Not a Good Week For People Named Bernie


The premature death of Bernie Mac is really, really depressing.

His self-titled TV show was always a little underrated. It was, technically, a success, since it ran 100 episodes, but it actually proves that a long-ish run doesn’t necessarily make a show a success. It never got great ratings, it didn’t do well in syndication (stations that had the syndicated reruns dropped them almost immediately) and the first and best season tanked on DVD. It was an interesting and often funny show, though, and Mac was really good in it.

It was one of a number of quirky single-camera comedies that came along in the late ’90s and early ’00s, the most successful of them being Malcolm in the Middle (though that also tanked in syndication). These shows tried to deal with the creakiness of the sitcom format by doing traditional family-sitcom subjects — in Mac’s case, a formerly childless guy put in charge of raising three kids — with single-camera technique, asides to the audience, funny camera angles, fantasy sequences and sudden cuts. It was a type of comedy that was right in-between the multi-camera shows of the ’90s golden age and today’s more informal, quickly-shot comedies like The Office and 30 Rock. (The only comedy that is in the same style as Bernie Mac and Malcolm is probably My Name is Earl, which, guess what, also burned out really quickly. There seems to be something about this style of comedy, maybe because it’s so expensive and time-consuming to shoot, that leads to early burnout.) But in its prime, Bernie Mac was a very entertaining show that demonstrated how creative use of single-camera style could actually enhance a comedy, and Mac was very shrewd in not throwing himself into yet another sure-to-fail multi-camera show like most comedians were doing at the time; instead he tried something a little different, and became a character we hadn’t really seen on television in a while: a parental figure who has real authority, isn’t a befuddled idiot, but at the same time clearly struggles to maintain control of the situation, and isn’t always in control like post-Cosby TV parents usually were.

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Not a Good Week For People Named Bernie

  1. A show that is very similar to The Bernie Mac Show in a lot of ways, and that’s Everybody Hates Chris. Similar tone, style, and subject matter.

  2. You’re right, of course. I should have mentionedChris.

  3. The pilot of The Bernie Mac Show was unique and it made critics stand up and cheer, but I didn’t fall in love with the show until the second episode. That’s the ep in which Uncle Bernie’s youngest niece Baby Girl gets him sick, so he’s confined to his house and is forced to spend extra time with Baby Girl. On other sitcoms, this kind of story would have been about how Uncle Bernie learns to appreciate the kids more, but because this was The Bernie Mac Show, the story ended up being about how boring little kids are, which is so true and so funny (it even features a great passage-of-time montage reminiscent of the Shirley the Loon student film sequence from the early Tiny Toons ep “Animaniacs!”).

    Another reason why The Mac Show is underrepresented on DVD is because of the cheapskates at Fox Home Entertainment. After the way they handled the music of WKRP and Earl on DVD, I doubt the home entertainment division is going to want to touch any of the show’s post-season 1 existing songs, or as Uncle Bernie referred to those tunes during his memorable warning to the kids about what they can’t touch, “my old school, my new school, my slow jams, my party jams, my happy rap, and you better not touch… my James Brown.”

    Why has Mac and Malcolm tanked in syndication and been confined to FX here in America, while another single-camera sitcom that emerged from that era, Scrubs, hasn’t tanked as badly and has been picked up by every other cable channel? Though I’m more of a fan of Scrubs than The Mac Show, it’s just weird that three American channels will be airing Scrubs reruns next season (Comedy Central, WGN America and now TV Land).

  4. Chris ALSO burned out pretty fast, though that could be a function of the network it’s on.

    Both Malcolm and Bernie were hurt by having their creators and primary creative voices leave. Larry Wilmore (now on The Daily Show) was fired from Mac shortly after the first season (and every subsequent season saw diminishing returns). No one could quite nail the voice of the show like Wilmore could, and it just slowly sunk out of sight (in the first season, it didn’t post TREMENDOUS ratings, but it showed promise, and there was talk of Fox moving it to the post-Malcolm slot). Linwood Boomer greatly stepped down his role at Malcolm post-season two, and that show’s ratings slid downward as well.

    I think it’s possible doing these frenetic sorts of shows just wear the showrunner out.

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