Upfront Navigator: No One Home in Latest Sitcoms

Apr 30, 2007  •  Post A Comment

This year’s comedy pilots are set everywhere but in living rooms.

Many showcase a workplace setting, or focus on the characters’ professional lives. About half are single-camera shows, which allows for a variety of locations and outdoor scenes rather than shot in a studio before a live audience.

It seems the sitcom isn’t dead; it’s just grown up and moved away from home.

“We developed a lot of workplace shows, as we wanted to use them as arenas to tell other kinds of stories,” said Samie Falvey, senior VP of comedy development at ABC. “Americans are increasingly overworked, and our love lives and social life are wrapped up in the workplace arena.”

There are firefighters, radio hosts, police officers, lawyers, political staffers, zookeepers, technical support staffers and TV news reporters. There’s even a comedy about getting to work (ABC’s “Carpoolers”).

And the shows that aren’t workplace comedies tend to have protagonists with a lot more on their minds than family affairs.

The few family-style sitcoms on the slate are trying for a deliberately post-modern take. CBS’s “1321 Clover” is about a typical suburban family, but it’s shot in the faux-documentary style of “The Office.” In ABC’s “Family of the Year,” the brood is saddled with the pressure of being a 10-time “family of the year” award winner.

ABC has the most pilots (16), including the most buzzed-about title: “Cavemen,” the sitcom based on the series of Geico commercials, which has prompted an assortment of reactions in the blogosphere.

Ms. Falvey said “Cavemen” actually has a serious side.

“It’s definitely gotten a lot of attention,” she said. “On the surface it looks like a show with a funny sight gag, but it’s also an interesting discourse on race. In the world briefly established by the commercial, cavemen are just another race, another minority. They’re faced with stereotypes and have interracial relationships.”

Other notables include “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office,” one of several drama and comedy pilots focusing on professional women, and “The Call,” where the producers of “24” try the real-time gimmick for a comedy about paramedics.

“It’s not about counting down the minutes. It’s a form for telling a certain kind of story,” Ms. Falvey said.

CBS is maintaining a characteristic silence about its development, but one stand-out concept is “I’m in Hell,” starring Jason Biggs (“American Pie”), about a Wall Street executive who is stripped of all the luxuries he once enjoyed.

While most pilot projects this year skew female, Fox has some lively male-centric concepts in its efforts to spark the fall schedule.

In “The Rules for Starting Over,” the Farrelly brothers (“There’s Something About Mary”) chronicle a group of newly single men in their mid-30s. Kelsey Grammer stars in “Back to You,” about an egotistical anchorman. “Me & Lee,” about a man who gets “bionic back surgery” in Lee Majors’ secret basement lab, could prove an odd counterpart to NBC’s “The Bionic Woman.”

The CW has a small number of pilots (five), all single-camera.

“There’s nothing that unites them other than they’re all really high-quality and all have that 18-34 attitude,” said Kim Fleary, executive VP, comedy development, The CW.

The CW’s current Monday night comedy block has been a middling performer, partly due to heavy competition. Between NBC’s “Heroes” and CBS’s comedy block, Ms. Fleary said it wasn’t certain if The CW’s laugh lineup would continue on Monday nights. In either case, the new comedies are likely contenders to replace shows in the current block rather than launch a second night of comedy.

From a conceptual level, one standout is “Dash 4 Cash,” a scripted look behind the scenes of an “Amazing Race”-style reality show.

“Obviously we need to keep that comedy block strong,” Ms. Fleary said. “In terms of content, we’re doing comedies that could bolster that night or stand in different parts of the schedule.”

NBC has an eclectic collection of titles, including the oddball entry “Area 57,” about a crude alien held at a top-secret air base, as well as “I’m With Stupid,” about a man who uses a wheelchair and his mentally disabled friend. More traditionally, NBC has “The IT Crowd,” about tech geeks.

“We really tried not to copy ourselves this year but keep the bar very high,” said Katherine Pope, executive VP, NBC Entertainment.