This is a conundrum — the two biggest new comedy series on NBC and ABC next season are expected to be revivals of two of the most popular multi-camera sitcoms of the 1990s and early 2000s, Will & Grace and Roseanne. A new season of Will & Grace is a centerpiece on NBC’s fall schedule as the 8 PM anchor of a new Must See TV block, while ABC has been negotiating for a new installment of Roseanne, which is expected to be announced soon.
Yet, the two networks will have no current multi-camera comedy series on the schedule this coming fall. NBC did not pick up the only multi-camera pilots it had, Relatively Happy, and its sole multi-camera series, The Carmichael Show, did not air originals this season, with its 13-episode third season slated for a summer run and its future beyond that uncertain. ABC also did not pick up any of its two multi-camera pilots, Household Name starring Carol Burnett, which could be revisited, and untitled single dad, and it canceled its two existing multi-camera comedy series, Last Man Standing, its second most watched comedy series, and Dr. Ken.
Fox has not aired a multi-camera comedy in years and CBS, which has been keeping the multi-camera comedy tradition alive, went 50-50, ordering two multi-camera new comedy series, 9JKL and By the Book; and two single-camera ones, Young Sheldon and Me, Myself & I.
In a sign that the glory days of broadcast multi-camera sitcoms are waning, CBS canceled 2 Broke Girls, the last multi-camera comedy to launch big and to score a record off-network cable sale ($1.7 million per episode), the likes of which we will probably never see again.
Even more telling, Young Sheldon, the upcoming prequel of stalwart multi-cam sitcom The Big Bang Theory, the biggest entertainment series on broadcast television, also is single-camera.
There is that big divide that is widening. The broadcast networks have been gradually losing interest in multi-camera comedy series. Some of it comes from a shift in viewers’ tastes as the younger generation, with some notable exceptions like Big Bang, tends to gravitate towards single-camera shows. And some of it comes from writers as very few want to write multi-camera sitcoms, so the majority of pitches are single-camera these days.
At the same time, the nostalgia factor is strong, fueling the success of the reboots of such popular broadcast multi-camera sitcoms as Full House and One Day At a Time on Netflix. That is now spilling to the broadcast networks, with NBC’s big Will & Grace revival, whose marketing campaign already has launched with first teasers, and the expected Roseanne return on ABC. Neither will have a multi-camera companion. (NBC, which already has revealed its fall schedule, will air single-camera workplace comedy Great News behind Will & Grace)
With classic multi-camera sitcoms discovered by new generations via on-demand viewing, their return certainly makes sense. NBC would do a Seinfeld or Friends reunion in a heartbeat if their creators and stars want to do it.
But the future of the genre on broadcast TV is uncertain, at least until a successor to Big Bang comes along.