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Jim Parsons is king of cable: The Big Bang Theory dominates ratings, rescues TBS

Jim Parsons is king of cable: The Big Bang Theory dominates ratings, rescues TBS

With endless reality shows about cakes, pawn stars, weddings, Housewives and Cajuns doing dirty jobs, you might think original programming on cable is taking over where reruns once dominated.

Well, the joke's on you. Or as Sheldon Cooper (Houston's own Jim Parsons) might say, bazinga.

The Big Bang Theory is now the No. 1 rated show in syndication in the coveted 18-49 demographic, and its dominance on TBS's primetime schedule, with the network airing 18 episodes a week, has led TBS to the top spot among 18-49 year-olds for the first quarter of 2012. It's the first time since 2006 that USA has not won the winter quarter.

According to Vulture, Big Bang Theory is the most-watched comedy in cable, period — that's against reruns and original programming alike — averaging three million views per episode. It even beats popular cable shows like South Park and Archer, and Big Bang Theory reruns occasionally get more views than network shows airing at the same time.

The huge numbers explain why TBS paid a record $1.5 million per episode for the exclusive cable syndication rights in 2010. With Big Bang Theory blanketing the primetime schedule, TBS viewers under 50 have skyrocketed 37 percent from just over 880,000 in winter 2011 to 1.2 million this quarter.

It's not a matter of a network spending on reruns instead of developing original content. Instead, as Vulture explains, the two often go hand in hand.

Indeed, USA's impressive roster of breezy crime dramas were birthed on the back of countless repeats of the CBS drama NCIS; before that, TNT was the Nielsen champ because of its endless loop of Law & Order repeats, which provided fertile lead-in soil to grow The Closer into a game-changing hit. Even critically beloved nets use acquisitions to boost the bottom line: Reruns of Lorre's Two and a Half Men and CBS's How I Met Your Mother have been key to FX's prime-time fortunes."

"We wanted to build a lineup around the tent-poles of Conan, Big Bang, and Family Guy," TBS programming head Michael Wright told Vulture. In addition to Conan O'Brien's late-night talk show, TBS is debuting two original sitcoms this summer.

Men At Work, starring Danny Masterson, appears to be a Sex & The City for dudes, answering the question "What if Carrie Bradshaw had a beard and a bad breakup instead of a computer and a fabulous wardrobe?" Later in the summer, comedian Steve Byrne will star in Sullivan & Son, about a half-Korean Wall Streeter who returns to Pittsburgh to take over his parents' Irish bar.

Can The Big Bang Theory translate into new comedy hits for TBS? It's a tall order for Sheldon Cooper's skinny jeans.