WARNING: Donald Trump is not part of this debate. There are no angry responses, no personal attacks, no grandstanding, no hidden agendas. If it were televised it would be on C-SPAN-6 not CNN or Fox News. Don’t expect to see portions of it discussed in op-ed pieces. If you’re okay with that then please read on.
Fellow writer Earl Pomerantz and I have had differing points of view recently on the “new” style of television comedy (geared almost exclusively to Millennials) where showrunners purposely avoid doing anything that might feel like a conventional joke. I took them to task for this. Here’s one of my articles. I contend the end result is tepid shows that aren’t funny. I don’t want to recap the whole piece. You may have been bored reading it in the first place.
Earl Pomerantz has credentials as good or better than mine. In his terrific blog on Friday he felt this new trend was not as a result of showrunners being lazy or less talented or arrogant. The full text of his article is a click away. But here’s the crux, excerpted from his piece:
the point I am focusing on today is that a mini-movie’s (Read: “single-camera” comedy’s) sensibility feels realer than a mini-play’s (the artistic antecedent of the studio-audience situation comedy.)
And with that preference in format comes a commensurate alteration in writing style.
Meaning (at the undeniable cost of greater laughter):
No “Big Jokes” (or traditional joke-writing structure whatsoever.) No “accidental misunderstandings.” No “mistaken identities.” No comedic “reveals.”
Nothing, in conclusion, that would only happen in a sitcom.
(Like you expect one thing and you get not something surprisingly different from what you expect but its diametrical opposite.)
As dependable as those comedic devices may be, they are incongruous with the template, by which I mean, not only the “single-camera” format itself, but the sensibilities of today’s viewership, most particularly, the younger viewership the networks are struggling hardest to attract, which prefers comedy more reflective of their everyday experience over the comedy – albeit brilliantly conceived and executed – of contrivance.
Earl makes some excellent points. And I would agree with him except for this:
It’s not working.
These shows get terrible ratings. Even among Millennials.
I don’t like Hip Hop music. I don’t get it. It doesn’t speak to me. But if I owned a record company I would sign as many Hip Hop artists as I could. Hip Hop music is HUGE. I tip my hat to Hip Hop artists. Their music might not be my cup of tea but those artists have obviously tapped into something that really resonates with the 12+ crowd.
And I would tip my cap to showrunners of this new comedy style if indeed it was attracting a large following the way Hip Hop is. But it’s not.
Fox tried to justify it a year ago when they inexplicably renewed THE MINDY PROJECT. There was room for niche comedy. A year later they couldn’t cancel it fast enough. (It has been picked up by a streaming service where a sizable audience is not the goal – getting and keeping paid subscribers is.)
One only need to look at the performances of THE BIG BANG THEORY and the new show that follows, LIFE IN PIECES. BIG BANG aggressively tries to make you laugh (at times exhaustively so) while LIFE IN PIECES opts for “realism” and avoiding comic tropes.
BIG BANG gets huge ratings (among young people) and PIECES drops 50% of its audience. 50%! That’s a staggering drop off.
Meanwhile, much maligned out-of-touch multi-camera shows bring in the ratings. What's disturbing to me is they don't even have to be good. 2 BROKE GIRLS has made 100 episodes, and you know the only new sitcom that is doing well this season? It's also the show with the single worst reviews. DR. KEN. Not only do Millennials want jokes; it seems they want ANY jokes. Good God!
The only multi-camera shows that don't work for Millennials are the ones that are self-conscious or apologize for being in that format. MULANEY and WHITNEY are two such offenders.
I'm sure there are new formats and fresh ways of making Millennials laugh. Someone will come along with "their" FRIENDS. But the key take away is make it a COMEDY.
And by the way, this is nothing new. In the early '80s they were saying that sitcoms are dead and "dramadies" were the new thing. Same reasoning. The form was old and musty and baby boomers wanted something "different." A few years later CHEERS came along, and then FAMILY TIES, and COSBY, and NEWHART and by the end of the decade there were something like 60 sitcoms and dramadies were nowhere to be found.
Peering down your nose at anything that resembles comic conventions is not working. Try something else. What's the next Hip Hop?
I still contend when a comedy writer says to me he doesn’t DO jokes, what he’s really saying is he CAN’T do jokes.
Prove to me you’re funny. Or at least that lots of other people find you funny.
Earl-o? Back to you.