ABC's Excuse for Comedy: How to Fix the Sitcom

James Van Der Beek, Krysten Ritter and Dream Walker
are all funnier than their show. (ABC TV)


ABC has dubbed next Tuesday, October 23, as “Comedy Tuesday” with the season premieres of  “Happy Endings and “The B in Apartment 23,” two former mid-season replacement series that makes one scratch their head why the network thinks that they are deserving a spot on the fall schedule.

Typically, when a network is trying to promote a sitcom, they try to air sound bites of some of the best lines. The current ad for “The B” features the line, “Your sweater looks like a pumpkin that mated with a turd.” Seriously? THAT is what passes for comedy these days?

For a network that produces the very funny and Emmy-winning “Modern Family,” the underappreciated “The Middle” and even the quirky “Suburbatory,” it is a mystery why they continue to air this garbage. Haven’t they learned from last year’s fiascos, “Work It” and “Man Up”? The mystery continues with this year’s new “why-is-this-still-on” comedy, “The Neighbors” and the upcoming “Malibu Country.” Has the network forgotten what it means to be funny?

To be fair, all of these shows feature a great cast and concepts, but they all fall victim to bad writing and lazy joke telling. Jamie Gertz (“Neighbors”), James Van Der Beek, Krysten Ritter, Dreama Walker (“The B”) Reba McIntire, Lily Tomlin and Sara Rue (“Malibu Country”) are too talented to be wasted on such trash.

So, what can be done? For ABC, here are some suggestions:

Don’t forget the “sit” in “sitcom.”
The comedy show classic, “Seinfeld,” featured multiple storylines and vignettes in each episode but still managed to tell a story. Newer comedies like “Happy Endings” tries to do the same thing but with mixed results. Even the shortest story should contain a plot of some sort. Some writers worry too much on the joke and not enough about the story.

Don’t use a laugh track.
A show should never rely on canned laughter. If your show has to tell people when to laugh, it isn’t funny.

Don’t be crass.
Shows like “The B in Apartment 23” mistake crassness with humor. It’s not the same thing. Side note: foul language is a weak excuse for a joke as well. Stop doing that.

Don’t spew one-liners every 20 seconds.
ABC’s new “Malibu Country,” which begins airing on November 2, is a great example of this problem. In the pilot episode, one liners are uttered about every 20 seconds or less. You can time the laughs on the laugh track with your watch. Somewhere down the road, Hollywood forgot all about the set up. The hit series, “The Cosby Show” was different than other shows because it sometimes it took a few minutes to get to the punchline. Many times the audience laughed just at Cosby’s expressions. Sometimes a show is at its funniest when the writers are trying too hard to cram in as many jokes as possible.

Don’t build a show around a one note joke.
James Van Der Beek plays a version of himself in “The B in Apartment 23” which is funny for the first five minutes. But after the joke wears off, where do you go with it?

What do you think? What would you do to make the new comedies actually fun to watch?

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