Here’s a guide to some of the comedy scripts the U.S. networks have in development for the 2012-13 season, the operative word being “scripts”: many of these ideas won’t go beyond the script stage, while others won’t go beyond the pilot stage. Still, you can tell one thing from the descriptions – family comedy is in. Especially comedies about people being forced to move back in with their parents or siblings, which combines two things the network executives are sort of aware of: times is hard, and lots of people watch Modern Family. Also Two and a Half Men, which in its original incarnation is about two siblings forced by circumstances to live together. And 2 Broke Girls, about two different people forced by circumstances to move in together. And New Girl, about people who aren’t related but nonetheless live together. And… well, you get the idea: workplace comedies are out, shows about Seinfeld type pals who don’t live together are out, families and couches are in. Not since Fonzie moved in with the Cunninghams have networks been so anxious to find excuses for characters to live together.
Parallels between Modern Family and The Cosby Show abound; both have been credited with “saving” the situation comedy, both managed to anchor a whole night for the network and elevate other shows to hit status; both have spawned lots of imitators. (Also, I think there’s an argument that neither show quite lived up to its early promise, but that’s too subjective to really be a parallel. Besides, most of the big hit comedies these days – Big Bang Theory, for example – haven’t fully lived up to their promise.) In the ’80s, though, the rush to develop family comedy was sort of balanced out by the increased success of Cheers, which made workplace comedy viable. Right now there are no hit workplace comedies except The Office, which is not as popular as it once was. All the hits are either about families or people hanging out in houses and apartments. So while the development slate includes some workplace shows, and some shows with unusual premises that don’t fit into the usual categories, the networks are very heavily focused on people who live together; schools and offices just aren’t a big part of the comedy world for the moment. That will change eventually, but I’m talking about right now.