Changing Outlook For Sitcoms Post-'30 Rock'

With 30 Rock leaving the air, the sitcom again finds itself at a crossroads. Though acclaimed and award-winning, 30 Rock was never highly rated. Its end heralds a sitcom shift, particularly in NBC's long-running Thursday night block. Both Parks and Recreation and Community have cloudy futures, and the long-running The Office will finally end soon. Elsewhere, CBS's How I Met Your Mother, a studio audience vestige, is preparing its final season. But there are actually quite a lot of broadcast sitcoms running now, including The Big Bang Theory, Whitney, Happy Endings, 2 Broke Girls, The Mindy Project and the recently premiered and somewhat promising White House farce 1600 Penn.
By
Associated Press,

NEW YORK (AP) -- The void you're looking at on your DVR is the sitcom landscape post-"30 Rock."

When Tina Fey's bright, bouncy, irreverent showbiz send-up aired its last episode Thursday night, a light (Kenneth's toothy grin?) went out in broadcast television.

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"30 Rock" was not perfect: It sometimes spun its wheels and its writing was often too showy. But "30 Rock" was the clear sitcom heir to "Seinfeld," pushing comedy forward by fusing the relationship set-up of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" with the flashback jump-cutting of the single-camera "Arrested Development." Its snappy, joke-packed universe was both tightly controlled and capable of going anywhere - a fiction funhouse version of Fey's "Weekend Update" social satire. Oh, and it had Alec Baldwin.

With "30 Rock" leaving the air, the sitcom again finds itself at a crossroads. Though acclaimed and award-winning, "30 Rock" was never highly rated. Sitcom fans and creators alike can reasonably wonder that if such a show as "30 Rock" had trouble finding viewers, what chance do other quality sitcoms have?

At least since the resolutely cynical "Seinfeld" and the absurdist (and underrated) "NewsRadio," the sitcom has been self-reflexive, a parody of itself. Laugh tracks and simple sets before studio audiences gave way to wider-ranging single-camera freedom. But aside from "30 Rock" and "Arrested Development," this has led to little more than better decorated interiors.

Many would say ABC's "Modern Family" is the strongest current sitcom, but, like many comedies today, it's better at being charming and heartwarming than funny in a fresh way. The same issue has crept into NBC's "Parks and Recreation," the likable small-town government sitcom from Fey's cohort Amy Poehler. Sliding into a rut has never been a problem for another NBC comedy, "Community." It has manic inventiveness going for it, but not much else.

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The end of "30 Rock" heralds a sitcom shift, particularly in NBC's long-running Thursday night block — a grand tradition that includes "Cheers," "The Cosby Show" and "Seinfeld." Both "Park and Recreation" and "Community" have cloudy futures, and the long-running "The Office" will finally end soon. Elsewhere, CBS's "How I Met Your Mother," a studio audience vestige, is preparing its final season.

But there are actually quite a lot of broadcast sitcoms running now, including "The Big Bang Theory," "Whitney," "Happy Endings," "2 Broke Girls," "The Mindy Project" and the recently premiered and somewhat promising White House farce "1600 Penn."

Two Fox shows in their second seasons appear to have hit their stride: the animated "Bob's Burgers" and Zooey Deschanel's "New Girl." "Bob's Burgers," created by many of those involved with the improvised 1990s Comedy Central series "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist," has coalesced into the funniest family portrait on TV. H. Jon Benjamin voices a fry cook, and comedians Kristen Schaal and Eugene Mirman, as two of his adolescent kids, steal the show.

"New Girl," easily dismissed at first as cloying hipsterism, has also found a balance, thanks partly to the excellent Jake Johnson, whose chemistry with Deschanel is, for better or worse, TV's new Ross-Rachel.

Whatever the value of the shows, it's a great time for individual comedic performances: Rainn Wilson on "The Office"; Julia-Louis Dreyfus on "Veep"; Chris Pratt on "Parks"; Neil Patrick Harris on "How I Met Your Mother"; Julie Bowen on "Modern Family."

The flight to cable hasn't been as pronounced in sitcoms as it has been in hour-long dramas, but the trend is going that way. On cable, niche sitcoms like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," "The League" and "Archer" have pushed the boundaries of taste, reveling in their freedom.

But there are only two must-watch comedies on TV now that "30 Rock" is over. Both are on cable and both draw more from independent film than from sitcom history: Louis C.K.'s "Louie" (currently on hiatus for FX) and Lena Dunham's "Girls" on HBO (maybe you've heard a thing or two about it).

A comedian interested in a TV series now is less likely to strive for the large broadcast audience of "30 Rock" than follow in the personal storytelling of Dunham and C.K. (C.K., after all, already tried updating the sitcom with "Lucky Louie," which kept the traditional multi-camera, studio audience formula but built episodes around real adult problems and mature jokes. It lasted one season on HBO.)

The most anticipated upcoming sitcom premiere isn't on broadcast or even cable. Netflix will debut a new season of "Arrested Development" in May, years after it was canceled on Fox. Sitcom nostalgia may already be in full swing.

"30 Rock" always skewered its own small stature at NBC and it went out that way, too. In the finale, Fey's Liz Lemon pitches the newly minted NBC president Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) a show exactly like "30 Rock." He has no interest, though, in a show about "an angry New York crankypants."

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Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 27, 2016
  • 1.
    3.0/11
  • 2.
    1.8/6
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    1.2/4
  • 4.
    0.9/3
  • 5.
    0.6/2
  • 6.
    0.2/1
Source: Nielsen

Reviews

  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

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