The fall season network schedules will be released next week - and odds are there won't be a hit sitcom. The biggest network hits continue to be reality shows ("American Idol," "The Apprentice," and "Survivor") and dramas ("Desperate Housewives" and "CSI.")
Comedy isn't in the cards. Now that "Everyone Loves Raymond" is heading off the air, only one substantial sitcom will remain on any of the network schedules, "Will & Grace," which will only have one more season on NBC. Fox's quirky "Arrested Development" will have little chance to make it back next year as well.
We have heard the complaints before - that the talent pool of comedy writers is weak or that the networks aren't truly daring enough. NBC tried daring with the "The Office" and failed. It has been somewhat successful with "Scrubs." But that show isn't a big ratings player nor, for that matter, is "Arrested Development" despite its Emmy award winning status.
CBS' "Two and a Half Men" has increased is viewer performance, and is deemed to be "Raymond's" successor. Even then, it isn't the big-rated comedy looking to take the mantle of "Friends," "Frasier," or "Seinfeld."
The drought has been so long that network executives are beginning to wonder if in fact viewers want to laugh anymore on network TV. Surely "Letterman," "Leno," and "Kimmel" bring the laughs, but that is because we are ready to go to sleep. The bar is pretty well lowered at that point - perhaps ready to hit someone on the head.
The betting is that networks will go the more reality-sitcom route in the future, like the unscripted "Curb Your Enthusiasm" on HBO, or the laugh track-less efforts of "Scrubs" or "Arrested Development."
But all these shows will be minor players, which leads us to believe that maybe comedy is just a niche product these days, just like Tom Shales of the Washington Post describes, playing only on cable.
Still, funny is still funny. But now you have to spend some time getting the inside joke - which leaves many viewers out of the party.