Thursday, October 30, 2014

The future of network sitcoms

As I discussed Tuesday, networks are frantically rebooting old sitcoms. Soon they’ll run out of them. And then what? Original ideas are not an option. So they’ll start redeveloping drama franchises as comedies. Here’s a glimpse into the future and what TV viewers can expect:


The Comedy VP is taking pitches from the few comedy writers who are still approved. We CUT from pitch meeting to pitch meeting.

WRITER #1: This is a can't miss idea.   HOMELAND: THE COMEDY. I want to do a MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW type thing with Claire as Mary and Saul as Lou Grant. The terrorist leader could be Ted Baxter.

VP: Be careful with that. We have to be sensitive to all nationalities. The terrorist watchgroup is always on our ass. But we can now show Carrie giving a blowjob. That’s okay.

WRITER #1: "Oh Mr. Berenson."

VP:  "Who can blow the world up with her smile?"  I love it!


WRITER #2: Talk about "comedy gold" --  DEXTER as a Benihana chef. Can’t you just see it? “Hey, Dexter, where’s Manuel?” “Manuel isn’t coming in tonight.” Ha ha ha.  And we set it in New Jersey. For the killings, instead of a weird abandoned warehouse, we give him kind of a fun man-cave. “Tonight we’re featuring Hibachi Mobster.”

VP: Single-camera?

WRITER #2: No. I see it multi-cam, in front of an audience.  The first row might have to wear ponchos though. 


WRITER #3: THE GOOD WIFE but set in a high school.


WRITER #4: COLD CASE but as a musical.


WRITER #5: CSI: BLYTHE. Here’s the twist: there hasn’t been a murder in five years. The CSI team is analyzing each others hair and using their sophisticated equipment to determine if they need to rotate the van’s tires. Think of the fun things you could do with all that equipment if it were put to other use. For instance: two technicians compare the molecular content of their sperm. I’m laughin’ just thinking about it. You could also call the show BORED-WALK EMPIRE. Get it?


WRITER #6: BLACKLIST with real blacks.


WRITER #7: I want to bring back THE EQUALIZER.

VP: (after a beat) Yeah…?

WRITER #7: That’s it. Just show the original. Trust me it is now a comedy.


WRITER #8: I know it’s a movie and not a former TV show but what about SAVING PRIVATE RYAN? They screw up and try to save Ryan Reynolds from making bad career choices.

Enjoy the 2019-20 season.


Hamid said...

That was hilarious, Ken!

Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing that version of Dexter.

MikeK.Pa. said...

I've inadvertently stumbled on a comedy I missed during its first run in the late 1960s - Dragnet 1967 (1968, 1969, 1970). Talk about getting laughs by playing it straight. In this reboot of the original Dragnet (1950s), Jack Webb seems to single-handedly be trying to arrest every hippie and pot smoker in LA. The only thing stiffer than the dialogue is Jack Webb's acting. I have Christmas automatons that move more naturally (when Webb walks his arms stay by his side; I'm guessing he never jogged). The tag, of course, are the video mug shots where the accused look deservedly ashamed for what they did.

I'm sure Jack believed he was making a drama - or more likely promotional spots for the LAPD - but they played like shorter versions of the movie Reefer Madness.

As bad as this series was, thankfully it gave birth to Frank Drebin in the criminally short-lived Police Squad! TV series and later the more successful Naked Gun movies.

Amazingly Webb was toying with the idea of yet another reboot of Dragnet in the early 1980s (perhaps at the suggestion of the White House) when he died suddenly.

So, don't look away at those bad TV dramas. In them there may be a kernel of comedy ready to pop into a sitcom.

gottacook said...

This reminds me of when NBC premiered an hour-long drama in the fall, pulled it off the air after a month or two, and then transformed it into a half-hour sitcom (with the same leads, plus Chris Elliott) in the spring. The show was Tattinger's in the fall and Nick & Hilary in the spring. (I saw the premiere of the latter, which ran for 2 episodes.)

I think it's time for a candy-colored superhero comedy in the manner of the 1960s Batman, or perhaps a series version of Mystery Men if it could be cast with actors at the level of, say, William H. Macy (the movie's Shoveler). Or Star Trek could return to TV as a comedy - why not? It's been a half-hour before (as a cartoon in the early 1970s with nearly all the original cast), and its comedy potential was proven on SNL back in 1976 and again in 1986 (the Enterprise/restaurant sketch).

Hamid said...

gottacook said...

Or Star Trek could return to TV as a comedy - why not?

What do you mean return as a comedy? Have you never watched the original series?

Check out this truly terrifying creature from the show:

For the full LOLs, watch Kirk fight Gorn:

Gorn's speaking voice is comedy gold.

gottacook said...

Yes, I know Trek had its moments of unintentional comedy and I could probably identify 10 of them without thinking too hard. There were also three-and-a-half episodes that were outright comedies, although they were all in season 2. Here, I mean a half-hour sitcom.

(Do you mean the Gorn captain's dialogue before or after Kirk hears it processed through the universal translator? Define your terms!)

Hecky said...

In Canada the CBC actually already made a version of that HOMELAND sitcom. It was called INSECURITY.

Scooter Schechtman said...

My own bright spot of sitcom news came when I read that the complete "WKRP" is being reissued by Shout! Factory in a whomping 14 disc set with music clearances mostly restored. The "mostly" sticks in my craw, as I'm sure the thanksgiving episode is still going to silence the Pink Floyd bit. I'm starting a Kickstarter campaign to fund me paying for it.

Jesse Jackson said...

One of my favorite comics is designed as a sitcom.
The idea is that if the hero loves his girlfriend he has to tell her everything including his secret identity. The story is about relationships, would be a fun TV show (and it's a great book).

Hamid said...

gottacook said...

Do you mean the Gorn captain's dialogue before or after Kirk hears it processed through the universal translator? Define your terms!

After it's processed! His voice when he says "This is your opponent, Earthling. I have heard every word you have said" is awesomeness combined with camp, resulting in hilarity.

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I can't wait for them to reinvent "2 Broke Girls as a comedy"

blinky said...

The New Girl would be a funny show if they had jokes. Maybe they could get Dane Cook as head writer.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

It's hard to *re*do THE GOOD WIFE as a comedy when it has the best laughs on TV at the moment anyway. They could redo NURSE JACKIE as a comedy, though.

For those who, like me, love her work (if not always the vehicles for it), there's a wonderful long interview with Conchata Ferrell here:

The astonishing thing is that after all the things she's been in and after making a living for decades she *still* doesn't really feel part of the industry as a character actress in a business driven by stars. (I've only ever watched 2 1/2 MEN for her and Jon Cryer.) Ken, is that a common feeling, do you know?


Charles H. Bryan said...

Ha ha. There's something very meta about a COLD CASE reboot. Or ironic. Or redundant. Maybe all of the above.

However, I would absolutely watch the musical version of COLD CASE. Maybe mix it with the faltering DANCING WITH THE STARS and every week we see a different dancer and a D-lister duo fight crime, with Bruno as the precinct captain. "Hold him while I merengue his Mirandas." Viewers vote on who solves crimes most sexily.

Terrence Moss said...

"The Blacklist" with real blacks. Hilarre. I love it.

Johnny Walker said...

WRITER #9: EVERYONE LOVES BREAKING BAD. Husband and wife become a drug dealing team, while the cop brother-in-law lives with his parents next door. Each week he nearly catches them!

WRITER #10: MAD MEN... but actually set in an asylum. They have some CRAZY advertising ideas!

WRITER #11: 60 MINUTES... OF LAUGHS! I haven't quite figured this one out yet.

Anonymous said...

this is so funny. thank you for the laugh today.

Lorimartian said...


Thanks so much for the link to the Conchata Ferrell interview. I learned a lot about her that I didn't know. Such a talented lady. I have been a huge fan since Hot l Baltimore and was so disappointed when it was cancelled.

I saw her some years ago in the lobby of a movie theater. I wanted to approach her and say how much I admired her work but chose not to bother her. I wish I had given her that compliment. She might have appreciated it.

Brian H said...

Re: Johnny Walker
WRITER #10: MAD MEN... but actually set in an asylum. They have some CRAZY advertising ideas!

Sounds a bit like the movie Crazy People:

Johnny Walker said...

Ha. Of course! They can reboot two things at once.

VP81955 said...

To Mike K.: If you only know "Dragnet" from the lame late '60s revival, you're not doing justice to either the series or Jack Webb. The original "Dragnet" (which began on radio in 1949, started a TV run in 1951, and was even made into a theatrical film in 1954) is a gem, the original police procedural. (To appreciate it, listen to some of its hackneyed predecessors, a few of whom Webb worked on beforehand.)

Its realism and sound effects make the "Dragnet" radio series hold up well today (the original TV show was nearly as good, but used relatively few exterior locations), as well as providing an audio snapshot of Los Angeles in the early '50s, when it still largely was a domain of midwestern emigres, Council Bluffs with a beach.

"Dragnet" was easily parodied (genius humorist Stan Freberg, who will be honored at the Egyptian Theater Sunday night, made several hit records in that vein, with Webb's OK), but in its initial incarnation was a brilliant series. And let's not forget that Dick Wolf, a longtime "Dragnet" fan, revived the show with Ed O'Neill as Joe Friday in the late '90s; it was well-written, but the dual ghosts of Webb (for the series) and Al Bundy (for O'Neill) proved fatal.

Oh, and one more thing -- Webb produced some other series focusing on public servants, including "Adam-12" and "Emergency!" The latter co-starred vocalist-actress Julie London, Webb's former wife (he was an avid jazz fan), and her current husband, composer Bobby Troup ("Route 66," "The Girl Can't Help It").

LouOCNY said...

One of the interesting things about the original Dragnet TV series. is that his contact at the LAPD to get the incidents he based his scripts on, was this Sergeant who was the speechwriter for Chief Parker, the (in)famous chief of the department at the time, was this guy by the name of.....Gene Roddenberry! Roddenberry put the word out he was looking for interesting incidents, and when a cop gave him one, he would type out a short outline, and give it to Webb. Webb would pay him like $150, and Roddenberry would split it with the cop - that $75 was like a week's pay back then. That gave Roddenberry the idea he might try writing for TV - and the rest is history.

Dragnet 6X actually starte out OK, but it quickly deteriorated into letting the LAPD use it occasionally as a showcase for itself. Stuff like showing Bill and Joe spending the day at business office, having them sit at home on a weekend, and getting bothered by neighbors. Webb seemed to have lost a lot of energy.And it never helped that he used a very small company of regular supporting cast.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Very fond of Conchata Ferrell too. We still use the phrase "Crusty but benign" frequently because of her scene in "Network" in which she reads the new season's rundown of sitcoms and every premise starts with "crusty but benign." This was the "Chico and the Man" era.