What makes something “hard funny”? In an interview with Deadline, Warner Bros. Television CEO Channing Dungey describes it as “the pie in the face.” The instant laugh sets the tone for whatever happens next, and while that doesn’t mean there won’t be moments of other emotions — the studio audience sitcom “aww” reaction is still an important one — the main focus is on jokes. From there, the format can be anything. That's the driving force behind the company’s new TV comedy strategy. Warner Bros. TV’s current stable of comedies include network series Abbott Elementary, Night Court, Young Sheldon, Call Me Kat, and Bob ♥ Abishola plus streaming shows Ted Lasso, Sex Lives of College Girls, and Shrinking.
This distinction comes as a reaction to the increasingly common blurring between comedy and drama. For a while, in the eyes of award shows, the categorization was based on episode length — anything 30 minutes or less was comedy; anything longer, drama. But because of the rise of half-hour dramas and hour-long comedies, it’s not quite that easy anymore and the strategy has mostly been abandoned. Still, shows like The Bear, a half-hour dramedy that’s not exactly “hard funny” finds itself labeled “comedy.” Dungey wants to unblur the line and make it obvious that what audiences are watching is laugh-out-loud funny.
The studio’s biggest upcoming projects all hail from veterans of the comedy landscape. Boyos from Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs (Hacks) is a comedy about male friendship. House of Kyle from Mindy Kaling and Matt Warburton (Hulu's Four Weddings and a Funeral) follows a streetwear designer who takes over for a luxury Italian fashion brand. And How to Be a Bookie from Chuck Lorre follows a veteran bookie navigating the legalization of sports betting. All of these single-camera comedies will run on streaming services, the first two on Prime Video and the last on HBO Max, Lorre’s first project for the platform.
That doesn’t mean that Dungey is giving up on network TV, though, and the numbers show that there’s an audience for multi-cam network sitcoms. NBC’s Night Court has reached an audience of more than 25 million viewers since its debut on January 17, making it the top broadcast premiere of the 2022-2023 season. It’s already been renewed for a second season.
According to Dungey, there are two main challenges to replicating a show like the new Night Court’s success. The first is making sure that any reboots offer plenty of opportunity for humor that feels contemporary and real, and not just bring back a show for nostalgia’s sake. The second is to encourage more young writers to embrace the multi-cam format, which has fallen out of favor for the more “trendy” single-cam shows. Now that Netflix and HBO Max are embracing the multi-cam format, Dungey has hope that the opportunities for that style of hard laughs will just continue to grow.
Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R.