I never go to big hit movies the weekend they’re released. It seems stupid to stand in long lines when the same film will be there in a week or Wednesday at 5:30. It’s not a once-only concert, it’s a movie. But I broke my rule this weekend for BORAT. I had to see it. And I was not disappointed. It was HILARIOUS. Yeah yeah, it was a scathing satire on our culture – I’ve read all the bullshit articles – but it was just fucking FUNNY!!! Small wonder it was a boxoffice smash. People want to laugh. Even if they know some of the jokes will be offensive, even if they know they will groan at some things, deliver solid laughs in any form and there will be a stampede to your door.
The same was true a couple of years ago on Broadway with THE PRODUCERS.
So what about television? Is comedy dead? No, not if SEINFELD premiered today. Not if THE SIMPSONS premiered today. But the sitcom form has been so formulized, so homogenized so bastardized that it’s sinking under its own weight. I’m not saying do BORAT as a series (although, watch – next year there will be fifteen Borat-type pilots... and they'll all be lame), I’m saying the networks are looking for the wrong thing.
Every year before development season they go on retreats. They spend four days between spa treatments deciding what their comedy agenda should be that year. Family comedies with emphasis on dad? Family comedies with emphasis on mom? Stress the kids? Downplay the kids? Buddy comedies? Ethnic buddy comedies? Young single urban female driven workplace comedy? Urban people in rural setting? Rural people in urban setting? A vehicle for Paula Marshall?
What they should be saying is this: who are the writers who are REALLY FUNNY? Who has proven that they can make an audience laugh? And go by the individual not the credit. Greg Garcia (MY NAME IS EARL) comes from YES, DEAR and is a much funnier writer than a lot of the FRIENDS alums who went on to big deals and multiple failures.
Hire the funniest people and tell them to create the funniest shows. Single camera? Multiple camera? Doesn’t matter. 25 year old writer? 55 year old writer? Who cares? And let them cast their shows with the funniest actors they can find and not recycled sitcom vets or pretty faces. Leave them alone and let them flourish. Never give the note “make her more likeable” or “we need to up the stakes” or “can we show he has a good side too?”
Will every show be a gem? Of course not. But one or two might, which is a whole lot better than what they’ve got now. Last week NBC’s comedy block of 30 ROCK and TWENTY GOOD YEARS not only finished behind C/W but also Univision. It’s time for a new model.
Networks shake their heads and say there’s no audience appetite for comedy anymore. Of course there is. Now more than ever. Just look at the lines for BORAT, a character, who by way, began in television.