Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Get ready for more silly shows

Nowadays networks post trailers for their new shows. It’s a great idea. Way more people are going to see the trailers on line than promos on the networks. And as opposed to :30 seconds you get to see several minutes of preview material.

I remember when CHEERS premiered there were people who turned in the first week and were disappointed because from the title they thought the show was about cheerleaders. We could have used a trailer – or more promos on a network that anybody watched at the time.

Of course you can’t really accurately tell what a show is going to be based solely on a three-minute trailer. But you can get an idea.

Watching the trailers for the new sitcoms the general impression I get is that they’re very broad. Especially the Fox sitcoms. Lots of physical stunts and CGI, parodies of other genres (including a STAR TREK send up starring Seth MacFarlane. How many times are we going to have Seth MacFarlane shoved down our throats? Enough already!).

And the characters in these new shows are primarily idiots. Bungling buffoons and dorks who think they’re way cooler/smarter/better looking than they are. All played at a heightened reality. The dialog is all wisecracks and irony. Fifty variations of “Gee, THAT worked out well.”

(I suppose everyone got the memo to be "edgy."  Practically all of the CBS comedy trailers have testicle jokes -- multiple testicle jokes, and the Jenna Fischer ABC show has a bunch of them too.)  

What’s wrong with comedies about real people? Comedies that aren’t just live cartoons? The audience grows to care, you save a fortune in CGI, and your show isn’t just as good as your last joke. Do networks feel that Millennials can’t relate to real people and so in order to justify that form of comedy they have to reboot old shows? If so, they’re really selling Millennials short – to the point of insult.

Or is it that those shows are harder to write and networks don’t trust the current crop to pull it off? There too, I guarantee you there are wonderful funny writers with great insight and fresh voices that are relegated to writing pratfalls because those are the only jobs they can get.

TV dramas continue to get more complex and layered, and TV comedies get sillier and sillier.  

Note to networks:  The new development season begins soon. This year how about trying something really daring and out of the box – two or three shows (or even one) that are intelligent aimed at viewers who recognize and appreciate quality? And you might be surprised – those viewers will be your coveted Millennials.

30 comments :

Brad Apling said...

As you indicated to me the other day about so many more venues open to writers nowadays, couldn't some of this fresh, young (& youngish) talent form their own production company and work out a deal with Netflix, Hulu, or others to sell and write their own (and possibly better) ideas? What would it take to fund/develop a similar 'MTM Production' but more streamlined perhaps?

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Actually, if they really want to find the audience where it lives, they should be posting an entire episode or two on YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime. If the show is good enough people will then look for the new episodes on the networks. You would think some smart deals could be done.

wg
Idiot Google wants me to click on cars today and eomplains when I don't click on things that are very clearly VANS.

VP81955 said...

Am now conjuring a mental image of Shelley Long in a cheerleader outfit. (Hey, in 1982 she could've pulled it off.)

But you're right about TV comedies getting sillier, one more reason the genre's reputation continues to slide. (Sigh.) Are sophisticated sitcoms seen as unmarketable to millenials?

J Lee said...

Going off this, here's a Friday question Ken -- You grew up in the 1960s, when sitcoms of the day also often were either cartoony to begin with, or ended up there by being 'dumbed down' (though obviously without the ability to do the sex-related jokes of today). The Sheldon Leonard-produced shows tended to be the exception, until the break-out in the 1970s with with the more reality-based characters.

Were there any of the more cartoony/fantasy-based shows of the 60s that appealed to you, based on their writing? For me, some of the 60s shows may have had only a toe-hold on the real world, but if the writing was good enough (like with the incongruous surrealism of "Green Acres"), they still were enjoyable, and remain so in reruns.

blinky said...

A day late but... I just saw Twin Peaks and wow is it funny! Not funny on purpose but funny as in Plan 9 From Outer Space funny. The writing and acting is so stilted and absurd. Every scene is 3 times longer than necessary. We got to see that guy watching the glass box sit... and stand up...and walk across the room...and walk back and sit down...in real time. We got to see headlights of a car driving in the dark to weird music for what seemed like hours.
If a film student submitted this at UCLA he would get a C. Nice work on the shooting but the editing is soooooo sloooww and you really need to work on that dialogue...

Glenn said...

I'm with you on Seth Macfarlane overkill. Family Guy must still make good money for Fox becuase he gets chance after chance, with movies and TV, and his stuff never really flies.

Howard Hoffman said...

Wendy Grossman gets it. I watched the first episode of BAJILLION DOLLAR PROPERTIE$ on YouTube, and went nuts trying to find out where I could see more since they're already on their third season. Sadly, I really had a difficult time finding it through normal searches - i.e.: It comes up on Amazon, but all the episodes are marked "Not Available."

I ended up putting out the call on Twitter, and got a response out of nowhere from none other than Paul F. Tompkins, one of the show's stars. He not only informed me it was on SeeSo (NBC Universal's comedy stream), he gave me a promo code for a couple of free months. (PFT)

What's fascinating about all this is that in today's television, everyone is involved with being not just in the cast or in the crew...but in the actual marketing and selling of the show, too.

Rob Greenberg said...

We need the Charles Brothers to come back!

McAlvie said...


I have to agree. Very few sitcoms with even MAIN characters that I want to invite into my living room. In fact the supporting cast is usually much better. Dr. Ken and the latest Kevin James show are two that come to mind. It used to be that there would be maybe one antagonist - and here I'm thinking of Louie DiPalma on Taxi - but the rest of the cast balanced it out. There's little balance these days, you mostly just hate everyone for being such idiots. I do like LeBlanc's Man With a Plan. He, unlike James, does not come across as the guy most likely to have been divorced really early on. James' character wasn't quite that bad in the last series.

Another thing I've noticed is that they are trying out family shows, but giving the actual family as little play as possible. They could completely replace all the kids and even add a few and I doubt anyone would notice because the kids are never there and when they are, they are watered down characters. And that's a shame because the kids would give the writers a lot more to work with if the parents actually interacted with them. I've noticed that they badly want to bring back 80s sitcoms, but they are leaving out some of the best reasons sitcoms worked so well back then. Give Last Man Standing it's due here, because that's one thing they did right, even if they did replace the oldest girl (and that might have been right, too, because who even remembers her?)

Craig Russell said...

Here's a Friday Question: Have you seen the new TV Land offering "Nobodies"? Its produced by Melissa McCarthy and is about a trio of sitcom writers, trying to make it while having personal lives. One, I wondered if you had seen it and had any insight, but also I had a second question about the way TV Land promotes it.

Now that TV Land has wised up and brought back MASH, I have seen alot more of the channel than I had in recent years. The network promos the "Nobodies" show 2 ways. One, they play promos for the upcoming week's show, like you'd expect. But they also intermix promos telling you about the individual characters. It gets very confusing, if you dont know where they are in the season. Any thoughts to the concept?

Tom said...

And who needs a new space travel parody show when there was Paul Feig's excellent and funny "Other Space" a couple of years back on Yahoo! Screen (which doesn't exist anymore either). Highly recommended. Here's the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MZjwJ0Pu4m8

Mark said...

Isn't it really as simple as
Character comedy requires exposition/time
Viewers these days have the attention span of gerbils
Therefore we better pack in a bunch of alleged jokes before they all tune out
??

Wally said...

@Mark
Roughly, yes.
The TV adage is "Come for the story, stay for the characters." re: a show
So, in the end, jokes should relate to/be grounded in the characters' personalities, emotions, and goals.

Anonymous said...

:shrug: The Marx Brothers were silly and did pretty well for themselves back in the day. Vaudeville was not built on character depth. Etc, etc.

Besides tastes in comedice entertainment usually change very often. Just wait around and you'll see something you like come around again.


Sean

YEKIMI said...

I guess CBS ran out of vagina jokes and had to switch to testicles. Either that or some testicle somewhere complained and demanded "equal time".

Myles Warden said...

Nobodies is HILARIOUS! Especially if you're involved in Hollywood as a writer, trying to get meetings, taking meetings, have friends who managed to get breaks before you, etc. Was renewed for a 2nd season. Wonder how non Hollywood people view it though. To me it's spot on.

VP81955 said...

To J Lee:

I don't want to speak for Ken, but I do recall he has cited the Danny Arnold episodes of "Bewitched" (its black-and-white years) as having sophisticated, well-written stories and intriguing premises. After he left (years later, he returned to ABC for one of its best '70s sitcoms, "Barney Miller"), the episodes became more gimmicky and silly.

Phil said...

No post on Roger Moore Ken?

Cat said...

Agree the Charles Brothers need to make a comeback.

But, I am a Seth McFarlane fan so maybe my taste level is off.

VP81955 said...

This just in: 99.2% of WGA members voted to ratify the new agreement with AMPTP. In other words, only 30 of the 3,647 votes cast were "no." Congratulations to Ken and his cohorts.

Aaron said...

Hilariously, the Fox animation exec told me my pitches were "too broad." "We aren't looking for anything this broad." Sure. Meanwhile they keep greenlighting live-action cartoons.

D. McEwan said...

Well, I watched all the episodes of Trial & Error (Which just got a second season pick-up). It was enormously silly, and I found I kept laughing at it. I've also been watching the very silly Angie Tribeca also, and it keeps making me actually laugh out loud. I kinda like silly, as long as it's funny as well as silly.

Tom Galloway said...

A word of warning about Angie Tribeca; the first and third (current) seasons are very funny and similar to Police Squad!. The second season...isn't. Don't know what the behind the scenes bit for that was (particularly since I read that the first two seasons were filmed continuously with no break between them), but it was like a different, and nowhere near as funny, show had been produced.

A_Homer said...

Over on EmmyTVLegends I was watching a wonderful, eloquent interview with writer/director/producer Leonard Stern (everything from Phil Silvers, Honeymooners through Get Smart, He & She, onto McMillan and Wife) and he was explaining how when it came time for "He&She" that unfortunately short-lived Paula Prentiss Dick Benjamin sitcom, he particularly wanted to establish a more intelligent, and in his mind, real language of speaking, way of behaving and showing love between a married couple. The whole story is great, including how he managed to even get it greenlit, but the end is that no one gave it a chance, and when new came out that it was going to be cancelled, people without a horse in the race, actors and others in the industry, were taking out full page ads in the trades as well newspapers, to show support for this different way. Long story short, the people who worked on He&She went on to become MTM and the rest is the rest.

D. McEwan said...

"Tom Galloway said...
A word of warning about Angie Tribeca; the first and third (current) seasons are very funny and similar to Police Squad!. The second season...isn't."


That was not my reaction to season two.

Barry Traylor said...

I guess is the answer to why all of the new comedies from 2016-17 all left me cold and I wound up watching reruns of CHEERS and MASH.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Anonymous: a) The Marx Brothers didn't do TV sitcoms; b) they were originals; c) they were very funny. They did have characters, but those were the personas they developed across their entire career. (So, arguably, were Rose Marie's and Morey Amsterdam's characters in THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.) Groucho spoke lines that are still quoted today. "I can see that man has an open mind. I can feel the breeze from here." "I once shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know." Etc. So did Harpo: "Honk!" (It's the way he honked it.)

wg

Waquoit said...

Shelley Long in a cheerleader uniform? If only. I remember an early commercial for Cheers when I was in college. It had Long imploring us to watch the "freshest new comedy on television." It was so earnest I remember saying to myself "That's one I'm going to skip". It was only when I found myself in front of the dorm TV when Cheers came on and I was forced to watch that I discovered it was funny as hell.

Andy Rose said...

Regarding Angie Tribeca, it felt like they had a lot of gag ideas stored up at the beginning of the series, and they ran out by the second season. It's more gag heavy in Season 3, although I think they're not as strong as the jokes in Season 1.

D. McEwan said...

That was not my experience of Angie Tribeca's second season.