Comedy Tonight! ABC, NBC Program 3-Hour Blocks

Even nonsports fans had to chuckle this week when the Chicago Cubs agreed to give a first baseman $10 million as a reward for hitting a stellar .196. The Cubs, who have been a comedy of errors since their last World Series title in 1908, would be a fitting subject for a sitcom.

The way network TV is going, there will be ample room on the schedule. Next year, two networks will turn the 10 p.m. hour -- sacrosanct for dramas -- into comedy blocks. That means each will have a night with three hours of comedy.

That's apparently only been tried once before, briefly by ABC in the late 1990s. One reason: as audiences fall at 10, a drama with rising action in the last half-hour might keep viewers more than a new show cranking up.

Yet comedy is having a revival as a genre. Is it the new reality TV?

It's not clear why it faded. A creative wasteland, Americans buttoning up or CBS proving such high demand for crime dramas? A decade ago, NBC had some 14 comedies on the air. Then, at one point, that dropped to three.



ABC's "Modern Family" and CBS' "Big Bang Theory" are leading the comeback. Even Fox's soaring musical drama "Glee" is basically a dramedy.

The success of "Modern Family" emboldened ABC to go with its three-hour sitcom block, starting in April, with the show as the anchor. Besides new episodes at 9, re-runs will finish the night at 10:30.

NBC previously said it would move "30 Rock" and "Outsourced" to 10 p.m., giving it a Thursday comedy clean sweep. "30 Rock" ratings are down this year, but competition in the time slot is lighter with significant declines with CBS' "The Mentalist" and ABC's "Private Practice." (Along with "Outsourced," the two NBC sitcoms will still likely finish third.)

Unlike their cable brethren and after a nice ABC-CBS run, networks are struggling to produce breakout dramas again. So why not take a gamble.

Of course, the last time a network tried to upend the traditional prime-time model -- Jay Leno at 10 -- it turned into a comedy. But network pundits such as Steve Sternberg, formerly of Magna, and MPG's Don Seaman continue to press for innovation. Seaman even suggested recently moving "American Idol" to Saturday.

Programmers are always looking to thread that zeitgeist needle. More comedies could prove to be an interesting litmus test if Americans want to laugh more during the Great Recession.

Of course, that's probably getting way too Ivory Tower. Television has always been pretty simple: Great shows, whatever the genre, work anywhere, anytime.

3 comments about "Comedy Tonight! ABC, NBC Program 3-Hour Blocks".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Andrew Crowley from ggiyt, December 9, 2010 at 1:50 p.m.

    its about time. ive been suggesting that for years. according to comedy shows have a much broader audience than dramatic shows. people get depressed watching dramatic shows and are in a better mood when watching comedy. great article

  2. Joanne Rusch from Multi Edge Media, December 9, 2010 at 2:44 p.m.

    People get depressed watching heavy drama and shoot 'em up cops and robbers - let me rephrase that - they get 'depressed' watching spin off after spin off of the same police and medical dramas. QUALITY - that's what's missing...Boardwalk Empire is full of profanity, blood, guts and drama and it was absolutely fascinating to watch! But then HBO gets quality. And when it comes to comedy...30 Rock, Modern Family, etc. get humor points for quirkiness, but if we were to be honest - NONE of the current shows can weigh in with comedic icons like Seinfeld, Cheers, Frazier, All in the Family - where writing and talent flourished. Shift the focus from the time slot shuffle to producing excellent shows and it won't matter when they run!

  3. Richard Barwis from Cornerstone Media, Inc., December 9, 2010 at 3:09 p.m.

    Comedy at 10 PM -- Isn't that the role of Fox News at that hour?

    Jon Stewart has proven that a fresh innovative approach is a winner in the ratings, almost no matter the time slot.

    It's the continuing saga of the networks playing catchup with the rest of the world. Running further derivatives of "Hill Street Blues" has more than run its course... it's time for some real initiative and creativity.

Next story loading loading..