How ironic to be writing about NBC, ABC, & Fox trending overwhelmingly single-camera in their comedy series orders on a day when the syndication sale of a multi-camera sitcom, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, broke the record for off-network coin held by another muticamera sitcom, Seinfeld. But multi-camera sitcoms suffered another seasonal setback in their attempt to regain ground on broadcast television outside of CBS. With NBC, ABC and Fox done with their new series orders, only one multicamera sitcom, ABC’s Better Together, found its way to the schedule among those three nets for next season. That’s down from 3 last year.
It’s not that NBC, ABC and Fox are retreating from comedy altogether — their combined new comedy series order tally was 10 this year vs. 9 at the same point last year. But 9 of the 10 went to single-camera half-hours.
Over the past couple of years, especially in the context of the economic downturn that hit the TV industry hard, NBC, Fox and ABC executives have stressed that they are looking to diversify their comedy offering with less-expensive multi-camera sitcoms. And they have done it the development stage, buying multi-camera scripts and picking up multi-camera pilots. But when it came down to series orders this year, they went almost exclusively with single-camera shows.
Look at NBC. The network ordered 10 pilots evenly split between the two formats: five single-camera and five multi-camera. It picked up four of the single-camera pilots to series, Perfect Couples, Outsourced, Friends With Benefits and Next, while going 0-5 on the multi-camera side, not picking up a single traditional sitcom.
ABC also had a balanced pilot portfolio, ordering 12 comedy pilots, six of them single-camera, five multi-camera and one hybrid (Awkward Situations for Men). It picked up two single-camera ones to series, Mr. Sunshine and Happy Endings, and one multi-cam, Better Together. Of the two projects the network is keeping in contention for midseason with orders for new pilots, neither is multi-cam: Wright Vs. Wrong is single-camera and Awkward Situations is a hybrid.
Meanwhile, Fox showed a clear preference in the pilot stage, picking up 6 single-camera and three multi-camera pilots. It ended up ordering three new half-hour series, the single-camera Keep Hope Alive, Traffic Light and Running Wilde, and no multi-cam sitcoms. The network even converted one of its comedy pilots originally written as a multi-cam, Strange Brew, to single-camera.
Why is that the three networks’ series choices skewed so heavily single-camera this year despite the fact that multi-cams in general repeat better and sell for more in syndication? I think it has to do with the fact that the breakout new comedy series of this season, ABC’s Modern Family, was single-camera, while the three new multi-camera comedies, ABC’s Hank, Fox’s Brothers and NBC’s 100 Questions all faced a quick demise. (100 Questions is actually yet to air as a summer burn-off). Even CBS, the king of multi-camera sitcoms, struck out in the genre this season with Accidentally On Purpose.
But the eye network is looking good to restore some of the balance between single- and multi-camera series with several buzzed-about new sitcoms, including the already picked up Mike & Molly, from Big Bang and Two and a Half Men mastermind Chuck Lorre, and the almost-picked up William Shatner starrer Bleep My Dad Said. CBS stayed true to its multi-camera comedy identity in its pilot orders. All 8 of its pilots were multi-camera. (The Ant Hines single-camera project was a low-budget presentation)
Still, even with the success of Two and a Half Men, Big Bang and How I Met Your Mother on CBS, the genre seems to be retreating big time almost everywhere else, including non-kids cable channels. TBS is moving from multi-cam sitcoms to hourlong filmed comedies with Glory Daze and Lifetime recently canceled its multi-camera effort Rita Rocks. It seems like there are only two main choices for new original sitcoms on TV these days – CBS and TV Land.