After 'Raymond,' What's Next for Sitcoms?
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
Tonight, the CBS sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond" concludes nine seasons on the air, a departure to be noted in New York this week where the broadcasters are announcing their fall schedules. Here's DAY TO DAY TV critic Andrew Wallenstein on how comedy can carry on without "Raymond."
ANDREW WALLENSTEIN reporting:
When was the last time you laughed watching television? I mean, really howled your head off? Sadly, "Everybody Loves Raymond" was probably the only consistent source of humor on network TV this year. This comic gem will be missed.
(Soundbite of "Everybody Loves Raymond")
Mr. RAY ROMANO: (As Ray Barone) I don't know why you make me read them bedtime stories. All I hear is, `Mommy reads better.'
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. ROMANO: (As Ray Barone) `Sports Illustrated isn't a book.'
(Soundbite of laughter)
WALLENSTEIN: So what show is waiting in the wings as "Raymond's" heir apparent? Absolutely none if you're judging the TV season that ends this month. The broadcast networks had no luck getting yucks this year. Reality shows might be the exception, though their humor is usually unintentional.
With no standout comedies to speak of, many viewers are eagerly awaiting to see what the broadcasters will unveil this week at their presentations. They will choose a select few from the dozens of pilot programs being considered for treatment as a full series. With "Raymond" saying goodbye tonight, the temptation might exist to replicate this kind of classic sitcom, but I'm starting to wonder whether it's a temptation they should resist.
You see, "Raymond" is really an anomaly. The format of the sitcom has been in decline for so long, maybe we should just declare it dead. I'm not saying there's no room for comedy on television, rather I think it's time to shake up its conventional trappings as much as possible. We desperately need different themes, characters and settings than the ones we're used to. Perhaps it's time TV realized that recycling "Seinfeld" actors is not the way to do it. But here we have CBS developing a sitcom starring Julie Louis-Dreyfus, who played Elaine on "Seinfeld." It certainly didn't serve CBS well this past season when it employed Jason Alexander, who played George. He stars in "Listen Up," a boring sitcom that will be lucky if it gets another season on the air. Michael Richards, who played Kramer, has also failed, too.
On the other hand, NBC may have the right idea. One of its potential new comedies feels fresh; it's called "Early Bird." It's based on the memoir of a 28-year-old guy who went to live in a retirement community. There's also something called "Thick & Thin" about an obese woman who loses a ton of weight but still has to contend with her fat family. Ideas like these are off the wall, wacky and, best of all, fresh. And yet, I wonder if NBC has the guts to go forward with something risky. Their gutsy remake of the British hit "The Office" was admirably kooky and idiosyncratic, but it's currently struggling.
UPN could also break the losing streak with its anti-sitcom. Instead of "Everybody Loves Raymond," they have a concept tentatively being called "Everybody Hates Chris." It's a show based on the painful childhood memories of comedian Chris Rock, who grew up in Brooklyn. You average cuddly sitcom it's not, which is precisely the point. This genre is in desperate need of different, daring approaches.
CHADWICK: Andrew Wallenstein is an editor at the Hollywood Reporter.
(Soundbite of music)
CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY returns in a moment. I'm Alex Chadwick.