Friday, August 27, 2004

Sitcoms: We're not quite dead yet!

—Originally published 8.27.04

Reality television may look like it's taking over the world, but those who long for the glory days of situation comedies shouldn't give up hope just yet.

It's a dire time for the genre, though, to be sure. There are only seven new entries in the 2004-05 season and for the first time in two decades NBC will start a year without a two-hour block of comedies in its Thursday night "Must See TV" lineup.

Last spring, three all-time heavyweights -- NBC's "Friends" and "Frasier" and HBO's "Sex and the City" -- called it quits, leaving just CBS' "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Two and a Half Men" and NBC's "Will & Grace" as the only returning bonafide hits.

None of those sitcoms finished in the top 10, however; reality shows dominated the ratings, taking five of the top seven slots with two nights of FOX's "American Idol," two seasons of CBS' "Survivor" and NBC's "The Apprentice."

Is it any wonder Entertainment Weekly recently plastered this headline across its cover: "Are Sitcoms Dead?"

Tom Cherones, a longtime director and producer on "Seinfeld," believes that's going a little too far.

"I don't think (the sitcom) is done for good," Cherones told the Aiken Standard last week. "TV's cyclical. (Sitcoms) will be down for a while, then they'll be back."

If anyone should know, it's Cherones, who worked on one of the all-time great sitcoms and helped turn it into a ratings giant by the time he left the series in the summer of 1994. He then went on to direct another NBC hit, "NewsRadio," for its entire four-year run from 1995-98.

The 64-year-old TV veteran, now semi-retired, admits there's not much worth watching on broadcast TV right now, as networks pour their resources and marketing into reality shows.

"Reality TV is cutting a lot of people out of work," he said, as screenwriters are dumped in favor of another reality producer promising to provide the next big thing. (There are six new reality shows on the schedule for this season, to go with the glut of returning "programs.")

Cherones dodges the alphabet soup in his personal viewing habits, turning to cable for his entertainment; favorites include USA's "Monk" and two British comedies, "Absolutely Fabulous" and "The Office."

He'll probably be back in a few years, when he believes the relatively new reality genre will have run its course.

"I don't see any back end on stuff like that," he said, because he can't imagine anyone wanting to watch reality reruns in syndication, a major source of revenue for years to come. Stars like Jerry Seinfeld and Tim Allen -- and directors like Cherones, for that matter -- are still making money every time one of their episodes runs on TBS, not to mention the networks themselves.

"When the bean-counters realize they don't have anything to sell," Cherones said, "they'll probably go back to (sitcoms)."

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