Advertisers and networks are eager for laughs from several new fall comedies: ABC's "Hank," "Modern Family," and "Cougar Town"; CBS's "Accidentally on Purpose"; and NBC's "Community."
Comedy is back for two main reasons. First, the nets are under more pressure to keep production costs in line and sitcoms cost less than drama. Second, advertisers are becoming less enchanted with the cheap reality genre. Another plus: sitcoms repeat better than dramas and can fill in programming gaps between other shows. "Everybody needs a long man out of the bullpen, and comedies are better as a stopgap than dramas," says Don Seaman, VP at MPG.
Broadcast-network executives counter that it's not the economy sparking the sitcoms, but rather a broader programming mission. Comedies can bring in the widest audience possible and can be cross-promoted on all types of shows, says Jeffrey Bader, exec VP at ABC Entertainment. Maybe so, but sitcoms have been on the decline for years as networks concentrated on inexpensive reality shows and higher-ratings dramatic shows. During the 2006-2007 season, just 12.3% of prime-time was devoted to comedy, per Nielsen. That figure declined to 10.7% for 2007-2008 and 10.6% for 2008-2009.