV—they’re a familiar format, something where audiences (and networks) generally know what they’re getting.

That’s a particular plus in syndication. Audiences can tune into a rerun of NCIS or the Law & Order shows, and they don’t have to know what’s going on or even all that much about the series itself.

They can watch any episode at any time, whether they want to binge-watch or just have something on in the background.

That, in turn, makes it a goldmine for networks because they can program those shows anywhere they need to fill holes on their schedule.

NBC’s sister channel USA runs entire afternoon blocks of NCIS and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. ION has done the same thing, devoting a specific day each week to marathons of shows like Criminal Minds, Cold Case and Law & Order.

While Chicago Fire is still in the same franchise as Chicago PD, and not that hard to follow either, it doesn’t immediately fall into one of those easy syndication boxes like a police procedural or one of the many medical dramas. Up until last season, it was the only firefighting drama on television.

Another consideration could be its first-run ratings. PD has been the most consistent of the three One Chicago shows, generally pulling in a stable audience every season, whereas Fire’s trajectory has had more ups and downs. Its ratings this past season were uneven at best. So it may not be as appealing from a numbers standpoint, when networks are looking for something to invest in.

Could that change in the future? Certainly. If Chicago PD does well in syndication, that would make its predecessor look more appealing.

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It’s also worth noting Chicago Med is more than halfway to 100 episodes after three seasons; if it gets renewed for another season or two and makes it to that mark, maybe someone finds the idea more attractive as a package deal and tries to snap up syndication rights to the whole franchise.

While it’s a bummer that Fire isn’t enjoying the secondary success that its spinoff is, there’s still hope for it in that outside market. It just hasn’t had the right criteria line up yet.

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