Network executives may finally be realizing that families like to watch TV together.
It’s “pilot season” in Hollywood – the time of year when TV networks begin making production deals and lining up programming for next fall’s premieres. Already, several trends are emerging, according to The Hollywood Reporter. But in addition to the usual crime, court, and cop shows, the nighttime soap operas (largely inspired by the success of Fox’s Empire), and – oddly – a couple programs featuring the concept of time travel, far and away the biggest focus is on “family comedies.”
The Disney-owned ABC network has ordered no fewer than 12 comedy pilots, all of which are about families. But naturally, programmers are looking for a unique “twist” or variation that makes their program seem different from the others. Television today would never return to the days of Father Knows Best (what a sexist title!), Leave It to Beaver, or Ozzie and Harriet, featuring average, everyday families most viewers could relate to. Instead, among ABC’s pilots are one featuring a family dealing with cancer, another with special needs children, still another focusing on a family of geniuses, and even one with a talking dog! (Shades of ALF.) This will be in addition to the network’s already heavy “family comedy” schedule, including The Middle, Modern Family, The Goldbergs, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, Last Man Standing, Dr. Ken and, to some extent, even The Muppets.
CBS has ordered five half-hour pilots, four of which are about families, while NBC Chairman Bob Greenblatt has ordered four. Even The CW’s President, Mark Pedowitz, is looking for “quirky family material.” Only Fox seems disinclined to join in the “family comedy” trend…but given that network’s idea of a “family comedy” is the rape-and-child-molestation-laden cartoon Family Guy, that’s probably a blessing.
Why this sudden spate of interest in family comedies? There are several reasons. Networks are always looking for ways to attract more viewers; and, though it’s been a long time since they realized it, providing shows families watch together is one way to do that. (This is the same reasoning behind the live musical productions like NBC’s The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, and The Wiz, and Fox’s Grease: Live!)
Family comedies also provide more immediate impact on viewership ratings, and hence more impact with advertisers. As one long-time comedy producer said, “Those are the shows people don’t DVR — they watch them live with their kids before bed.” And finally, what better way to compete with “dark, edgy” cable dramas than by offering something different, something the cable networks don’t – namely, shows the entire family can watch?
Of course, it’s entirely possible these new “family comedies” won’t actually be suitable for families. We’ve been here before; and this is not the first time the PTC has had to warn that “shows about families” are not the same thing as “shows FOR families.”
Still; it’s best to be hopeful; and, at the very least, the very fact that the broadcast networks are finally recognizing that many viewers want something other than sleazy sex jokes and graphic violence is a positive step forward.