One problem facing broadcast networks as the fall season rolls out is no laughing matter: The Los Angeles Times’ Company Town reports that the shortage of returning comedy series points to a serious problem.
Only five of last year’s 21 new comedies are set to return this season, and only 14 of the 82 prime-time comedies that have made it to networks’ schedules since 2009 are still on air, the story reports.
The result is a “sitcom slump,” the article notes, with networks unable to find long-running shows like “Seinfeld” and “Friends.”
“The major networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — are not giving up as the fall season kicks off this week, rolling out 18 new comedies that will seek to mine laughs from romantic entanglements and family dynamics,” the story notes.
The report adds: “It’s not hard to see why. Comedies have long been the ratings and profit drivers of the television industry, cheaper to produce than hourlong dramas and lucrative in syndication long after new episodes have been canceled. Hollywood’s production studios bank on them to sustain their businesses. And cable channels rely on sitcom reruns to pad schedules and lure advertisers.”
Several factors may be to blame for the dearth of returning comedies. For one, streaming services such as Amazon and Netflix are developing their own shows, luring writers who might have otherwise worked on broadcast programs. The streaming companies “offer as much money as, if not more than, the networks, and freedom from censors,” the piece points out.
Premium networks are also draining talent away from broadcasters, the article adds.
And then there’s the problem of comedy itself: It’s difficult to put together all the elements needed for a hit, such as strong writing and acting and chemistry on set.
“If the past is any indication, the networks will give most new shows only a few weeks to prove themselves before the cancellations begin,” the piece points out.