Did NBC miss the boat on a new sitcom revolution?

The new fall season has started and that means my DVR is getting full again. This year, though, I’m passing on the usual crop of cop dramas and I’ve chosen a spate of sitcoms. I tried this last year but it didn’t work, largely because the 2014 sitcom class aimed squarely for the millennial generation who don’t watch TV and who have largely dismissed the rom-com genre. This year’s crop might fare better, because (and I am genuinely surprised at this) they actually seem to be designed for people my age, people who still watch TV.

I’m talking about Grandfathered, about a guy my age coming to terms with his life choices, Grinder about a guy my age coming to terms with a second career, and Life in Pieces which views its shiny millennial characters with a somewhat jaded eye as it glorifies a real, living couple over 50 who lives a full real life.

I’m similarly intrigued by The Muppets which surged back into popularity a few years ago by embracing the fact that its Gen-X fans are now middle-aged. ABC’s faux-reality sitcom has Kermit & Co going through the things you expect middle-aged characters to go through, like work problems, dating, and working alongside your ex. It’s a far cry from Sesame Street.

All in all it’s not surprising that I’m glad that people over the age of 34 are getting a little love on TV… except of course on NBC. NBC has -zero- half-hour sitcoms on the schedule at the moment, and only one confirmed show, the rather surprisingly resurgent Undateable which should be an interesting experiment as all of their shows will be live this year.

Why has NBC walked away from the sitcom format which propelled them to two decades of success? Sure, they had far more flops than successes especially in recent years but it really seems like NBC is moving in a very surprising direction by simply giving up on the 30-minute yukfest. Their decision seems to come at a time when other networks are slowly turning away from reality and crime shows and admitting that sometimes you just want some brainless fun (or in the case of perennial top-rated The Big Bang Theory, some overly brainy fun.)

It’s gotten to the point where laughing at NBC isn’t even funny anymore as they perpetually move in the wrong direction. I believe I’ve said this before, but I think NBC’s woes really started in the mid-1990s when they overpaid for Friends and ER and didn’t have the money to develop their replacements. Ever since then, the network’s been relying on an increasingly thin collection of shows spiritually connected to the original Law and Order as well its one successful program The Voice. Otherwise, unless it’s an Olympic year, NBC doesn’t have a lot going on.

Interestingly NBC’s site now shows what appear to be several 30-minute sitcoms in development but without premiere dates. Maybe they’ve already gained focus, or maybe it’s just too late. I forecasted at one point that NBC would be the first nationwide network to fold, and I have to say, I stand by that. I actually thought it would happen by now, but they’re still dragging themselves along. I wish them well, but even more, I give them the following advice:

People over 34 want to laugh, too. And you know what, they watch TV and have money to spend.

Perhaps NBC’s programming execs will think about that.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.