In a ludicrous—and roundly derided—Vanity Fair column from 2007 titled “Why Women Aren’t Funny,” the late polemicist Christopher Hitchens argued that humor cannot be found in the absence of a Y chromosome. American television audiences might beg to differ.
Of the 44 comedy pilots ordered by the networks in anticipation of the 2012-13 season, 18 were conceived and/or written by women. NBC and ABC are leading the trend, accounting for 14 of the season’s female-driven comedies, or exactly half their combined sitcom orders.
While NBC’s comedic solar system is particularly female-centric—revolving as it does around the twin suns of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler— it did allow one homegrown talent to fall out of orbit. After the Peacock passed on an untitled workplace comedy written by The Office’s Mindy Kaling, Fox snapped up the project. In what could be a good fit for Fox’s freshman comedy hit New Girl, the Kaling project will star the multi-hyphenate as a young OB/GYN struggling to balance her personal and professional lives.
If Kaling’s show gets a series order, she will also serve as an executive producer and writer, working alongside fellow Office producer Howard Klein. A slot in Fox’s prime-time lineup would signal the end of Kaling’s Office stint, further diminishing a series already reeling from the departure of star Steve Carrel. If Kaling leaves, she takes with her not only the flighty customer-service rep Kelly Kapoor but also her laptop. The 32-year-old has written more than 20 episodes of The Office, including the Emmy-nominated two-parter “Niagara.”
The untitled Kaling project was developed at NBC’s studio arm, Universal Television.
Among the familiar names in contention for a slot on NBC’s fall schedule are Sarah Silverman and Roseanne Barr. Silverman will write, produce and star in a single-camera comedy about a woman forced to come to terms with being single after the end of a 10-year relationship. Joining Silverman are Lost’s Ken Leung, Parks and Recreation writer Harris Wittels and Upright Citizens Brigade alum June Diane Raphael. Meanwhile, Barr will reunite with John Goodman and much of the creative team behind her ABC mega hit Roseanne in Downwardly Mobile, a populist comedy set in a trailer park.
Some of NBC’s more promising pilots are helmed by women renowned for their work behind the scenes. Kari Lizer, creator of CBS’ The New Adventures of Old Christine and a writer on NBC’s Will and Grace, is cooking up a female buddy comedy with the working title Lady Friends. Also in the works is Daddy’s Girls, a multicamera strip from Friends scribe Dana Klein. Lizer also has an untitled project up for review at ABC. Among the talent attached to the network’s roster of seven female-driven comedies are Reba McEntire, Portia de Rossi and Judy Greer.
When animation is factored in, the networks have invested in eight more comedy pilots than a year ago. This season’s total marks a 35 percent increase compared with 2009 (34).