Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Comedy sluts on parade

This is what happens when all the networks chase the same idea.

This year’s sitcom notion de jour is the crude girl – a female lead who is crass and edgy and hateful (within the bounds of network acceptability so adorably hateful). They’re jumping on the feature bandwagon. BAD TEACHER, YOUNG ADULT, and whatever that goofy thing was with Julia Roberts showing her tart and cynical side (that no one believed for a second).

TV comedy has sure come a long way from Mary Tyler Moore and Elizabeth Montgomery to Whitney Cummings and Chelsea Handler.

CBS was first out of the box with 2 BROKE GIRLS. This show has the advantage of funny likeable Kat Dennings and its time slot. 2BG is the perfect complement to TWO AND A HALF MEN. Penis jokes segued neatly into vagina jokes.

FOX hedged their bet with NEW GIRL. Zooey Deschanel is more quirk than snark.

NBC charged forth with WHITNEY. Stand up comedienne Whitney Cummings, who also co-created 2 BROKE GIRLS, was promoted as NBC’s next big thing. Here in LA you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Whitney billboard or bus board.

And despite the full-court print and on-air press, WHITNEY has not caught on. In fairness, the show has gotten better and personally I really like the boyfriend. But this is not a hit despite NBC giving it a full-season order. They gave OUTSOURCED a full-season order last year.

Networks play around with numbers. For example: last week -- WHITNEY (2.1/5, 6.1 million) was down 9% from the debut of UP ALL NIGHT in the same time period in September but up 11% from WHITNEY’S most recent Thursday telecast December 8. Up 9%, down 11% -- significant numbers except you’re talking about 5 and 6 shares. Big difference in being up 9% if you start at a 19 share than a 5.

And then last week ARE YOU THERE, CHELSEA? premiered. Here’s how committed to the frat boy with tits concept NBC was: They picked up the series, then replaced three regular cast members and changed the title. Now that alone doesn’t spell doom. Shows get redeveloped and recast all the time and quite frequently the changes are big improvements. They were in this case. But it’s a warning sign. And it must really irk those creators of the other NBC pilots that didn’t get picked up in favor of…elements of a Chelsea Handler project.

Why does this happen you might ask? Sometimes it’s because the network really wants to be in business with a person. This year it’s Chelsea Handler. I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t have peacock feathers coming out of her ass. But if in three years the trend is virginal Christian girls, Chelsea couldn’t get on the NBC lot if she were in the presidential motorcade. Who remembers Margaret Cho?

NBC paired CHELSEA with WHITNEY, which makes complete sense since they share the same sensibility. The all Chlamydia hour. But it’s almost impossible to launch a new show behind another new show. Especially one that starts with a 5 share. Plus, it’s on at 8:30. This is not 8:30 subject matter. So why don’t they schedule WHITNEY/CHELSEA for 9:00? Because they would be up against MODERN FAMILY and would get slaughtered. And guess what? AMERICAN IDOL is back.

CHELSEA did okay in its debut. And by okay I mean 2.3/6 in adults 18-49, and 6.4 million total viewers. That’s better than the FREE AGENTS’ debut in the fall (1.3/4, 3.9 million), but who are we kidding? Those are low numbers. It’s like substituting a ballplayer with a .167 average over one hitting .083 and thinking you’ve solved your lineup problem.

And let’s see how they do tonight in their second week. I hope okay.  I'm friends with several of their writers and wish them well. 

Don’t think ABC hasn’t chased this slut girl trend. They have their own psycho B--. DON’T TRUST THE B—IN APARTMENT 23. Trashy skank girl takes in wholesome Midwestern roommate. Hilarity ensues. Hilarity example: The guy in the next apartment can look right into their kitchen window. So he watches them and publicly masturbates.

How similar is this to 2 BROKE GIRLS? The pilot stories are THE SAME. Midwest girl thinks slut slept with her boyfriend. Only the cave of wonder jokes are different.

DON’T TRUST THE B—IN APARTMENT 23 premieres in April. But ABC is launching it behind MODERN FAMILY at 9:30 so yes, the network doesn’t think it’s good enough to debut in mid-season, but they are still willing to give it a decent shot. Yet there is the compatibility issue. A lot of families gather together to watch MODERN FAMILY. Imagine them ten minutes later watching a guy jack off. That’s a Waltons Moment to be sure!

And all the while, COMMUNITY and COUGAR TOWN remain on the shelf.

Like all trends, this one will run its course. There will be one or two winners and next year it’s onto something else. But the networks might be worried. I’m sure they figured that yes the zeitgeist changes from year to year but they always had vagina jokes. You can’t miss with vagina jokes. And now if vagina jokes are getting a 5 share, then truly, what is left for broadcast television?

Wanna take a guess on which network will be the first to show one?


Breadbaker said...

"It’s like substituting a ballplayer with a .167 average over one hitting .083 and thinking you’ve solved your lineup problem." Oh, so this is really a Mariners post?

Megan v said...

They're giving Cougar Town the time slot previously occupied by Work It. It premiers Valentine's Day.

Steve Zeoli said...

Watched an episode of Whitney... or I should say I tried to. What crap!

Dr. Nielsen said...

But Whitney is doing far better for them than 30 Rock ever has, and they have renewed 30 Rock for what now feels like its 26th season. I agree that Whitney is far from a real hit, but if NBC canceled all the shows doing about as well as Whitney or worse, they would only have The Office and SVU left, and those are both plummeting.

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Margaret who?

But seriously, I couldn't endure more than one episode of Zooey Deschanel's show. She was watchable (and gorgeous), but her co-stars were severely limited.

Greg Hao said...

Damn Ken, I was Ll excited when you mentioned last week that you had an entire post yet spend only two 'grafs talking about the Chelsea show (and generically at that). Slightly disappointing as I thought the premiere episode was unwatchable especially since you slaughtered the Whitney premiere which at least had semi decent actors; even the replacement cast on the Chelsea show are horrible. I suppose it's to be expected as you have friends on the Chelsea staff.

Speaking generally, I think it's great that women are coming back in the zeitgeist but pretty sad statement when compared to MTM or even to certain extent Roseanne Barr.

John said...

To me, it seems as if they think they can take Rhea Perlman's attitude in "Cheers", put it into a hotter looking woman, coarsen up the innuendo to fit the times and turn that into a hit series. They might as well just go all the way and make the show about a crude-but-lovable stripper and her wacky friends, boss, tattooed boyfriends and customers.

normadesmond said...

some of us know who margaret cho is, thank you.

404 said...

Ken, it's pretty unfair to lump NEW GIRL into the "crude girl" category with the rest of this. True, there is some crassness on the show, but it all comes from the other characters, and compared to a good bit of what's out there it's very tame. And one of Zooey's character's basic traits is that she's unable to be crass, and can't talk about dirty things like vaginas or penises. Yeah, those subjects come up (no joke intended there) but in moderation, and it's dealt with in a very different way.

Mark said...

The comedy anti-hero thing has been severely played out for years -- and NOW the women are trying to ride that wagon? This stuff makes me so, so tired.

You know, when Groucho did it, he made a career out of being funny in an inappropriate context. Which worked, and STILL works. But at some point, people who weren't paying close attention decided that being inappropriate was all by itself funny. Which doesn't work, and never has.

And now the cultural landscape is pockmarked with craters like Chelsea, and Charlie, and whoever else.

Anonymous said...

The 8:30 slot is so they can get protests from the Parents Television Council, and to push kids into thinking more things are normal.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

...I miss Red Skelton...

Sam said...

@404 Remember, the working title for NEW GIRL was CHICKS AND DICKS

RS Gray said...

I'm just glad that Whitney isn't after The Office anymore. My DVR would tape the first thirty seconds of Whitney after the office and I thought I'd been subjected to some vestigial Dr. Mengele comedy of brutality torture experiment. I couldn't grab my remote quickly enough.

WV: Evang - Variety's shorthand term for the genre after girls who talk about their vaginas and Christian virgins - Christian virgins who talk about their vaginas

404 said...

Anonymous, that may be (re: CHICKS AND DICKS/NEW GIRL) and I don't doubt it. However, the fact that the name was changed supports my point--it's not that kind of show. The content of the show also speaks to that. Yeah, those jokes do show up, but it can not be placed anywhere near the same category as 2 BROKE GIRLS or the new Chelsea Handler one (which I watched, and wanted to like, but god it was awful).

BigTed said...

I remember hearing that in the original concept for "The Big Bang Theory," the female neighbor was a hard-edged sexpot who took advantage of her nerdy male neighbors. But audiences found the character unlikeable, so it was replaced with the sweeter, more approachable Penny.

Interestingly, now that they've added a couple of science-nerd women to the show, it's as much about the female friendships as the male ones -- and it's funnier as a result.

Cap'n Bob said...

Margaret Cho is that fat, unfunny Korean woman who thinks she's a comic.
I know we all disdain censorship, but the best comedy is the kind that dances around the censors rather than the in-you-face crude joke.

Naz said...

"NBC paired CHELSEA with WHITNEY, which makes complete sense since they share the same sensibility."

That is exactly why I refuse to watch either show. I loved the Betty White character of Sue Ann Nevin in the old MTM show. That was sheer genius funny yet the slut factor wasn't offensive.

Frank said...

I thought Whitney's vagina jokes were a real crack up!

Mike Barer said...

And last Monday's 2 and A Half Men had Alan's on again, off again pretty girlfriend, Lindsay passing gas and doing bathroom jokes.
Obviously, pouncing on that trend.

benson said...

But even an award winning presumably higher quality show isn't beneath doing something raunchy/crude (in all likelihood, in the name of ratings stunt) Modern Family has a toddler dropping an F Bomb tonight.

YEKIMI said...

And now for something completely different...
Stumbled across this on the internet. There is now a band [from Ireland] called "The Cast Of Cheers".

Strange that they would name themselves after the cast of a TV show...if that's what they did. I listened to them, don't think they'd ever make the Top 40 playlists of stations from the past

Mike Barer said...

Are you ruining the surprise, Benson?

Anonymous said...

They're crude yes! Funny, no!!!!!

Andy said...

As for The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the clips STILL held up the other night on Betty White's 90th birthday tribute. Laugh out loud funny. I find it annoyingly ironic that it's supposedly cool and hip to favor edgy language in shows now. But it seems juvenile going to that well time and time again, relying on it as the punchline, because it implies uttering this stuff is still dangerous & naughty! Like the way it was when we first uttered these words... in junior high.

Dr. Leo Marvin said...

Well, I kind of asked for this post, so, "Thanks, Ken." As for which channel will be first to show female genitalia, I'd guess Animal Planet, but that may be wishful thinking.

JW said...

I still love the re-runs of smart, funny shows like Frazier, M.A.S.H and Cheers but I have to admit I find myself enjoying some of the new shows as well (Whitney, The New Girl - Chelsea is terrible though). Are they the same caliber of show I grew up with? No. But not without merit and they do make me laugh.

Pat Reeder said...

Thanks for this post on a pet peeve that's been annoying me for several years. Ironically, Letterman's longtime comedy booker was recently relieved of duty and had to apologize to the world for daring to say that he doesn't book some female standups because he finds them unfunny and not authentic, since they're just trying to ape what crude, frat-boy male comics do.

VW: "ptaill" - A term I would not want to let Chelsea Handler's writers define.

Thus are the times in which we live, that a man can lose his job for telling the truth, which is half of a comedian's job.

And before anyone chimes in with the sexist accusations, I don't like it when male comics do crude, lazy material, either. I'm not offended by profanity or scatology, I'm just offended by bad writing. Male or female, they should all take the advice of Woody Allen's space aliens: "If you want to do mankind a favor, tell funnier jokes."

Pat Reeder said...

PS - Don't know why the VW appeared in the middle of the last post. It was on the end when I hit "enter." I'm sure Chelsea's writers could do five minutes on how it penetrated into the wrong place.

Unknown said...

Right. He told the truth about being a misogynist.

Because it's not like he didn't book those frat boy loudmouths. But booking the female "knockoffs"? No Sir. Not authentic.


I mean that line alone... "Just for telling the truth".

When the truth is having a mental disconnect between what's right and what's not, it doesn't make it better that that is what he thought. I personally am being openly against a certain religion that doesn't mean that if I were the state appointed minister for everything family and religion I shouldn't be fired because I'm unable to being impartial.

The guy was fired because he had a bias against women. Plain and straight.

Johnny Walker said...

I was just thinking about this in regards to NEW GIRL the other day. It's often pointed out how the wife of many sitcom husbands are there just to tell them off, and have no comedic side/personality at all. I wonder if this sudden surge in female orientated comedy is less to do with being "crude" and more a reaction to a lack of strong funny female characters on TV?

I think the trap that male writers fall into is that their female characters have to represent "womankind" and not just a woman. Male characters can be crude, crazy, obnoxious, silly, stupid, infantile, selfish, lazy, greedy, etc... and we accept them as being an example of that type of PERSON. With women they're often homogenized.

This trend, once it has faded, might leave us with some much-needed new female archetypes.

Pat Reeder said...

Dear Sebastian:

I mean this in only the nicest way, but please spare me your irrational, eye-rolling BS.

If Brill is nothing but a sexist, it's odd that several female comics who've been on Letterman, including Lisa Lampanelli, publicly defended him and specifically denied ever seeing any evidence of that. And he never said women weren't funny (neither did I, BTW. The best topical comedy writer I know is my partner, who also happens to be my wife). He said that he didn't think some women stand-ups were funny, and he pinpointed why - because they were aping inferior male comics' acts and not speaking in their own voices, just like some bad male stand-ups are just "doing" a road-show Jerry Seinfeld. He also had to discern between funny, original male comics and unfunny, derivative male comics, the loud, crude frat boy type of which he also did not book onto Letterman's show because that's not the show's style.

As the comedy booker, discerning who's funny and unfunny or who is or isn't right for the show wasn't mindless discrimination, it was his job, and one he was very good at. I've seen him at comedy festivals, where young comics of both sexes lined up to seek his advice on how to improve their acts. None had a gun to their backs, and I never saw a single one who was offended by his efforts to help them.

Jimelle said...

I don't watch a lot of TV, but thought I'd give 2BG a shot. It was cute at first, but it's becoming more crass and mindless than amusing. The plotlines are less believable every time I watch. I think I'll let this one go.

bevo said...

Modern Family is played out. The show was funny and interesting for the first season and into the second season. Now, the situations are forced and the characters are stock.

How long is Hayley going to be in high school? At this point, she is treading in Ian Ziering territory.

As to the rest of the comedies, they are beyond lousy. They are simply horrible. The characters are flat. The jokes are obvious. The situations are dull.

They are beyond derivative. They are uncreative.

In a single episode of Archer or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, there are more jokes, better lines, and far more creative situations than the entire catalog of 30 Rock.

The first 12 episodes of The League's second season are far funnier than every episode of every show produce by Chuck Lorre. Yes, The League is crude and low brow. It also wonderfully mocks fantasy league participants. What is the conceit of 2 and 1/2 men?

Two single dudes raise a child. Wasn't that the conceit of Full House? Three single dudes raise three children. Or is Lorre really paying homage to that other tour de funny, Kate and Ally? Two single chicks raise some children.

Does anyone anywhere know two single dudes living in the same house but in separate rooms, raising a kid?

I know a lot of guys and a few women who participate in fantasy football.

If you want to write a dull comedy, populated by formulaic characters who perform turgid jokes, then, please sell a pilot to the networks. If you want to write a smart comedy that takes chances with interesting characters with something to offer the audience, then go to cable.

cadavra said...

I always thought TWO AND A HALF MEN was THE ODD COUPLE with a kid and burlesque jokes.

WV: "icess"--Apple's new app which tells schoolkids when it's time for recess.