As pilot production nears for fall 2007, reviving

As pilot production nears for fall 2007, reviving comedy remains a top priority for broadcasters. And with the critical success of sitcoms such as NBC’s The Office and 30 Rock, the networks see a glimmer of hope. Now if they can just get the ratings back up to Friends levels.

To do that, programmers are pushing at the boundaries of the format. At least a half-dozen comedy projects are so-called hybrids, either mixing scripted with non-scripted elements, or single-cam with multi-cam elements. Perhaps hoping to strengthen its Thursday comedy block, NBC is taking the most out-of-the-box shots. In the non-scripted comedy pilot Bad Judge, Jon Lovitz will preside over actual court cases—à la Judge Judy—but with more yuks. Meanwhile, Fox is developing a part-scripted, part-improv comedy about a reluctant politician. CBS is trying out the single/multi-cam style with My Name Is Earl creator Greg Garcia’s Fugly, about beauty-challenged sisters, one of whom undergoes an extreme makeover. And ABC is developing a real-time comedy about paramedics, from real-time pioneers Joel Surnow and Bob Cochran, of 24 fame.

Along with these experiments, there is the usual assortment of family, singles and workplace comedies. And even though advertisers have encouraged the networks to take risks in the past, many are beginning to throw their support behind more standard fare. “Most of the seminal sitcoms have revolved around scenarios that were highly relatable to viewers,” said John Rash, Campbell Mithun’s chief broadcast negotiator. “Too many shows are either high concept or don’t bear any resemblance to the lives most viewers lead, which is why I think the failure rate for comedy has been so high.”

Still, drama as a genre continues to thrive. And more certain is a return to close-ended shows. Several projects deal with the supernatural, like Demons, the exorcist drama CBS green-lit to pilot last month. Character-based dramas also are prevalent, such as ABC’s sports-themed Football Wives, CBS’ sex-themed, ’70s-set Swingtown and The CW’s teen-themed Gossip Girl.