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In Attempt to Find Next Comedy Hit, Broadcast Networks Take Bigger Swings

by Paige Albiniak  |  09.01.2016

It’s no great secret that the broadcast networks have had a tough time developing new hit sitcoms, but yet they keep trying.

This season is no different, with a wide array of new shows joining network primetime line-ups. On one hand are those that hew to a more tried-and-true format, many of which will air on CBS: Kevin James’ Kevin Can Wait and Matt LeBlanc’s Man with a Plan, which will join The Odd Couple, starring LeBlanc’s old Friends co-star Matthew Perry as well as Chuck Lorre’s The Big Bang Theory and Mom.

But even CBS, the oldest-skewing of the broadcast networks, has been willing to experiment with comedy, with last year’s single-camera Life in Pieces its top-rated returning rookie comedy. And other networks are taking even bigger swings in an attempt to break out of the fray and keep up with cable, reports The New York Times’ Brooks Barnes.

For example, on Sept. 19 NBC will premiere The Good Place, starring Kirsten Bell and Ted Danson. The show, which features Bell as a less-than-good person who somehow finds herself in heaven, is something of an absurdist offering from Mike Schur. Schur is an experienced producer who has provided NBC with — if not hits — at least consistent performers in shows such as Parks & Recreation and The Office, which respectively saw stars Chris Pratt and Steve Carell move to movie A-lists.

The Times’ Barnes reports that “at least five comedies … break what has long been a cardinal broadcast-network rule: Go with what has worked before. Instead, as they try to break through the television glut, NBC, ABC and Fox are suddenly serving up audacious, almost experimental prime-time humor more in keeping with cable networks like FX and the risk-taking streaming services.”

Beyond The Good Place, Fox is offering Son of Zorn, starring the voice talent of Jason Sudeikis as an animated warrior trying to live in the live-action world as well as the promising mid-season time-travel entry, Making History. ABC has Imaginary Mary, starring Jenna Elfman as a woman with an imaginary friend voiced by Rachel Dratch, and Downward Dog, starring Fargo’s Alison Tolman as a woman with a talking pet. 

Such high-concept shows, as they are called, are nothing new — Robin Williams’ break-out series, Mork & Mindy, and ‘90s alien comedy Alf represented big successes from the genre — but they can be risky. Recent attempts have failed quickly, such as ABC’s The Muppets and Neighbors, or faded over time, such as Fox’s Last Man on Earth, which opened with a superlative pilot but has struggled with making the gimmick work over the long term.

Still, as Schur told the Times: “There are basically three kinds of comedies: workplace, family and other.”

Might as well give “other” a shot.

READ MORE: The New York Times

[Image courtesy of Brinson+Banks for The New York Times]

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