There was a time and it wasn’t even too long ago when sitcoms ruled the evenings for broadcast television. It was the case for decades of programming with some nights of sitcoms, hours worth of the programs, being nearly appointment television. But those days appear to be, at least for the short term, almost completely over. Networks are rethinking their models in a new age of programming and sitcoms aren’t part of the plan. In fact, for the time being, that format is looking like it’s almost completely dead.
Deadline reported on the current state of sitcoms when broadcast networks began giving their upfront rundowns on programming that was coming down the pike for the next season. According to their findings, two of the four major networks (NBC and FOX) weren’t putting out a single live-action comedy in primetime or otherwise. And the other two, ABC and NBC were putting out far fewer situational comedies than in the past. This is the new wave of evening television with networks seeing this type of show less financially viable than ever before.
And that’s not all, even those networks that are still airing sitcoms in some form or another aren’t the ones developing the shows. In those cases, nearly all of the sitcoms on the air like Call Your Mother were being leased from other studios and production houses. The networks themselves weren’t originating them on their own lots, instead picking and choosing from other independents and then deciding to pick them up or not. This is a totally new model when thinking about how sitcoms have been made in the past.
Some sitcoms are still hitting the small screen this year with The Wonder Years getting a reboot but even that is in a different style than we’ve seen from traditional, almost legacy sitcoms in the past. Huge sitcoms like Big Bang Theory don’t seem to be coming with the same speed and consistency as before. That show coincidentally was from Chuck Lorre who still has a few viable sitcoms in the space like Young Sheldon, B Positive, and United States of Al which are all on CBS. But as we said before, these are not the lease format and not being developed in-house.
We aren’t for lack of programming these days, far from it. With more streaming services popping up and those entrenched ones continuing to pile on content, there are more choices than ever before. If you want to watch something, it’s out there. But the financials around sitcoms on network broadcast television just didn’t appear to be working the same way as in the past. Apparently, it’s more difficult to sell them in foreign markets now, thanks to more options in those places. And even in the United States, producing a single or multi-camera half-hour show just doesn’t make a lot of sense financially.
Will we ever get the Two and a Half Men, Modern Family, or Friends like runs again? Shows that were part of the relative zeitgeist and had people sitting down for a half-hour each and every week? It’s looking very unlikely. That’s just not what networks, by and large, want to do right now. And if the money doesn’t make sense then it looks like we know the whole story.