Lack of Sitcom Hits Is No Laughing Matter

Stations and cable networks cross fingers for next big thing
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palbiniak@gmail.com | @PaigeA

TV is facing yet another sitcom drought. Not since ABC’s Modern Family launched in 2009 has a sitcom broken out in a major way. In 2011, Fox’s New Girl and CBS’ 2 Broke Girls seemed to be headed in that direction, but both have since fallen to earth. Out of last year’s class, only Fox’s The Mindy Project and ABC’s The Neighbors were renewed for a second season. And while critics have taken a shine to Mindy, that’s not so much the case with The Neighbors.

In an attempt to rectify that problem, the broadcast TV networks this fall launched 13 new sitcoms—with one more, Fox’s Enlisted, to premiere in January. So far, none are breaking out. CBS is seeing some momentum with The Crazy Ones on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. (behind TV’s biggest scripted hit, The Big Bang Theory) and with The Millers at 9:30 p.m. on Thursdays. But even those shows have a ways to go before they can be considered big hits ready to command huge license fees.

“CBS basically moved its success from Monday to Thursday,” says an industry executive, noting that Thursday nights, which take viewers into the weekend, are a more lucrative advertising night than Mondays. “They may have done it a year too early though, because now they’ve sacrificed Mondays in exchange for that success.”

“It’s really Big Bang Theory, Modern Family and then there’s everyone else,” says Brad Adgate, director of research, Horizon Media, sizing up the comedy landscape.

With the last major hit sitcom premiering four years ago and now in syndication, TV stations and cable networks have to be wondering what they can fill their comedy coffers with next.

Timing Is Everything

For the moment, TV stations aren’t too worried. Fox owns both The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, and its stations do not expect to be in the market for new sitcoms for a while. Tribune stations have backed away from sitcoms in favor of first-run programming—particularly Arsenio Hall in late night. But Arsenio is languishing at a 0.7 liveplus- same-day household rating, and its return isn’t guaranteed. That might force Tribune back into the sitcom business—eventually.

CBS’ December 2011 purchase of duopoly station WLNY New York brought that station group into the sitcom game in major markets. In June 2012, the group took Warner Bros. up on its pair of offerings: 2 Broke Girls and Mike & Molly, which will premiere in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

Mike & Molly just returned to CBS’ nowstruggling Monday-night lineup in the 9 p.m. hour, replacing 2 Broke Girls, which moved back to 8:30 p.m. Mike & Molly premiered Nov. 4 at a 2.6 liveplus- same-day rating among adults 18-49, down from last fall but up nearly 40% from its season finale in May.

TV stations didn’t pay much for either show, but TBS did pay approximately $1.7 million per episode for 2 Broke Girls, assuring that the network is keeping a close watch on its performance.

Perhaps, some suggest, it’s an indication that TV station executives know better than to place their fates in someone else’s hands.

“We resigned ourselves to this situation a long time ago,” one station exec says. “To think that we are going to be able to sitcom our way to anything is absolutely crazy.”

palbiniak@gmail.com | @PaigeA

TV is facing yet another sitcom drought. Not since ABC’s Modern Family launched in 2009 has a sitcom broken out in a major way. In 2011, Fox’s New Girl and CBS’ 2 Broke Girls seemed to be headed in that direction, but both have since fallen to earth. Out of last year’s class, only Fox’s The Mindy Project and ABC’s The Neighbors were renewed for a second season. And while critics have taken a shine to Mindy, that’s not so much the case with The Neighbors.

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