Broadcast Offers Clues for Cablers New to ComedyCable networks look for their own brand of 'Modern Family' or 'New Girl' success 11/14/2011 12:01:00 AM Eastern
The breakout success this fall
of female comedies 2 Broke Girls and
New Girl and the continued success of
family sitcoms led by Modern Family is already
influencing early development at the broadcast
networks through projects such as a vehicle for
comedian Sarah Colonna and a family comedy
from Ryan Murphy, both bought by NBC.
And as more cable networks start to aggressively
develop original comedies, it’s
seeming likely that those trends of family
and friendship sitcoms will manifest on cable
in some way. This is especially true for nets
new to the comedy genre—albeit filtered
through each cabler’s brand.
USA is perhaps the most high-profile network
getting into the comedy game, and
repeat-laden Nick at Nite just greenlit its
first original comedy. Even AMC has been
making noise about developing in the
space. TV Land continues to launch comedies
following the success of Hot in Cleveland, and TBS
is aggressively looking for more half-hour originals to
prop up late-night talker Conan.
“There are more cable entities that are looking to do
comedy than ever before,” says Lindsay Howard, VP, television
literary at the agency APA. “And a lot of that is because
of the success of comedy on primetime networks.”
This development comes in part because successful
network comedies from recent years are starting
to make their way into cable syndication. TBS, which
started to strip The Big Bang Theory three nights a week
this fall, is making the Chuck Lorre comedy a central
part of its strategy going forward.
“It will likely serve as lead-in to whatever original
comedies we put on, so we’re also looking for something
that’s tonally compatible with that show,” says
Michael Wright, executive VP and head of programming
for TBS, TNT and TCM.
Wright sees the tone of Big Bang as sharp, smart, contemporary
and unafraid to be a little optimistic. And he
thinks he has a similar show in Sullivan & Son, a pilot
from Rob Long about a New York corporate attorney who
returns home to Pittsburgh to take over the family bar.
USA, which will start to air the off-network Modern
Family in fall 2013, has already greenlit two half-hour
pilots, including a family comedy with Nathan
Lane attached about an unlucky actor
who puts his Broadway ambitions on hold
to return to his Texas hometown when his
father becomes ill.
“We were able to adapt the procedural
one-hour and make it our own,” says Bill
McGoldrick, senior VP, original scripted programming
at USA. “I don’t see why we can’t do the same thing
with a family or an office comedy, or any of the sort of
basic genres in comedy.”
While USA’s primary focus is developing comedies
to launch behind Modern Family, McGoldrick says he’s
keeping an eye on the female comedies working so well
on broadcast this fall—and he’s hardly the only one.
“Nine out of 10 phone calls you make right now, and
you say to somebody, broadcast or cable, what are you
looking for, they all say we want stuff like New Girl or
2 Broke Girls,” Howard says.
The story is different for a network like FX, which
has already established itself in the comedy space and
built a distinct comedic voice through veteran series It’s
Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
“We’ve already built up this strong comedy brand,”
says Nick Grad, executive VP of original programming
for FX. “What the networks put on is not
at all remotely close to what our brand is.”
But even FX will have a familiar broadcast
star on its channel next year with the acquisition
of the Charlie Sheen vehicle Anger
Management. TV Land execs, who also look
for veteran sitcom stars to front their series,
may have more competition as names such
as Tim Allen and possibly Roseanne Barr return
to scripted TV.
Keith Cox, TV Land executive VP of development
and original programming, says
it’s ultimately good for everyone involved that comedy
is back in a big way.
“In a world where there’s more comedy, there’s more
shows; more shows, there’s more writers on staff; and
then those people will go up through the system,” Cox
says. “When there were fewer comedies, there were just
fewer people to develop with.”
And despite competition from more networks, seeing
comedy bounce back on broadcast ultimately encourages
cablers who are preparing to throw their hat in the
ring for the first time.
“I would be worried if we were two or three years
behind the curve, but it feels like we’re right within the
curve here,” McGoldrick says. “That definitely validates
the decision for us to get into this.”