Mr. TV: Making Amends

I’ve made some bad calls in my career. A sitcom set in a bar? A comedy about “nothing”? A high school glee club? Yeah, right.

My biggest misread this season: CBS’ Mike & Molly, two weight-challenged fortysomethings (Melissa McCarthy and Billy Gardell) who meet at a support group for overeaters.  My initial criticism was too many fat jokes in the pilot.

From a ratings standpoint, Mike & Molly is not as strong as year-ago occupant The Big Bang Theory, with a fair degree of erosion from lead-in (and corporate cousin) Two and a Half Men. All three sitcoms are from Chuck Lorre, the current king of the genre.  

But taking into consideration that The Big Bang Theory was not a hit from the get-go, Mike & Molly needs time to build. Six episodes in, this is the best sitcom I’ve seen since, well, The Big Bang Theory. I need to remember to never  judge a series by the pilot.

The key to a successful sitcom is to populate it with characters we can relate to and situations that are as accessible as they are funny. Gardell and McCarthy are modern equivalents of Jackie Gleason (no stranger to overdoing it) and Audrey Meadows from The Honeymooners.  Add to the mix Mike’s snappy cop partner Carl (Reno Wilson, who is eerily reminiscent of Gary Coleman), Carl’s sassy Grandma Cleo King (who in real life is only 8 years older than Wilson) and Molly’s kooky family (Swoosie Kurtz as tipsy mom Joyce and Katy Mixon as sex-starved sister Victoria,  and you have a comedy that could keep us entertained for years. Snappy, sassy and kooky are key ingredients for any good sitcom.

And unlike the competing networks, which have virtually abandoned the multicamera live studio audience format, CBS is the one broadcaster wise enough to appreciate its merits. My one suggestion, though, is not to rush the relationship. Keep these two single (TV history note: Anyone remember what happened when Rhoda married Joe in the eighth episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show spinoff?) and make sure the zingers keep flying as you build audience.

Worth noting at TBS this week is the long-awaited arrival of Conan O’Brien in late night.  While I have never really understood his appeal, going to TBS (after the NBC Tonight Show debacle) is a brilliant maneuver because expectations are low and the only place to go is up.
By stepping up to the plate and positioning Conan into the time slot of relocated Lopez Tonight, TBS has proven it’s a serious player in late night. All things considered, TBS acquiring Conan (and pairing him again with sidekick Andy Richter) looks like a win-win situation. The target young male viewers are, after all, the exact demo who watch his shtick.
And right now, no one seems to remember (or care) that his ratings on The Tonight Show were abysmal.

Also a viewing option this week, no doubt, is the launch of TLC reality series Sarah Palin’s Alaska, with the vice presidential candidate and best-selling author switching from politics to documentary television as host and executive producer of this weekly look at our scenic 49th state. It airs Sundays at 9 p.m. Like her or loathe her (and, like Conan, I just don’t get her appeal), you have to hand it to Palin. She knows how to grab the spotlight, and we will never be rid of her.

If viewers en masse continue to vote to keep her wooden daughter Bristol on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars, I imagine there will be plenty of sampling for her mom’s series too.