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Is the network sitcom dying?

  • "There’s something depressing about having to bid farewell to the precise kind of network comedy we’ve lost." says Judy Berman. She adds that the "abundance of shiny new shows makes it easy to overlook what’s missing from the upcoming season’s primetime schedule—namely, NBC’s venerable Thursday-night comedy block. Anchored in the 1980s by Cheers and The Cosby Show, then Friends, Seinfeld and Frasier in the ’90s, the lineup more than earned its 'Must See TV' branding throughout the late 20th century. Even as appointment viewing waned in subsequent decades, it remained an oasis for smart, imaginative sitcoms: The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Community and, in a last gasp of greatness, The Good Place and Superstore. That legacy has ended, as the network just (Thursday) aired the series finale of long-running cop sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Come October, NBC will devote Thursday nights to Law & Order spinoffs, driving scripted comedy off the primetime schedule entirely. Other Big 5 broadcasters seem to be losing faith in comedy series as well. The CW belongs to superheroes, Archie Comics and B-grade nonfiction programming now. While Fox’s Sunday adult-animation block is still going strong, there isn’t a single live-action sitcom on its fall schedule. ABC has carved out Wednesdays for family comedies, but the only 'new' title is a Wonder Years reboot. CBS seems like a relative haven for the genre, until you realize that one mega-producer, The Big Bang Theory bard Chuck Lorre, has a hand in four out of its six fall sitcoms. Among the Emmy nominees for Outstanding Comedy Series, only one—ABC’s Black-ish, whose eighth and final season is expected to premiere in 2022—hails from a broadcast network. Scripted comedy isn’t going anywhere. Cable channels and streaming services are bursting with great examples, as multimedia conglomerates like NBCUniversal shift new projects from creators with cult followings (Mike Schur’s Rutherford Falls, Tina Fey’s Girls5eva), to platforms such as Peacock, where they might pay for themselves in subscription dollars. But watching Hacks or Ted Lasso or Never Have I Ever at your own pace isn’t the same experience as ducking into Cheers or Central Perk every Thursday evening and reliving the highlights of each episode at the watercooler Friday morning with people you knew had tuned in last night."

    TOPICS: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX, NBC, Young Sheldon