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Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Static From The Geek-In-Chief: Creatively Handcuffed

Q: What do the following shows have in common?

Will & Grace
Joey
Still Standing
According To Jim
Listen Up
Rodney
That '70s Show
Hope & Faith
Less Than Perfect
8 Simple Rules
My Wife and Kids
George Lopez
Committed


If you answered "They're all lame sitcoms, Mr. Geek-In-Chief!" you'd be right. Well, half right. The answer I was looking for is:

A: They're all lame sitcoms that regularly beat the brilliant Arrested Development in the Nielsens.

In case you can't tell where this is going, this is my sure-to-become-annual rant to save television's best comedy, which is on shaky ground these days. Sure, chief network toady Gail Berman is saying all the right things: "We at Fox love Arrested Development and we look forward to having the Bluth family back on Fox in the future- hopefully for many years." Yet the fact remains that Gail herself signed off on slashing the Emmy-winning comedy's season order by 4 episodes, while yanking the show from the crucial May sweeps period.

Which leads me to ask again: why do Americans like their comedy so bland? Why do audiences require the lame, old-school structure of setup-joke-punchline, followed by an overly loud laugh track, to watch a sitcom in droves?

It's been well established that Arrested is brilliantly written, impeccably acted and perfectly executed. Also established, however, is that viewers avoid smart comedies in droves. In its second season, Arrested is averaging less than 7 million viewers a week, showing little growth since its surprising victory at last year's Emmys. And, like its similarly intelligent, laugh-track-free NBC cousin Scrubs, it will likely never be a mass appeal hit.

Which, in some ways (namely creatively) is a good thing.

Here's hoping that cooler heads prevail at Fox and they keep Arrested Development around for awhile. It's not like much of their other programming is setting the world on fire (American Idol and 24 aside). Of course, it's a business, but any retail manager will tell you having a few loss leaders isn't such a bad thing. The press Arrested gets is priceless, especially when your network is also running crap like Point Pleasant.

So please, Fox. Have a little dignity. Keep an intelligent, well-made show running for a little while longer. It'll help save some face after trying to squeeze another year out of the burnt-out That 70's Show.

Static From The Geek-In-Chief airs every Wednesday.

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