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.