With Everybody Loves Raymond signing off, that leaves — wait, let me get my pencil, hmmm, carry the 2, multiply by 3 — exactly one hit sitcom on the six broadcast networks. Here’s a look at some current (and future) series that, given some nurturing, could inherit the comedy crown.
TWO AND A HALF MEN [CBS] This top 11 sophomore show (damn you, American Idol, for airing twice a week) is broadcast TV’s only true remaining hit comedy. Poised to inherit Raymond‘s Mondays-at-9 p.m. time slot, which has housed such hall-of-famers as M*A*S*H, All in the Family, and Murphy Brown, the series has the ratings to become a powerhouse — 16.2 million viewers a week — but has yet to generate the attention given to Raymond, Friends, or even Stacked.
THE OFFICE [NBC] Like Seinfeld, this quirky new series about a paper-supply company in Scranton, Pa., tramples and spits on every sitcom convention. Like Seinfeld, it has languished in its first season. (An impossible time slot, Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m., hasn’t helped.) And like Seinfeld, it’s shown promise on NBC’s Thursday schedule. (An airing on that night attracted 11.2 million viewers.) Hey, NBC, how about giving it a Seinfeldian stay of execution? Or at least bring in Jerry for a cameo.
FAMILY GUY [Fox] Speaking of stays of execution, Fox brought back this animated show about a Rhode Island clan after DVD sales set records and reruns on Cartoon Network beat Letterman and Leno among young male viewers. The first-week results back on Fox were promising: FG grabbed 11.9 million viewers against tough Desperate Housewives competition. Less promising: Mel Gibson’s blood pressure after seeing FG‘s Passion of the Christ parody.
HOT PROPERTIES [ABC], QUEEN B [Fox], OLD CHRISTINE [CBS] It’s too early to say whether any of these new pilots will be a hit — or even make it on the air. (Networks don’t set their fall schedules until mid-May.) That said, a Desperate trend has emerged in comedy development: Take a familiar leading lady (Gail O’Grady, Alicia Silverstone, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, respectively), throw some adversity at her (a real estate office, a rude awakening, the suburbs), and slap on a catchy title (c’mon, just try to get Old Christine out of your head). Some of the biggest comedies in recent memory were fronted by women (e.g., Roseanne, Sex and the City), so why shouldn’t Raymond‘s heir be female?
EARLY BIRD [NBC] Old people (always funny, see Golden Girls), please meet Letterman writer (often funny, see CBS at 11:35 p.m.). This pilot about a young man moving into a retirement community — based on ex-Letterman writer Rodney Rothman’s memoir of the same name — has the kickiest premise of all the fall’s potential shows. One favor: Please schedule it at 4 p.m. so we can still make the early-bird special.