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No Sitcoms to Sell, But Studios Still Sing ‘I Will Survive’

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Updated Monday, May 19, 2014, 7:55 am PT

That sitcom shortage you keep reading about is not going to be righting itself in 2014-15.

Three of the big four broadcast networks are dumping three hours of comedy from their schedules: CBS is losing its once-strong Monday 9 p.m. hour, which formerly contained such power players as Two and a Half Men and Everybody Loves Raymond; Fox is dropping sitcoms from Tuesdays at 8 p.m. (although ABC is adding comedy in that slot); and NBC is ousting comedy on Thursdays at 8 p.m., the slot from which Friends once ruled primetime.

As a result, there will be even fewer comedies in network prime next year than there were this year, with the total number of sitcom pick-ups dropping to 19 from last year’s 24. Of those, only five survived into season two: CBS’ Mom and The Millers, ABC’s The Goldbergs, Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine and NBC’s About a Boy. (Another one, NBC’s The Night Shift, hasn’t aired yet, and two—Fox’s Us & Them and Murder Police—were canceled before they even aired.)

What that means is there will be no A-list sitcom heading into syndication for at least five more years. The ones currently on the air are all at least four years old: Warner Bros.’ The Big Bang Theory is headed into season eight and Two and a Half Men will launch its 12th and last season this fall. Twentieth’s Modern Family is heading into year five, and Twentieth’s The Simpsons and Family Guy, anchoring Fox’s solid Sunday night sitcom line-up, are 25 (!) and 12-year-old, respectively. Like Modern Family, Warner Bros.’ The Middle, which is a mediocre performer in syndication, is headed into its fifth season on ABC and its second in syndication.

Warner Bros.’ Mike & Molly, the third show from executive producer Chuck Lorre that’s currently on the air, heads into syndication this fall. That show turned in a respectable fourth season, but it’s not considered an elite offering. Lorre’s fourth primetime show, Mom, starring Anna Faris and Allison Janney, is thought to have potential that it hasn’t yet realized in the ratings.

Warner Bros. also has 2 Broke Girls—which will return to CBS on Mondays at 8 p.m. this winter— moving into the distribution pipeline. That show’s syndication launch is scheduled for fall 2015, but it has not lived up to either the promise of its first season or last season’s move into the 9 p.m. slot on Monday nights.

Meanwhile, Twentieth’s How I Met Your Mother, which was a top-five rated sitcom in its final season on CBS, has been declining in the off-network syndicated ratings ever since its series finale on Monday, March 31, with mostly negative fan reaction to the show’s long-awaited ending.

Many fans were hopeful that CBS would pick up the show’s spin-off, How I Met Your Dad, but the network passed on the project last week. CBS Entertainment chief Nina Tassler said she was “heartsick” over the decision, but the pilot just didn’t make the grade.

Easing the pain of having no big sitcoms to sell is the fact that subscription video-on-demand services (SVOD) such as Netflix and Amazon Prime have been paying top dollar to acquire serialized broadcast dramas, and strong procedurals always sell well both internationally and to cable networks.

Comedy a Hard Sell

After struggling with the time period for two seasons, Fox scrapped its efforts to launch comedy on Tuesdays at 8 p.m., instead filling the slot with the big-swing reality show, Utopia. This season, Fox picked up only four new comedies: Mulaney; Will Forte’s midseason entry, Last Man on Earth; new animated show, Bordertown; and Weird Lovers.

Meanwhile, Fox placed live-action comedy on Sunday night for the first time in years, moving Golden Globe-winner Brooklyn Nine-Nine into the post-Simpsons slot at 8:30 p.m. and Mulaney behind Family Guy at 9:30 pm.

Similarly, NBC closed shop on its long-standing Thursday 8 p.m. comedy hour. Like on Fox, that means less time periods for comedy, so Sony Pictures Television’s Community is saying good-bye after five hard-fought seasons on the air and Parks & Recreation will air one more season and then depart. Both shows air to relatively small audiences in syndication.

NBC is employing a similar strategy on both Tuesdays and Thursdays, opening with reality, leading into comedy and closing with drama. The Voice will open Tuesday nights, leading into the new comedy from SPT, Marry Me, and sophomore sitcom About a Boy and closing with Chicago Fire. The Biggest Loser will open Thursday nights, lead into new comedies Bad Judge and A to Z and close out with Parenthood.

ABC, in the meantime, is taking up the comedy mantle at 8 p.m. on Tuesday. Two new shows, Selfie and Manhattan Love Story, will lead into Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. at 9 p.m. ABC also will leave well enough alone on Wednesday night, with The Middle airing at 8 p.m., The Goldbergs at 8:30 p.m. and Modern Family in the 9 p.m. time period. New comedy Black-ish will cap the comedy block and lead into Nashville.

ABC also left a lot of comedy corpses on the floor, including Trophy Wife, Super Fun Night, The Neighbors, Mixology and Suburgatory, the last of which had hoped to enter its fourth season in primetime and syndication.

Another of ABC’s new sitcoms, Cristela, will air on Friday nights following Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing. While Friday nights are generally rough on sitcoms (see Enlisted), Last Man Standing is holding its own and Shark Tank, which airs at 9, is on the rise.