CBS Is Good At Finding Comedies, Bad At Producing Them -

CBS Is Good At Finding Comedies, Bad At Producing Them


One thing that I find intriguing about the strong performance of comedies on CBS is that virtually all of their successful comedies are produced by outside companies. Warner Brothers does Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, and Old Christine; Fox produces HIMYM. Worst Week is produced by Universal. Gary Unmarried is an ABC/Disney production. Almost by accident, they’ve revived an older model of TV production, where the network concentrates on buying projects from other companies instead of producing shows in-house.

We’ve heard a lot lately about how shows benefit from “vertical integration,” how a show has more security if the network owns it. But the other side of it is that when a show is developed entirely in-house, there are fewer viewpoints that go into the making of the show, and that can lead to blandness and standardization. Especially with comedy, which is so hard to do successfully, it may actually help to have a show produced and broadcast by different companies: it creates a mix of styles, somehow. Look at 20th Century Fox: every multi-camera sitcom they’ve produced for their own network has bombed, but How I Met Your Mother, which fuses Fox’s house style with CBS’s somewhat different requirements, turned out better. Even when Warner Brothers still had its own network, its best comedy productions were always for other networks. Maybe there’s something about comedy that is at odds with the notion of one unified corporate idea of what’s funny. We’ll never get back to the old fin-syn days of independent producers selling their wares to the networks, but there’s got to be a happy medium between that and Ben Silverman commissioning comedies from his own network and his own production company.


CBS Is Good At Finding Comedies, Bad At Producing Them

  1. Doesn’t it also have something to do with the cultures of the corporations involved? Most production company executives I’ve met came up through production. They actually have, you know, *made* things. They occasionally actually have to talk, and not just dictate, to those annoying writers and craftspeople.

    In a network environment, you come up through a far more corporate environment. You might come from sales or marketing or from another division, or through an agency or only occasionally through a production company.

    And a production company person has to make taste decisions all the time, every day, every minute. You get better at it than the person whose job it is not to not say what they think til they check the research.

    But yes, fights, cross pollination, all that was good. Also — the days where producers could actually fight a stupid note rather than roll over and take it — that was all possible in the days when you as a creative were responsible more to the production company than the network, because it was the studio who was deficit financing and waiting for syndication to make their money back.

    Now the foxes are guarding the henhouse. And it’s working about as well as it usually does.

  2. I’m not entirely sure if the Fox and WB comparisons are apt. While you would expect Warner Brothers to save its good shows to prop up the WB, I would actually be surprised if this happened. Instead, I would bet that every show that was seen as being the next big hit was shopped around to the big three to see if they would take it, as it would have a much bigger audience potential than if it were put on the WB. This is especially true if the show was more family centered or traditionally sitcomy, since the WB developed a strong reputation as the network for teenage girls and people who like the same shows as teenage girls (I say this as someone who watched way too much of the WB back in the day…).

    As for Fox, the network became notorious for a while for cancelling things if they were not immediately successful. I haven’t watched the network (or sitcoms) enough to know if the sitcoms it had were actually funny or not, but I know that a lot of sitcoms take a while to find their correct voice/tone/whatever, so Fox’s trigger-happy policies may have actually cut off shows before they had the chance to get good/develop audiences/etc.