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April 24, 2014

The Sitcom Completes Its Comeback This Fall

by Joel Keller, posted Aug 23rd 2010 3:33PM
Mike & MollyI've never been one of those people who felt that the half-hour sitcom, especially the multicamera format that is shot live in front of a studio audience, was dead. Sure, through most of the decade of the '00s, networks seemed to concentrate on developing dramas and single-camera comedies, and by the latter half of the decade, even the number of single-camera comedies had dwindled.

But, like most eras that saw a dearth of comedy development, I always felt that the format was just hibernating, waiting for a show to come along to shock it back into existence. In the '70s, it was 'All in the Family.' In the '80s, it was 'The Cosby Show.' In the '90s, it was 'Seinfeld' and 'Friends.'

In 2010, the sitcom has come all the way back from near-death to cultural and ratings prominence. And you have Chuck Lorre and 'The Big Bang Theory' to thank for that.

When CBS decided to move its best-rated sitcom out of its Monday comfort zone to lead off a new night of comedy on Thursdays, you knew that networks were banking on sitcoms again. CBS hasn't led off Thursdays with comedies in decades, and NBC already had a well-regarded but only moderately-watched comedy block established on that night. The fact that CBS was confident enough in 'Big Bang' to not only take on NBC but start a new comedy block at the same time shows that networks are investing in comedy again.

Then again, CBS never really got out of the sitcom business. Another Lorre production, 'Two and a Half Men,' had been the highest-rated comedy on TV for years until 'Big Bang' passed it by (but only slightly) this year. And they had witnessed the growth of 'How I Met Your Mother' over its five seasons, to the point where it gets both critical buzz and decent ratings.

With 'Big Bang,' though, they have both: a show that gets recapped and torn apart by bloggers, is lavished with love by critics like me, and a huge audience week after week. Which is why the seemingly bold move of moving the show to Thursday actually makes a lot of sense; they have a franchise show and there's an opportunity on Thursdays. I'd be shocked 'Big Bang' doesn't completely wipe the floor with the competition, including (unfortunately) 'Community' on NBC.

Other signs that the sitcom has come all the way back:

There are more new multicamera sitcoms this year than in a long time. OK, there are only three: '$#*! My Dad Says,' 'Mike & Molly,' 'Better With You.' But in general, we haven't seen more than one or two new multicamera shows debut in any particular season for a long time, and now we're getting three in one autumn. And the shows aren't being buried; the first two are high-profile additions to CBS's schedule -- part of why 'Big Bang' is being moved is to support the William Shatner-led '$@*!' -- and the third is being counted on to keep the momentum going on ABC's successful comedy block on Wednesdays.

There are more new comedies this fall in general. There are six new sitcoms being introduced this fall, with three others set for midseason (see below). That makes nine sitcoms developed in time for spring upfront season. The last time that happened, Jennifer Aniston was still considered a young ingenue.

People are looking forward to sitcoms more than dramas this fall. As I discussed a couple of weeks ago, the only drama among the top five most-anticipated shows this fall is 'Hawaii Five-O.' The rest are sitcoms. There's a buzz around even unproved comedies, something we haven't seen in ages.

ABC stuck with its Wednesday lineup, even when its 8PM show failed. 'Hank' was one of the quickest and most miserable failures of the 2009-10 season. But it had enough faith in 'The Middle,' 'Cougar Town' and 'Modern Family' to keep the lineup together. And, with 'Family''s success helping the other two shows, renewed all three early and established a comedy block to be reckoned with.

The last network that did that? Why, CBS, of course; they nurtured 'Everybody Loves Raymond' and moved it to Mondays after its first season. As that show went on to become a huge it, it allowed the incubation of other Monday hits like 'Men,' 'HIMYM' and 'Big Bang.'

The networks' comedy bench may be stronger than its starting lineup. NBC has 'Parks and Recreation' waiting in the wings to either fill in for 'Outsourced' or one of its other Thursday shows or to insert on another night. ABC's 'Mr. Sunshine' has Matthew Perry behind the scenes, using the time he has to improve on a mediocre pilot, and the alphabet net also has the surprisingly funny 'Happy Endings.' And if any of FOX's new sitcoms fail, the funny 'Mixed Signals' is waiting in the wings. And CBS has the fifth season of 'Rules of Engagement' ready to fill a spot (UPDATE: A kind reader reminded me that it's on the fall schedule. My mistake; I'm not used to seeing it there). Don't laugh; people watch the show, and that's all that matters.

Do you think the sitcom has come all the way back?

(Follow @joelkeller on Twitter.)

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iggy

"Rules" is on the Fall schedule, Monday at 8:30.

It's not true that "There are more new multicamera sitcoms this year than in a long time." There are 12 new sitcoms and 3 are multicamera. Last season, there were 9 new and 3 multicams (7 and 3 in 08-09, 8 and 2 in 07-08, 12 and 6 in '06-07.)

34 sitcoms ran on the Big 4 during the 2005-2006 season (only 9 survived). Next season, 22 sitcoms are slated to air. There's a long way to go before the sitcoms "come all the way back."

August 24 2010 at 12:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to iggy's comment
Joel Keller

You're right about Rules. I'll fix that. As far as the comedies / multicamera contention, I do joke that 3 isn't a lot. But my argument also states that the multicameras are being put in more prominent spots by the networks. They're being leaned on more heavily than in the recent past.

August 24 2010 at 11:43 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
JC Bonner

This looks like a good show.

August 23 2010 at 6:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tony DIMeo

I see it as a bad thing that the networks are debuting more multi-camera sictoms because its an outdated and really jaded format I wanna see more great single-camera comedies on Network TV I love all the comedies on NBC but other networks aren't doing well with that

August 23 2010 at 6:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John F.C. Taylor

Comeback? Really? A really far piece to go yet as far as I'm concerned. Can't think of any sitcom I watched on a regular basis after Who's The Boss left the air. Even then, I didn't watch the last season.

August 23 2010 at 5:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to John F.C. Taylor's comment
Dan

That's cause you're old. "Who's the Boss" was off the air in 1992. 18 years ago. After your precious "Who's the Boss" went off the air, we saw "Friends", "Frasier", "Seinfeld", "NewsRadio", "Spin City", "Home Improvement", "Martin", "Mad About You", "The Nanny", "The Drew Carey Show", "3rd Rock From the Sun", "Everybody Loves Raymond", "Just Shoot Me", "That '70s Show", "Will and Grace", and "The King of Queens". Those are the great sitcoms (some of them actually suck, but they were all loved) of the 1990s. If you think that sitcoms stopped being good when "Who's The Boss" ended, it's more of a reflection of your lack of a sense of humor or not having a TV, because if you didn't like at least two or three of those shows there was clearly something wrong on your end...

August 24 2010 at 2:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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