“If that’s a joke, I love it. If not, can’t wait to unpack that with you later,” said the title character in Ted Lasso, perhaps accidentally highlighting two varying differences of comedy – the darker dramedy side and the laugh-out-loud variety.
Channing Dungey, Chairman and CEO of Warner Bros. Television Group, which makes the Jason Sudekis series, as well as breakout comedy hits Night Court and Abbott Elementary, says we’re in a moment where “hard funny” is making a comeback.
“It’s like the Three Stooges — hard funny is the pie in the face,” she told Deadline. “It’s that instant thing that makes you laugh and off you go.”
Dungey, who runs the studio that made Friends and The Big Bang Theory, believes that these types of shows are having a moment. “People are looking to try to figure out how can we do more shows that lean into kind of that hard funny perspective because the lines of comedic drama and all of that has become a little bit blurry,” she said.
RELATED: 2023 Premiere Dates For New & Returning Series On Broadcast, Cable & Streaming
“As a country and as a world, we’ve been going through some really difficult, challenging times with Covid and the economy, the whole nine yards,” she added. “When you look back at Ted Lasso, which really became a breakthrough success when we were all home in 2020, I think people are looking for things that make them laugh and things that are a little bit brighter, and things that make them feel a sense of community.”
For Dungey, there’s a few different sides to the comedy coin: There’s the slightly more traditional sitcoms for broadcast networks, and series for streaming and premium cable (including new projects in the works at Amazon from Mindy Kaling and Hacks creators Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs – see below).
On the former, in addition to NBC’s Night Court, which landed a second-season renewal after only four episodes, ABC’s Abbott Elementary, which scored a third season after impressive ratings growth, the studio is also responsible for CBS’ Young Sheldon and Bob ♥ Abishola and Fox’s Call Me Kat.
“With broadcast comedies, it’s that that group of people that you check in with every week that make you feel a little bit better about your world and make you laugh at the end of a long day,” said Dungey. “When you’re dealing with things that are tough, you check into a place like whether it’s the Friends‘ couch, or the Abbott Elementary teachers’ lounge, and suddenly you feel better you feel like you’re surrounded by people that you know, and who make you feel good.”
Night Court follows judge Abby Stone (Melissa Rauch), the daughter of the late Harry Stone fro the original series, as she follows in her father’s footsteps presiding over the night shift of a Manhattan arraignment court that also features former night court prosecutor Dan Fielding (John Larroquette).
NBC said that the premiere reached an audience of over 25M in delayed viewing since its January 17 launch, which ranked as the No. 1 broadcast premiere of the 2022-23 season in the 18-49 demo and total audience.
RELATED: TV Series Fading To Black In 2023 & Beyond: Photo Gallery Of Canceled Shows
Dungey said Night Court is a “fertile setting” for a show, but it “didn’t necessarily feel like you were treading on such hallowed ground.”
“There was certainly love for the show when it was on the air, but it wasn’t one of those shows that was such a sort of iconic touch base for a lot of people,” she added. “People definitely remember John Larroquette and the Dan Fielding character, but the rest of it, there was some opportunity there to play.”
The original ended after in 1992 nine seasons, with many believing that it had been cut short. “I would guess that they probably cut it short, because the ratings were hovering somewhere around a 6.5,” joked Dungey.
Reboot culture is such nowadays that you’d be surprised if any stone was left unturned at the studio that was behind titles such as Growing Pains and Living Single as well as more controversial shows such as
The Dukes of Hazzard. Dungey admits that there’s some titles that she and her team pitch to writers under deals at Warner Bros. TV and they receive a “fair amount” of incoming calls from writers and producers on old IP.
But, she cautions: “The truth of it is, in the course of my career, I’ve worked on many, many, many shows that were inspired by IP, and a majority of those shows were not successful. If you have a great title, you can certainly market it and you can get a certain amount of people to show up because they either have a fondness for the title. But there has to really be a reason for the reboot or the retelling to exist. Why is it important to tell this story now? What is the new perspective that you are sharing with the audience? How are you going to talk about the world we live in and make the humor feel contemporary and real?”
The other relatively new network comedy juggernaut to come out of the studio is Quinta Brunson’s Abbott Elementary, which continues to pick up steam and ratings in its second season.
Brunson created the series, which is set in a Philadelphia public school and stars as Janine Teagues, alongside Williams, Janelle James, Lisa Ann Walter, Chris Perfetti, William Stanford Davis and Sheryl Lee Ralph.
Dungey said the success of a show like Abbott Elementary is getting the “perfect blend” of actors. “It is so much about the chemistry between the actors and their comedic timing and how they can play off of one another,” she added. “So many comedies actually don’t succeed, because you don’t have that level of chemistry.”
Talking of streaming, Warner Bros. TV produces Apple’s Jason Segel-Harrison Ford series Shrinking and HBO Max’s The Sex Lives of College Girls and Chuck Lorre’s upcoming How to Be a Bookie in addition to Ted Lasso.
Deadline also can reveal that it is developing two new projects for Amazon.
House of Kyle is a single-camera comedy that comes from Matt Warburton and Kaling. It follows a young and temperamental American streetwear designer, who is hired to reinvent a struggling Italian fashion label owned by a wealthy family of warring siblings in Rome. The Mindy Project exec producer Warburton is writing and will exec produce with Kaling, 3 Arts’ Howard Klein and co-exec produced by Jessica Kumai Scott.
Meanwhile, Boyos comes from Hacks creators Lucia Aniello and Paul W. Downs. The single-camera comedy explores the dynamic of a male friendship based on love, vulnerability and sweet boyo-ness and stars Downs and Cake star Rhys Mitchell. The trio will write the pilot and exec produce with Aniello set to direct the pilot.
‘TED LASSO’ FUTURE
Ted Lasso is returning to Apple TV+ for its third season in the spring.
The big question, however, is whether the match is over for the soccer comedy. Sudekis has refused to say publicly whether the series is ending after three seasons, though it originally had been set as a three-season arc and many of its stars are preparing to say goodbye.
Some have suggested that Sudekis previously was steadfast in three seasons but that his stance might have softened more recently, a theory corroborated by Dungey.
“What had initially been the vision that Jason and Bill [Lawrence] had, when they went into Season 1, was very much a three-act structure,” she said. Then I think it becomes one of those things that as you get going with it, and if you fall in love with that world and those characters, it’s hard to say goodbye.”
Either way, the former ABC and Netflix exec said she’s feeling good about the show.
“The end of the season, it ends beautifully,” she said. “If that is all we do in the Ted Lasso universe, I think the fans will be really happy and excited. But there’s also a way to crack open a door. If we’re fortunate enough to do more, we can keep on going.”
If the main Ted Lasso series ends, however, don’t expect a litany of spinoffs. While there are plenty of other characters that live interesting lives and other areas of the pitch to mine, spinoffs are a tricky proposition. Just remember Friends spinoff Joey.
“When you think of Ted Lasso, you obviously think of that unforgettable character,” she said. “When you think of Night Court, you think of John Larroquette, and when you think of The Big Bang Theory, you think of Sheldon. Young Sheldon is a perfect example of being able to create a spinoff of a universe that actually does work because you have a character at the center and a different way of looking at that universe than what was there before. But I do think that when you’re doing a spinoff for a spinoff’s sake, that’s usually where you fall into some problems.”
As Night Court has shown, the multi-camera comedy is far from dead. As Deadline highlighted this month, CBS, with a series from the Wayans family, Fox, with a Patricia Heaton comedy, ABC, with a family comedy exec produced by Ty Burrell, and NBC with a new Mike O’Malley comedy in addition to Lopez vs Lopez, all are continuing to plough ahead with plenty of cameras.
RELATED: Thanks, ‘Night Court’! How Multi-Cams Are Having A Moment … Again
Dungey said that while single-camera comedies are more “trendy,” there is an economic advantage to multi-cam. “Multi-camera comedy fell out of favor a little bit,” she said. “The truth of it is that multi-cameras are actually hard to do because there’s a part of that’s like live theater. You really have to have the actors who are comfortable and have that stage presence to be able to do this kind of thing live and on their feet. And that’s what’s so fun about watching Melissa Rauch and John Larroquette going back and forth with one another.”
There are fewer and fewer younger writers that are attracted to the form, however, making finding the next Chuck Lorre trickier. “I worry that it’s becoming a bit of a lost art,” Dungey said. “But I’m encouraged by the success of Night Court, because maybe it will encourage other writers to experiment a little bit more with multi-camera.”
The other thing that might encourage new writers to get involved is the entrance of the likes of HBO Max and Netflix. The former is believed to be considering them and the latter has such series as The Upshaws and recently launched That ‘90s Show.
“When you look at all the streaming services and so many of the top shows are multi-camera comedies like Friends and The Big Bang Theory … it’s almost inevitable that they turn to multi-camera,” she said. “It’s just getting the streamers to invest enough in wanting to launch and nurture some [new shows].”
There’s also the possibility that The CW will start ordering them under new President of Entertainment Brad Schwartz.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how The CW unfolds,” she said. “I feel like Brad and the team are just kind of getting their sea legs and figuring out exactly what they want the programming slate for the network to be, so we’re looking forward to hearing more from them.”
Up next for Warner Bros. TV on the comedy side are How to Be a Bookie starring Sebastian Maniscalco, Lorre’s first show for HBO Max, which had its first table read last week. The Sex Lives of College Girls was renewed for a third season, Dungey’s team is working on a second season of Scooby-Doo spinoff Velma, an adult animated comedy that comes from Kaling and Charlie Grandy that was the streamer’s most-watched animated series debut ever, and Starz’s Shining Vale, starring Courteney Cox, Greg Kinnear and Mira Sorvino, which has just finished production on its second season.