Last month, the beloved sitcom Parks and Recreation ended its run on NBC. Parks and Recreation marks the end of the last sitcom on NBC with a truly devout cult following. The once proud home of Must-See TV—where Seinfeld, Frasier, and Friends once existed—does not have a strong sitcom on TV. While this is primarily due to the fact that most of NBC’s proud comedies ended by the spring 2013 (nine out of eleven comedies were either ended or cancelled, including The Office and 30 Rock), it is also due to the fact that NBC no longer makes the great sitcoms it used to.
While that seems like an extremely harsh statement, if one takes a closer look at the 2013/2014 season where NBC had to refresh its comedy lineup (since most of them ended or got cancelled), it becomes clear. NBC started the fall of 2014 with three new shows: The Michael J. Fox Show, Sean Saves the World, and Welcome to the Family. Two of these shows became record holders for the lowest series premieres in network history. All three were eventually cancelled. This sitcom-dry-spell that NBC is going through continues today, with the sitcom, called One Big Happy, set to replace Parks and Recreation. One Big Happy is about a gay woman, who is pregnant with her best friend’s baby, which is a clear nod at an industry fashion to portray supposedly hilarious “Modern Families,” a trend that began at ABC.
Another milestone NBC marked recently was the end of their Thursday comedy block, commonly known as Must See TV. Must See TV was a slogan that NBC invented in 1981 to market their Thursday comedy block, which contained Seinfeld, Frasier, and Friends. In 2015, for the first time in 33 years, there are no Thursday sitcoms on NBC. This might possibly be due to the success and dominance of Must See TV for the first twenty years of its run. This success may have made the other networks focus on breaking up NBC’s control of the Thursday night audience. CBS moved its repetitive, character stunting, and yet immensely popular sitcom, The Big Bang Theory to Thursdays. ABC began running the very popular Shonda Rhimes drama, Grey’s Anatomy to Thursdays. Needless to say, these intelligent and precise moves to counter act Must See TV worked. In the advent of these movements and the end of Friends, NBC dropped from being the number one TV network in America to the fourth network. The fact is that NBC just isn’t making them like they used to.
NBC has thankfully regained its number one network title last year (for the first time in 10 years). However, the network still has never been able to recreate their sitcom successes. We must also address the elephant in the room: the internet, Netflix, and Cable. The digital age and the rise of the cable networks have certainly fragmented the television viewing audience. This means that good sitcoms no longer just have to appear on network television. With Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix and Broad City on Comedy Central, viewers are spoilt for choices. This also means that we possibly may never have a comedy with ratings that go through the roof like Seinfeld or Friends, but are more likely to have comedies that have a truly religious following. Perhaps that is what the networks are missing. Sitcoms can no longer be blockbuster hits; they have to be cult classics.
The state of the Network Sitcom is just that, the belief that it is possible to create the “blockbuster” sitcom. ABC has Modern Family, CBS has The Big Bang Theory, and NBC with absolutely nothing now that Parks and Recreation is over. While I am not saying that the networks do not produce other sitcoms, I am saying that the networks only seem to care about the big-rating-grabbing ones. The position of the networks while understandable is increasingly becoming outdated. The only network that seems to understand the new fragmented market is FOX, which has Brooklyn Nine-Nine on Sundays, the quirky New Girl on Tuesdays, along with the enigmatic The Mindy Project. Each of FOX’s sitcoms has a unique premise and its own cult following, their focus in sitcoms is not an appeal to the masses but an appeal to the specific. The question is why the hell isn’t anyone else doing it?