Thursday, August 23, 2007

Where have you gone, Heathcliff Huxtable? Your country needs you now.

CBS continues to blow the network trumpet, heralding "Two and a Half Men" with the generous superlative: "top-rated". I've seen this program once or twice. Surely, the great comedy minds at the Writers Guild of America can come up with better jokes than Jon Cryer sees pretty woman and longingly groans. or Charlie Sheen winces eyes and deadpans something about women and booze. But, "top rated", c'mon.

So where have all the good sitcoms gone? I recently asked that and someone said, "The Office". Another was "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons". Nobody mentioned "30 Rock", but I know somebody would. However, when you look at that list, 2 programs are animated, 1 is based on a groundbreaking British series, and the other is, well the other has Alec Baldwin.

The bottom line is this: "No sitcom has finished in the top 10 since Everybody Loves Raymond in 2005" reads the stat from USA Today article** about "Back to You", Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton's new go at the 30 minute format. Gone are the glory days of the sitcom. Is this because writers have run out of ideas? Is it because reality TV is now the world's place to go to laugh? Are viewers getting less sophisticated? Are viewers getting more sophisticated? Are network dollars to tied up in advertising dollars to take a gamble on a sitcom finding its audience? What is the cause of the sitcom slide?

I have to believe it resides somewhere in the combination of a handful of the above factors. Certainly, the influx of reality TV programming has given audiences some of the stranger experiences in TV history. Equal parts idiotic, scandalous, hopeful, talented, talentless, and romantic, perhaps the needs we get from our sitcom characters gets scooped up with this rotating band of reality-celebs. I think the network dollars are probably responsible as well, though that's entirely conjecture. BUT, it always seem that when a hit comes out, 5 other shows are instantly developed with (say) 6 thirtysomething buddies trying to make it in NYC. Where is the original thinking? And if it's there and the public isn't allowed to see it for one reason or another, where is the spirit of taking chances? Creativity can not come from a place of fear of failure. There must be a willingness to be wrong, a freedom to fail and a readiness to be the one who tried something new that folks didn't quite "get" at first.

And maybe therein lies the purpose of this entry. I am convinced that talented, creative, funny writers are pounding out the next Cheers as we speak. I'd bet my job on it. But where are those programs? Where is the innovation? And as someone immersed in the world of advertising, that's a question we strive to answer all the time. Where is the passion that leads to risk that leads to true creativity?

**NOTE: This is a total case of "you snooze, you lose" blogging. I had thought about this for a couple of days, starting writing it yesterday and over lunch saw the USA Today article. Bastards. So, I included the reference above in my entry and published anyway. Oh well.

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the thoughts and opinions expressed below are entirely my own, and are not necessarily shared by my friends, family, or employer. (though they very well might be...)