As recently as a couple of years ago, I remember complaining to one of my friends about the lack of sitcoms on television. I pined for what I thought were the glory days of sitcoms, where?thanks especially to ?Seinfeld??I was guaranteed a good laugh once a week. However, due to the success of reality shows such as ?Survivor? and the similar success of cop dramas such as ?Law and Order,? most networks chose to forgo creating new sitcoms in favor on capitalizing on this trend. This left those of us who needed a sitcom fix with just a handful of options, most of which weren?t even remotely memorable and some of which were hardly watchable.
However, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if my fond memories really were of the golden age of sitcoms. When you look at the list of long-running series that started during those ?glory years? and ended within the past few years, you see shows such as ?3rd Rock from the Sun,? ?Everybody Loves Raymond,? and ?Just Shoot Me.? Sure, these shows had their moments, but when each of these shows announced that they were going to end, the reaction was nothing like the media frenzy that surrounded the finale of ?Seinfeld.? Instead, the reaction was filled mostly with surprise?surprise that these shows were still on the air.
These shows were able to fade away because they were unable to do what shows like ?Friends,? ?American Idol,? and ?The Apprentice? have done: they never became the sorts of shows around which people actually schedule their lives. I?m not sure that anyone has ever uttered the phrase, ?Can we do it another time? ?Will and Grace? is on then.? It always seemed like if people were watching these sitcoms, it was because they happened to be watching television when they were on.
Looking back, it is apparent that along with ?Friends? and ?Frasier,? these were the definitive sitcoms of their era. If that is the case, I have no idea how I could even begin to view that generation of sitcoms as being part of a golden age. Perhaps it is simply that I was young and found David Spade endlessly entertaining, or maybe I just enjoyed reminiscing about the time before there were four dozen versions of CSI. Either way, I can see now that my views of that era of sitcoms are enhanced by factors that have no relation to how good the shows actually were.
However, despite the very likely chance that I am simply as delusional as I was when I believed that ?Grounded for Life? was a clever, insightful comedy, I am beginning to believe that we may actually be in the midst of one of the best eras of sitcoms ever. Between British imports such as Ricky Gervais? ?Extras,? underrated shows such as ?How I Met Your Mother,? and the gauntlet of comedy that NBC provides every Thursday, there really isn?t too much that sitcom lovers can complain about, aside from the occasional use of a laugh track.
Although there are many entertaining sitcoms currently on air, there is no guarantee that this trend will continue. Sitcoms are still not doing nearly as well in the ratings, especially compared to the reality shows that are created at a fraction of the cost. Networks are a business, so it seems only logical that they would continue to produce cheaper, more successful shows, even if it means sacrificing quality television. Look no further for an example than ?Arrested Development.? The sitcom, although remarkably well received critically, didn?t have enough people watching it to make Fox justify keeping it on the air. Its cancellation is proof in itself that television networks are not trying to make art, just money.
For those shows that have enough of a loyal following that cancellation seems unlikely, several rely on actors who are nearly expected to leave the show at some point to focus on making movies. In particular, Zach Braff from ?Scrubs? has been rumored to be leaving the show for years, a move that would likely cripple the show the same way that the departure of Topher Grace and Aston Kutcher crippled ?That 70?s Show.? It is just as hard to see ?The Office? continuing without Steve Carell, whose popularity has grown exponentially since the show began.
Another worrying aspect of the current popular sitcoms is that they seem to have an inherent expiration date. What will ?The Office? be like once Pam and Jim finally get together? Better yet, how can the series continue once Ted?s perfect woman is found on ?How I Met Your Mother?? These shows don?t appear to be nearly as open ended as past long-running sitcoms such as ?Cheers? or ?Seinfeld.? The only hope is that the writers will either be able to delay those events from happening, or to find some way to keep the audience interested once those points are reached.
The truth is that it?s highly unlikely that any sitcoms that are popular today will be around in three or four years? time, a thought that is slightly depressing for any of us who have found ourselves scheduling our lives around a television show for the first time. However, the only thing we can do is sit back, enjoy the real golden age of sitcoms, and hope that the next generation doesn?t bring us another Dharma and Greg.