Monday, November 09, 2015


I’m on the fence about UNDATEABLE LIVE.

There are a lot of things about I like.

I like its energy and desire to make you laugh. It has a likable cast, (notably Chris D’Elia) and it’s willing to take chances. That last thing is particularly refreshing given networks’ desperate desire to always be safe.

What bothers me is that the show is clearly a gimmick. Gimmicks get tiresome. And the gimmick, at times, comes at the expense of the product.

UNDATEABLE LIVE breaks rules, which is mostly good but also has downsides.

The characters know they’re in a comedy. Whenever that occurs the show stops appearing real. I firmly believe audiences have to be invested in the characters for a sitcom to achieve long-term success. The problems have to matter to the characters and it has to matter to the viewers whether they solve them. Otherwise, you’re only as good as your last joke. Once you’ve seen an episode you generally have no desire to see it again.

And the ultimate goal is to have your show go into syndication. That’s where you can make hundreds of millions in success. UNDATEABLE LIVE is essentially forfeiting that. BUT, in this case, syndication’s not the real goal. NBC just wants to attract viewers NOW. And if that’s the case, and if actors making inside jokes or going up on lines brings in eyeballs, then what the hell? You’re doing a live show; you might as well go for it.

And now I’m going to waffle again. I worry that the gimmick isn’t big enough. It’s not such a novelty to see a live comedy. We’re been watching SNL for a gazillion years now. Actors breaking up and technical glitches – been there, seen that. And SNL has the added X-factor of a different guest host each week. The cast may be used to performing live every week but the Hollywood movie star or politician/joke isn’t.

Even after a few weeks I can see the cast of UNDATEABLE LIVE getting into a comfortable groove. Those glitches may disappear, or worse, become calculated and forced.

And my other beef is that this is just another example of the lack of faith in multi-camera comedies. There now have to be gimmicks. Characters have to be self-aware and almost apologetic. On some shows (2 BROKE GIRLS) the comedy has to be strictly low road.

And still, I say there’s a place for those kinds of shows as long as networks are also developing well-written intelligent comedies where characters are important and story is important, and maybe there’s even a theme and some humanity. Can’t both of these multi-camera forms co-exist?

I’d actually like to attend a taping (or is it an “airing?”) of an UNDATEABLE LIVE episode. It would be fun to compare the experience of actually being there to the experience of watching it on television. If nothing else, it might help me to finally get off the fence.


The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Ken, I've mentioned this show before and I'm a big fan.
I think you would can compare it to a Groundlings/improv event, though one in which the background story and characters are known beforehand.

As a Friday Night show that is taped live at 5PM PST for the East Coast, and then live again at 8PM PST for the West Coast, it has become a fun way to spend the evening by watching the show and watching the tweeting in real time (or close to it).
If you aren't married with kids, and have a life, then it's still fun (it's a laughable warm up for the rest of your night)

A Friday question (you answered) I asked you if it'll get old, or if it won't play well in syndication. As you said, NBC is just looking for any eyeballs, even if its Friday night eyeballs.

The cast of UndateableLive works, and the show's a LOT funnier than Saturday Night Live which has always been trying too hard to come off as edgy instead of just funny.

Remember when the best parts of SNL was when the cast would crack up? But that was always frowned upon (says David Spade and other cast members).

On UndateableLive, the cast constantly tries to crack each other up, and the audience is in it for the ride.

It's fun, and for a half hour, I'm laughing out loud. Sometimes, I'll even head to to watch the West Coast version which is going to be different than the East.

It won't work in syndication, but for now, on Fridays, it's MUST SEE TV.

Thomas said...

Ken I am really interested in your take on "Master Of None" on netflix by Aziz Ansari. Since it seems to me to be an example of the modern shows you talked about that don't have jokes (at least not of the set-up punch line variety). But I (and many others) did find it very funny. A combination of energy and situations. It also has a lot of pathos.

Paul said...

Friday (or another day) question for you, Ken: You've made your disdain for "Two Broke Girls" and your love of multi-camera sitcoms evident multiple times. If asked to write or direct and episode of "Two Broke Girls," one of a dwindling number of multi-cams on the air, would you?

Mike Barer said...

It earned a blog post from you, so it's good in that respect, if I'm not mistaken, it's up Friday against The Amazing Race and Shark Tank, so that's a tough place to be.

JB said...

I'm a little older than Undateable's target audience but so far I've been all in. It's fun AND funny. But I'll waffle just a little also. The cast is constantly on their phones! Mainly the background actors but sometimes the main players in the scene. I don't know if NBC is pushing it or Bill Lawrence but they live tweet, live instagram and live periscope scenes as they happen. It just seems the show could be even tighter (funnier?) if everybody was locked in. But of course I read the live tweets and watch the live periscopes so... I guess it's working?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I still cannot believe that this awful show got renewed for a second season . . . but then again, considering the kind of mindless garbage that pollutes the television landscape today, I guess I shouldn't be surprised at all.

Unkystan said...

It would help if there was any background info on any of the characters (except those who actually work in the bar). What is their connection to each other? These people seems to have no occupations. Just hanging out all day. Did they win a lottery? And I detest the Chris Delia character. So negative and condescending. Why would anyone want to be his friend?

Steve Bailey said...

My daughter "turned me on" to UNDATEABLE LIVE, and I've been happily watching it with her for a few weeks now. I couldn't tell you just why it makes me laugh, but it does, consistently, and very few shows do that these days. It also seems to have a good deal of heart, which makes its few inside references tolerable enough. And as for Chris D'Elia, he seemed pretty strait-jacketed on the short-lived "Whitney," and I've having a great deal of fun watching him break out here.

Mighty Dyckerson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mark Fearing said...

Crack-ups on stage can be funny. See The Carol Burnett show. But if you depend on that, you are in big trouble. Haven't watched it but agree that it's good to see a network taking a chance - before they are completely irrelevant. Which, you know, is why they are doing this.

Mike Danner said...

Hi Ken, I have a Friday Question for you about Frasier. I have been reading a bunch of sitcom scripts recently, and I just read the Season 3 episode of Frasier, "Moon Dance". It made me think about the first time I watched that episode, and I thought to myself, "Wow, they can't really give us an episode like that and not eventually get Niles and Daphne together". Prior to that episode, Niles' infatuation with Daphne was more of a schoolboy crush (aside from the Season 1 episode "A Mid-Winter Night's Dream", where the attraction does seem to be mutual, and Niles' feelings for Daphne do seem to be genuine, and not just physical).

My question is, how early on did you know that Niles and Daphne would eventually end up together. I assume that by Season 7, and with the advent of Donny (and then Mel), that those characters were put into place to ultimately propel Niles and Daphne together. But did you know much earlier on than that? Was it is early as the aforementioned Season 1 and Season 3 episodes? Or was it the plan from the get-go?

Thanks for all that you do.
Mike Danner

andrewpwoodberry said...

This is definitely the last gasp for hip, multi-cam Friends-style hangout shoes.

You'll notice 2 Broke Girls' ratings dropped significantly after its first season, but it had already gotten a lucrative syndication deal and so the show must go on. Undateable and it's time slot neighbor Truth Be Told are pretty much DOA in the ratings.

Meanwhile, simple family-oriented multi-cams like Last Man Standing and Dr. Ken do pretty well in the ratings. Good match of format and audience.

Undateable has on cool bands and guest stars with millions of twitter and vine followers. Doesn't move the needle. The people that watch multi-cams on Friday, or bother to DVR them, are not the same people who tune into incredibly stupid vine videos.

I applaud Bill Lawrence for trying though. He could have just rested on his laurels and mounds and mounds of syndication money.

andrewpwoodberry said...

I should have proofread.

Shoes = Shows

It's = Its

Into = in to (I think... that one is debatable though)

cadavra said...

Now this is interesting. My beef with UNDATEABLE is the opposite of yours: It seems to me like every time an actor starts to break up, the director cuts to another camera. Since the main reason we're watching is for unplanned things to happen, why undercut yourself like this?

I'm also annoyed by the studio audience. They don't laugh; they just hoot and howl, even when nothing funny is happening. Calm down, people, we know you're there.

Howard Hoffman said...

Ken - I hope you'll try the Periscope component if you're home for the live show. I want to know if you'll be fascinated or if you'll go into an uncontrollable tic watching Bill Lawrence try to hold it together.

Peter said...

Ken, have you seen Spectre? Would love to read what you think of it.

VP81955 said...

I'm guessing "Undateable" only was renewed in exchange for taking a slot on the network's Friday night ghetto -- which enables this live experiment. (Some other multi-cams have done isolated "live" episodes; "THe Drew Carey Show" and "Hot in Cleveland" come to mind.)

Thankfully, "Mom" continues to hold the banner for multi-cam sitcoms. I understand this week's ep guest stars Emily Osment as a young addict Christy and Bonnie are called up to help (we'll find out whether this will be part of the third-season story arc or a one-shot). This series keeps getting better (if at times it can be rough sledding for those who only want jokes), and I'm sure that Ken would have no qualm directing an episode (although I'm unaware of his past relationship with Chuck Lorre).

YEKIMI said...

Friday question, not sure if it's been asked before: I know you worked with animals before [i.e.: "Eddie"]. Any bloopers with him that were left in the show where the actors had to ad-lib to cover the goof up? And if you had your druthers, did you like directing/writing shows that required any animal "actor" or would you prefer just working with humans? I remember watching a Bilko episode that had a chimp in it and you could tell it wasn't doing what it was supposed to do but Phil Silvers ad-libs were so hilarious that's it's one of my favorite episodes.

D. McEwan said...

"I’d actually like to attend a taping (or is it an 'airing?')"

It's called attending a "Broadcast."

I've been watching the show, mostly because I'd seen Ron Funches on @Midnight numerous times and found him charming, likable and funny. I'm still trying to figure out why they gay bartender works in a straight bar. I've known a hell of a lot of gay bartenders, many of them Biblically, and they've all worked in gay bars, while the straight bars I've infrequented tend to hire straight bartenders. The guy would get laid a lot more if he worked in a gay bar.

But I have been enjoying the show, though I've found myself wondering if some of these glitches (Cameras blocking our view of sight gags, for one) aren't "Intentionals" rather than accidents.

"cadavra said...
I'm also annoyed by the studio audience. They don't laugh; they just hoot and howl, even when nothing funny is happening. Calm down, people, we know you're there."

You do realize that those audiences are behaving that way because they're ordered and trained to by warm-up people and producers who, for reasons that escape me, feel if you are going to have a live audience, they should go nuts over-reacting at every possible occasion or what's a Heaven for. I find it just as annoying as you do, and find it so on every show I watch that has a live audience. And every time I attend a taping or a live broadcast, the audience is insistently trained and bullied and cajoled to over-react to everything. They ORDER audiences to give standing ovations, to whoop and holler. And if you're in a good "Camera position" seat up front and you're not delivering a sufficiently mouth-foaming frenzy at the mere sight of James Corden or Chris Hardwick, they will move you to the back or make you leave entirely. Don't blame the audiences; blame the producers. (At the broadcast of Bill Mahar's show I attended earlier this year, we were asked (Ordered) not to boo the conservative guests. Hey, If I can't boo Ann Coulter, I'm not cheering for anyone either.

Ted said...

I watched once - couple of stunts I'd never seen before on a sitcom - the Dodgers game was on and they said the score during a scene - and they gave out a phone number and apparently took a cell phone call live during a scene. Wish the non-stunt part of the show was better - seemed just average, not sure I'd tune in again.

Bob Leszczak said...

I thought UNDATEABLE was somewhat WATCHABLE when it was still pre-recorded in its first two short seasons. While I love live TV, I truly feel that the quality of the scripts has been diminished by being broadcast live. I expected more. I'm disappointed. As unfunny as last Friday night's show was (the puppet episode), in comparison to the show that follows it (TRUTH BE TOLD), it was The Dick Van Dyke Show. Hard to imagine, what with the vast array of forgettable sitcoms over almost 70 years of history under its belt, TRUTH BE TOLD may very well be the worst sitcom I've ever seen. Bad to the nth degree.

Bill says ... said...

I'm honestly wondering when NBC is gonna pull the plug on this one. It's consistently the lowest rated program on the four major networks, second only to Truth Be Told. It's interesting that Truth be told has a limited ten epsode order which they're halfway through, and considering they produce the shows ahead of broadcast may have most of that order in the can. This contrasted with Undateable which airs live and is only halfway through their order.

There was some speculation around the office as to whether they would gain significantly after the playoffs and World Series, and Halloween were no longer distortions for their audience, but predictably, their ratings barely moved. Which is pretty sad considering how widely the series is promoted in social media. Unless NBC has some online data that's not being factored into the ratings that the key demo for this audience is being watched by cord cutters online, I can't see NBC continuing to pay the license fee to broadcast two live shows a week that barely get them 2 million viewers, unless the kill fee is more expensive than ad revenue they are losing. But since it is live, it would be easy to kill after any given broadcast. If the ratings don't improve significantly over the next two weeks, I can't see them coming back after Thanksgiving, much less the new year.

In fact the put pilot sitcom deal NBC just made with Bill Lawrence, seems to suggest they are setting him up to soften the cancellation, since he doesn't seem to be earning his keep with undateables ratings. Maybe he should stick to dramas.

chuckcd said...

You shouldn't compare this to SNL.
This show is actually funny.

VP81955 said...

Ted, in past "live" broadcasts I've seen references to sports scores -- "Drew Carey" did it with a Cleveland team (forget whether it was the Tribe or Cavs).

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

Unkystan said...It would help if there was any background info on any of the characters (except those who actually work in the bar). What is their connection to each other? These people seems to have no occupations. Just hanging out all day.

You are right. It's immaterial at this point. It's just a setting for the show, and the fun (if you enjoy the goofiness of it, as we do).
4 of the 7 work in the bar or partially own the bar.
Shelly (the big guy) works in a nursing home (or old age home).
Burski (glasses) has nothing going on.
Leslie (female drunk) possibly has a job.

The customers never get serviced. Somehow they have food and drink though no one actually seems to be cooking.