Saturday, November 27, 2010

Return of the Sitcom: Laughs are back on track and on networks' schedules

Sofia Vergara Ed O'Neill  and Rico Rodriguez shine on ABC's 'Modern Family.'
Sofia Vergara Ed O'Neill and Rico Rodriguez shine on ABC's 'Modern Family.'

With the prime-time television battle becoming ever more challenging, broadcast executives may be quietly rethinking one of their oldest weapons: the sitcom.
Over the past two decades broadcast networks slowly relegated sitcoms to one night a week, a somber comedown for a genre that once dominated prime time.
As late as 1970, CBS had at least one prime-time sitcom every night. A dozen years later, every network still had three nights of sitcoms.
In recent years, though, ABC, CBS, Fox andNBC have built prime time around cheaper reality shows and "procedural dramas," mostly involving doctors, lawyers and cops.
Those shows have been deemed the most reliable tactic for slowing viewer defections to cable, TiVoNetflixFacebook and the exploding world of alternatives to broadcast TV.
But in a year when broadcast networks have scored exactly zero new breakout hits, the sitcom seems to be getting another look.
NBC just announced a midseason shakeup that turns all of Thursday night over to sitcoms: "Community" at 8, the new "Perfect Couples" at 8:30, "Parks and Recreation" at 9, "The Office" at 9:30, "30 Rock" at 10 and "Outsourced" at 10:30.
As an act of TV programming boldness, that's like running naked around the block.
The last time a broadcast network programmed sitcoms until 11 o'clock was 1991 — two years before NBC found its Thursday night "must-see TV" model: sitcoms 8-10, then "ER."
These days, in the wake of the  10 o'clock Jay Leno wreckage, NBC is looking to more sitcoms.
In addition to "Perfect Couples," NBC has two more ready to step in: "Friends With Benefits" and a new Paul Reiser show.
"We almost felt we had enough to open another hour" at the start of this season, said NBC president of prime-time entertainment Angela Bromstad. "We would love to be able to open another night of comedy."
While NBC was considering that second night, CBS launched one. It moved "The Big Bang Theory" to Thursdays as a lead-in for William Shatner's "$#*! My Dad Says" and dropped the new "Mike and Molly" into a Monday sitcom bloc anchored by "Two and a Half Men."
Both nights, so far, are doing reasonably well, though the Shatner show is losing several million "Big Bang" viewers.
Fox, which has a sitcom gold mine of sorts with its Sunday animation bloc, launched two real-people sitcoms this fall with "Raising Hope," which has been modestly successful, and "Running Wilde," which tanked. It tries two more early next year: "Mixed Signals," which replaces "Wilde," and "Breaking In," which will follow "American Idol" starting in April. 

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