Tina Fey blasts TV comedies off endangered species list

Veteran producer Bob Daily says it might be too early to take the sitcom off the Do Not Resuscitate list, but he’s cautiously optimistic about the state of half hour comedies.

“I think shows like 30 Rock and The Office are as good as anything from the genre’s so-called Golden Age,” Daily, the Emmy-award winning writer/executive producer of Frasier and Desperate Housewives, says. “The question is, are the networks committed to putting more half-hour comedies on the air? It doesn’t seem like it. The only way to get more hits is to give writers more trips to the plate.”

The broadcast networks haven’t allowed much shelf space to comedies in the last decade, when they flooded the schedules with tepid sitcoms. When those shows fell flat, the window began to close. That could change in a year where Tina Fey has shot to the top of the Google search engine with her dead-on impersonation of Sarah Palin and an Emmy for 30 Rock, which premieres online Oct. 23 on Hulu in advance of the network premiere of 30 Rock at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 30 on NBC.

Because of the writers strike, more than a few series were given a chance at a second season, leading to series like The Big Bang Theory and
Samantha Who?
to grow into solid comedies while returning shows like How I Met Your Mother remain buzz-worthy.

“One thing that’s happening, now that there are so few sitcoms on the air, is that show runners are able to assemble writing staffs that are comic all-star teams — chock full of writers with great credits and a lot of awards on their shelves,” Daily says. “I think that a decade ago, when sitcoms ruled the networks, the writing talent was stretched a little thin. Not anymore. And that bodes well for today’s shows.”

With the ratings success of SNL Weekend Update on Thursday, and the presidential debates, as well as the economic fears most Americans face right now, it would seem the time is ripe for networks to re-examine their schedules.

“I believe the economy will bring people back to comedy, but not just any comedy,” Mike Schiff (3rd Rock From the Sun, Grounded for Life) says. “If you watch an old All in the Family today, it’s still compelling not because Archie says outrageous things, but because those four characters are so true to themselves that you believe them utterly and want to see how they’ll react to a given situation.”

Schiff says these years are just as charged politically from an unpopular war and as troubled economically as the early 1970s when All in the Family reigned.

“Isn’t it time for comedies to reflect this reality? I believe people are inclined to turn to comedy in these troubled times, but only if we are smart and courageous (in making the shows),” Schiff says. “(The shows) don’t have to be political, just more concerned with the way real humans interact and less concerned with turns of phrase that they can print in Entertainment Weekly.”

The fact remains that although the half-hour comedies are getting creatively stronger, only Two and a Half Men consistently makes it into the Nielsen top-10. But
producer Bill Lawrence, who moves his comedy from NBC to ABC midseason, says he thinks these are exciting times for comedies on network television.

“It’s both a great time and scary time,” Lawrence says. “If you do a show that finds a core audience that will support it, you’ll have a chance to survive.”

And thrive?

“Mark my words,” Lawrence says with a smile. “This is the year Scrubs is a huge hit. Year 8.”

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