Mainstream success trumps witty comedy in TV landscape

February 6, 2013

Last week, ABC announced that fan favorite comedy “Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23” was canceled after two seasons. “Apartment 23,” along with the witty comedy “Happy Endings,” also on ABC, were struggling ratings-wise and showed only modest improvement following a time slot change made in hopes of boosting viewership.

The two ABC comedies represent only the beginning of a trend. During the same week “Apartment 23” was canceled, the favorably reviewed FOX sitcom “Ben and Kate” was also canceled in the middle of its first season after airing only 13 of its 19 episodes. Meanwhile, on NBC, “Parks and Recreation” and “Community” struggle to maintain viewers, despite a dedicated fan base.  It’s obvious that well-liked comedies must go to great lengths to be successful today.

So when fans and critics can agree that a comedy is of good quality, why aren’t people watching?

The first answer to that question comes in the form of ratings. Sitcoms like “Modern Family” and “Two and a Half Men” rank among the most highly viewed shows.  With the success of other family comedies like “Suburgatory,” “Raising Hope” and even the sci-fi infused “The Neighbors,” could the success of the sitcom lie in its content?

All of the previously mentioned shows center on modern American family life and its challenges. People want to watch shows about themselves — that’s why reality television is so popular — but scripted shows can capture the essence of everyday life and romanticize it.  Perhaps a lack of reality explains the constant endangerment of niche comedy shows.

Yet this trend cannot explain the success of “The Big Bang Theory” and the high ratings of newer shows like “New Girl” and “2 Broke Girls.”  One must also take into account the continuing success of shows like “Glee” and “How I Met Your Mother” as more examples of popular yet unrealistic comedies.

The fate of a show, then, is largely dependent on a network’s lineup. “Apartment 23” beat the FOX sitcom “Raising Hope” in ratings in both the 18-49 demo and total viewership, but the show still got axed, while “Raising Hope” remains on air and will likely be renewed. This could be because FOX only has three sitcoms — “Raising Hope,” “New Girl” and “The Mindy Project” — while ABC has seven sitcoms in its lineup. ABC can afford to trim the fat, while FOX needs to keep the laughs.

Save for special instances, though, it seems better for a show to be well liked by many than fervently loved by few. “Parks and Recreation” has been in danger of cancellation since its inception, but now, with the critical acclaim for the fifth season bringing in a larger audience, its fate looks secure for the first time since its beginning. Hopefully more good shows like it can find their footing so that America can keep on laughing.

Ife Olujobi is a staff writer. Email her at entertainment@nyunews.com.

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