Comedy Blocking

by Jaime Weinman

CBS’s Monday Night comedy block, whose season premiere is scheduled for September 22, is the closest thing there is to an old-school, strong-down-the-line comedy block. NBC’s Thursday night lineup has certainly made a strong comeback, but the ratings struggles of 30 Rock, the exile of Scrubs to ABC, and the creative struggles of My Name is Earl have left more holes there than NBC probably expected. CBS’s Monday night lineup is very traditional, consisting entirely of multi-camera shows, and it’s anchored by the most popular half-hour comedy on TV, Two and a Half Men. It’s CBS’s comfort-food approach at its best, really — shows like Men and The Big Bang Theory and even How I Met Your Mother (which has always seemed just a tad miscast on CBS because of its mild experiments with form and time) are not shows that seek to change the world or re-define what a comedy is, but they’re entertaining shows with mostly solid casts that you can sit down and enjoy for a painless 21 minutes.

If they would put The New Adventures of Old Christine back on Monday nights, CBS would have something we haven’t seen in many years: four actually-not-bad multi-camera comedies back-to-back. However, they’re not doing that; Christine is going to Wednesday nights, to be followed by another new multi-camera show, Project Gary, and the fourth slot on Monday nights is going to a single-camera Brit adaptation, Worst Week. It’s an interesting gamble — not a big gamble, since CBS doesn’t do big gambles, but a gamble nonetheless — to put a single-camera sitcom in with a block of multi-camera shows. CBS is probably figuring that by putting Worst Week at the end of the comedy block, just before CSI, the transition won’t be as jarring. But still, the modern single-camera style, with no laugh track and a very different comic rhythm from multi-camera, does not mesh very well with the multi-camera shows. (Even HIMYM, which doesn’t use an audience, is shot to look and sound exactly like shows that do use an audience, so that it won’t be out of place on CBS Monday nights.) I’m sure there must have been single-camera, no-laugh-track shows that successfully followed multi-camera hits. But what often happens when you put a show like that after a traditional multi-cam show is that you get Mr. Belvedere before the iconoclastic “dramedy” The Slap Maxwell Story, leading to a quick demise for Slap and promos like this:

Worst Week is a U.S. adaptation of the British hit The Worst Week of My Life, written by Matt Tarses, Scrubs writer and son of the great writer-producer Jay Tarses, who, as it happens, created The Slap Maxwell Story. It almost looks like CBS is counting on it to be their Office or 30 Rock. The only thing CBS does not have, comedy-wise, is what NBC has: a comedy that can win Emmys, get consistent critical acclaim and boost the network’s reputation. HIMYM looked like it could get there, but it keeps getting shut out by the Emmys. The promos for Worst Week, though not very interesting, make it look like a cross between Office‘s Brit-com comedy of pain and 30 Rock‘s deadpan zaniness. I guess it could work, but it just doesn’t look like the kind of show that will be at home after Two and a Half Men. The rhythm is just so different that unless the show is really good — which it might be, but from the promos, it doesn’t seem likely — it’ll be at a serious disadvantage. CBS may turn out to be better off going all multi-camera, all the time, and leaving the  single-camera stuff to the other networks.

Actually, I’ll be heretical and say that CBS maybe ought to consider adding a laugh track to Worst Week. I always thought the rhythm of the original series actually lent itself to a laugh track even though it didn’t have one — the actors seemed to be pausing for laughs that never came — and




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