Adult Comedy In The New TV Season, Single People Abound And Marriage Seems To Be Out Of Style
If the coming fall television season were an apartment rental, the classified listing would read, “Adults, no kids.”
For the 1995-96 network prime-time TV campaign, single or divorced and looking are in, while married and procreating are out. Buddy bonding is big. Everyone wants to be the next “Friends.”
And if you have kids, you are probably either divorced or widowed - or on “Married … With Children.”
The traditional mom, pop and the kids household setup is such a rare premise in the 28 (count ‘em, 28) new comedies slated for fall on ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and the WB Network that only three of those shows - ABC’s “Somewhere in America,” NBC’s “Minor Adjustments” and CBS’ “Bless This House” - deal with anything resembling a conventional nuclear family.
Far more typical for fall are NBC shows like “The Single Guy” (starring Jonathan Silverman) and “Caroline in the City” (featuring Lea Thompson). The former is about a bachelor who hangs with his married buds. The latter is about a romance-minded New York City cartoonist.
And to give you some idea of the premium that the networks are placing on single and looking, “Single Guy” and “Caroline” have been handed the two choicest time periods in all of TV: following the comedy smashes “Friends” and “Seinfeld” on Thursday nights.
Let’s examine the new trends evident in the 42 new shows, in order of prominence:
Good mate hard to find: Up and down the network dial, romantic and buddy comedies are all the rage as a sexier ethic takes hold.
On the heels of “Full House” and “Blossom” getting canceled, we’ll be seeing things like ABC’s “The Drew Carey Show,” which features the comic as one of a group of friends struggling to find romance and financial solvency, and CBS’ “Can’t Hurry Love,” starring Nancy McKeon and Mariska Hargitay in a story of “friendship, love and dating in the ‘90s.”
Two comedies - CBS’ “If Not for You” (with Elizabeth McGovern and Hank Azaria) and Fox’s “Ned & Stacey” - are about couples who are matched poorly. And Fox’s “Misery Loves Company” is about four young male pals, one of them still idealistic about love and three suffering through difficult divorces.
Then there is “Almost Perfect,” a CBS comedy with Nancy Travis and Kevin Kilner struggling to find time for romance in their busy lives, while in WB’s “Jackie Guerra,” the comedian struggles to survive with her single pals.
The message in all of this singleness is clear: The family comedy cycle has run its course - for now. And adult comedy is king.
William Croasdale, president of the network broadcast division of the ad buyer Western International Media, has seen it all before.
“Television is an industry that parrots itself,” Croasdale said. “Whenever you have a hit, it tends to devour itself.
“After ‘The Cosby Show’ was an overwhelming hit in ‘84, we were inundated the next year with black situation comedies. Now you hear people saying, ‘Give me an ‘ER’ with firemen or with lawyers, or a ‘Friends’ clone.’ It’s just the way the business works.
Comedy is king again: Last year, you heard rumblings about hour drama series making a huge comeback, and indeed the balance last fall reflected that in the scheduling of 14 new dramas and just 13 comedies.
For the coming fall, however, new sitcoms outnumber the dramas, 2-to-1, with a record 28 comedies and just 14 dramas.
“That’s not such a surprise,” Croasdale said. “Everyone tries to build with comedies. It’s what you need to start off most of your evenings.”
Single … with children: Single parenthood and guardianhood are back on the tube in a big way.
In the ABC drama “Charlie Grace,” Mark Harmon is a cop with a 12-year-old daughter. The ABC comedy “Maybe This Time” finds Marie Osmond playing a divorced mom forced to put up with a daughter and a live-in mother (Betty White), while in NBC’s “The Home Court,” Pamela Reed is a family court judge who plays single ma to three rambunctious teens.
Perhaps most intriguing are the matching concepts of NBC’s “Brotherly Love” and WB’s “Life Happens.” In the NBC show, Joey Lawrence has to care for his two younger brothers after their father dies. In the WB comedy, it falls on Kirk Cameron to care for three siblings.
When you add Fox’s established drama “Party of Five” to the mix, that makes three network shows about self-sufficient orphans.
Sexy at 8: The trend of featuring sophisticated adult sitcoms in the onetime “Family Viewing Hour” accelerates this fall with the moving of “Roseanne,” “Ellen,” “Friends,” “Living Single,” “Martin” and “Cybill” to 8 p.m. slots and the scheduling of a new comedy (CBS’ “Bless This House”) starring blue comic Andrew Clay (no longer “Dice”).
This follows on the heels of the 8 o’clock success of shows like “Mad About You,” “Melrose Place,” “Beverly Hills, 90210” and “The Nanny.”
“There is a definite move away from mom and pop and the kids at that hour,” Croasdale said.
Families who may not want junior to be exposed to mature adult themes appear to be the losers. Hide the kids; this could get ugly.
Newsmagazines, reality shows tumble: ABC canceled “Day One,” Fox cut back “Cops” and “America’s Most Wanted” to a half-hour apiece, and no network has slated any new magazine hours or reality programs for the second consecutive fall.
“Unsolved Mysteries” inexplicably ticks on, and NBC has retained three different nights of “Dateline NBC.” But the fact-based genre is clearly wounded.
Sunday nights ain’t what they used to be: NBC’s moving of “Mad About You” and “Hope & Gloria” to 8 p.m. Sundays has changed the entire dynamic of a night until now dominated by CBS and its older-skewing “60 Minutes” and “Murder, She Wrote.”
Now, with CBS blinking and moving “Murder” to Thursdays, all bets are off, and Sundays have suddenly become safe for yuppies and other living things.
The onetime “Murder” time period has suddenly become the most competitive in television, matching “Mad About You” against CBS’ “Cybill,” Fox’s still-formidable “The Simpsons” and ABC’s “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.”
Viewers over 50 need not apply: With the dramatic shift of CBS away from trying to be all things to all demographic groups, there is no network that puts a priority on serving older Americans because it just doesn’t pay.
Advertisers covet the 18-to-49 audience most, and every network is thus dedicated to the youth movement pioneered by - of all networks - Fox. Until the research proves that middle-agers and seniors are consumers, too, the focus won’t be changing anytime soon.