‘Yes, Dear’ Survives, Thrives Despite Critics

Apr 4, 2005  •  Post A Comment

When the CBS sitcom “Yes, Dear” premiered in October 2000, critics were not kind.

But like high-profile sitcoms, “Yes, Dear” appears to have gotten the last laugh.

Despite predictions that the show, which profiles the lives of two young married, parenting couples-one buttoned-down and yuppie, the other crass and blue-collar-would be yanked off CBS’s schedule before its initial run had aired, “Yes, Dear” is in its fifth season. Besides making it into syndication this past fall, the oft-maligned sitcom survived a fall 2004 hiatus and a new time period to become a ratings performer on Wednesday nights for CBS. On March 30, “Yes, Dear” was CBS’s highest-rated show in the demo with a 3.5, outpacing “60 Minutes” (1.9), “The King of Queens” (2.8) and “CSI: NY” (3.3).

In addition, “Yes, Dear” has a chance to make it back on the prime-time schedule for 2005-06.

Back in 2000 the Los Angeles Times called the show “grating.” John Carman wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle a sentiment that many critics expressed when the show debuted and continue to argue about: “It’s the show for viewers who find hilarity in a child spitting up strained peas. For anyone else, it’s the worst new show of the fall.”

The New York Times at least got a sense of what the producers were going for. Greg and Kim Warner (Anthony Clark and Jean Louisa Kelly) and Jimmy and Christine Hughes (Mike O’Malley and Liza Snyder) are in-laws who find themselves sharing a house in Southern California that becomes a test lab for how each couple chooses to raise its children. “The aim is to spoof today’s anxious, competitive, humorless culture of child rearing,” The New York Times’ William McDonald wrote. “That’s a promising idea, but good satire requires wit and some bite, and little is evident in tonight’s pilot episode.”

The show has come a long way since writers Greg Garcia and Alan Kirschenbaum realized half a decade ago that there were no comedies on television about parents raising young children. Mr. Garcia and Mr. Kirschenbaum, who had worked together on the sitcom “Nothing Personal,” both found themselves with development deals at 20th Century Fox Television in 1999. In addition, they began having children at the same time.

“It was loosely based on my life if my brother and sister-in-law moved out and lived in my guest house,” Mr. Garcia said. “Alan always saw my family as the Beverly Hillbillies.”

Mr. Garcia and Mr. Kirschenbaum pitched the show to CBS, which bought the idea and commissioned a script and then a pilot. In May 2000, after solid results from focus group testing and network creative support, CBS announced that “Yes, Dear,” a 20th Century Fox Television/CBS Productions co-production, was getting the 8:30 p.m. (ET) slot on Monday nights, right after the blue-collar comedy “The King of Queens.”

“The show is really a buddy comedy disguised as a family comedy,” Mr. Kirschenbaum said of “Yes, Dear.” “It has all the trappings of a domestic comedy, but at its core it’s the relationship between these two brothers-in-law. It’s a very good form for television comedy.”

Mr. Kirschenbaum described “Yes, Dear’s” lead-in “King of Queens” and lead-out “Everybody Loves Raymond” not as family sitcoms but as “relationship comedies” that helped his show delineate itself while still fitting into the overall flow of the nightly schedule.

“They were enough like our show that it was compatible, but different enough that it wasn’t more of the same,” he said.

Even with a nearly universal thumbs down from critics, the show performed in its first season. In 2000-01 “Yes Dear” averaged a 5.2 rating in the adults 18 to 49 demographic and 13.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. That was good enough to take the show to No. 29 in the demo rankings for the season.

“We occasionally went down, but we occasionally went up,” Mr. Garcia said. “We got to the point where we would hold the number each week, which CBS was thrilled with.”

“Yes, Dear” series regular Mike O’Malley said no one should be surprised the show has made it to a fifth season.

“It’s not so baffling that ‘Yes, Dear” is a success,” Mr. O’Malley said. “What’s really, really hard to find in a successful series is what is the premise. A lot of criticism that comes toward the show is people think it’s a show that it isn’t. The show is ‘The Odd Couple’ for married couples. So take any issue of being married-you’ve got opposites there-and how does it play out?”

By the end of the first season, “Yes, Dear” not only retained “King of Queen’s” audience in the demo, but it also surpassed its lead-in by 2 percent. In its second season “Yes, Dear” averaged 13.86 million viewers and hit a 5.3 in the demo, climbing into the top 20 spot. Season three saw a drop to 4.6 in the demo and a slide to No. 33 in the rankings. In 2003-04 a move to 8 p.m. cost “Yes, Dear”; it dropped to a 3.4 in adults 18 to 49 and 56th place in the demo rankings.

Taking Chances

Last spring with enough episodes to go into syndication and waning ratings, it looked as though CBS and 20th were ready to move on as the network geared up for its 2004 May upfront presentation.

Dana Walden, president of 20th Century Fox Television, said the initial discussions with the network were amicable and understandable.

“They came and said, ‘We love the show, and it has been a success on our air, however, if we’re ever going to nurture new shows into successes we have to take some chances,'” Ms. Walden said. “The fall ship had sailed as we headed to New York. So at that point we were looking for a 13-episode midseason order.”

To get that order, 20th Century Fox came up with a reduced license fee for the show’s fifth season. Mr. Garcia said that with two of his co-executive producers asking to return to Fox’s “Family Guy” and Mr. Kirschenbaum leaving to run CBS’s new comedy “Center of the Universe,” the budget dropped considerably. Shifting from film to digital tape also made a difference.

“We made do,” Mr. Garcia said of his reduced writing staff. “We probably had too many writers anyway. Our lower-level writers stepped up.”

The show was off the air for the fall, but came back Feb. 16, after “Center of the Universe” failed to win over critics and audiences. “Yes, Dear” is airing in “Universe’s” initial fall time slot, Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m., after its old lead-out, “King of Queens,” which also migrated from Mondays.

“It was great for us,” Mr. Kirschenbaum said of the Wednesday move. “We spent three years being totally thankful for the ‘King of Queens’ audience. They are two very, very compatible shows. We attribute a lot of our early success to being hooked up with them.”

For the current season through March 27 “Yes, Dear” has averaged a 3.4 in the demo, flat with its performance from last season and even with “Universe’s” average in adults 18 to 49 at 9:30 p.m.

Kelly Kahl, senior executive VP of programming operations for CBS and UPN, said it made sense for CBS to try something new during the fall, but it was useful for the network to have a midseason backup that had a track record.

“We were trying to create a couple new comedy franchises,” Mr. Kahl said. “With a comedy like ‘Yes, Dear,” it affords you the flexibility to do that. In truth, maybe we were a little cavalier with it, but it’s a good feeling to know you have a utility player, that no matter where you put it, it will perform fine.”

Ms. Walden said she applauded CBS for sticking with the show and giving it a promotional launch when it came back in February. “It premiered with more fanfare from the network this past season than it did in its original premiere,” she said.

This season also marks “Yes, Dear’s” first foray into syndication. For the February sweeps, it averaged a 2.0 national household rating, up 33 percent from its September 2004 debut week.

Bob Cook, president and CEO of Twentieth Television, which syndicates “Yes, Dear,” said the show has grown consistently since its laun

“The very fact that it’s advertiser-friendly is a help,” Mr. Cook said. “Ratings [are] the cure-all, whether you’re limited to a time period or not. It plays in early fringe, and it plays in late fringe-that universality is something you look for. Generally that gives it a longer life, because it can play a lot of different places.”

He said stations are “reasonably pleased” with the show’s performance. “You’ll take a 2 or a 3 rating anywhere you can get it,” he added.

Mr. Kirschenbaum said if the show comes back next season he would be interested in returning full-time. He noted that “Yes, Dear,” which he described as a “very enjoyable show” to work on, means even more to him after producing elsewhere. “My appreciation for the work experience and the people on ‘Yes Dear’ has been completely reaffirmed,” he said. Mr. Garcia is currently working on the single-camera pilot “Earl” for NBC. If both shows get picked up he said he was not sure if he would work on “Yes, Dear” and “Earl” concurrently, but he added, “It’s a high-class problem.”

The show’s success hasn’t meant much to critics, who have remained relatively silent on “Yes, Dear.” The lack of coverage keeps the show’s stars off out of gossip columns and stifles award nominations, but that doesn’t bother Mr. Kirschenbaum.

“People in the business, the cultural capitals of the countries, the blue states, as my partner Greg says, are not aware of the show,” he said. “But leave those places and the show is very popular, very well established, and I think it is borne out in the ratings.”