Plumbing the riddle of CBS' love-it-or-hate-it hit sitcom

The Orlando Sentinel found it ”frightfully dull.” Knight Ridder called it ”so formulaic, it’s pablum.” The Chicago Sun-Times barked that if it were ”judged by kennel club standards, it would be deemed a mutt.” And, yes, dear, EW also took a bite out of Yes, Dear—the sophomore CBS comedy about two young couples coping with their kooky, kid-filled lives—predicting it would

Hey, what can we say? Even we can’t stop some dogs from having their day. Or 19 of ’em for that matter—that’s the number of times Yes, Dear has dominated its 8:30 p.m. Monday time slot (including every week this season) since it first debuted a year ago September. And the sitcom continues to exceed expectations, ranking as the youngest-skewing show on CBS—viewers average a spry 45.1 years old!—outstripping genuinely funny hits such as The King of Queens and Everybody Loves Raymond.

Not bad for a series that literally found its roots in mediocrity. Every cast member came from a canceled NBC show: Mike O’Malley had his execrable comedy of the same name, Anthony Clark starred in the dismally unfunny Boston Common, Jean Louisa Kelly survived the romantic dramedy Cold Feet, and Liza Snyder escaped from the Christina Applegate also-ran Jesse. Even exec producers Alan Kirschenbaum and Greg Garcia hail from their fair share of bow-wows, having created Fox’s Down the Shore in 1992 and NBC’s Built to Last in 1997 (don’t worry, we don’t remember them either).

”It’s funny. It kind of put us all in the same foxhole,” says Snyder. Echoes O’Malley, ”Whatever they say about Yes, Dear couldn’t be any worse than what they said about my show on NBC prior to this. But opinion isn’t truth. This is just from people who are saying ‘This isn’t for me.”’

Which raises the question: Just who is Yes, Dear for? Fans like Glenda Hoffman of Brooklyn, N.Y., for one. The 41-year-old executive secretary (and mother of an 8-year-old son) won’t miss an episode. ”Am I not supposed to like it? But I do!” she exclaims. ”I like the couple who crashes at the house [O’Malley and Snyder]. Of course, it seems weird that they’re mooching off that other family, but it’s very funny.”

Ms. Hoffman’s funny bone isn’t the only one getting tickled: An average 14.6 million viewers tune in to Yes, Dear each week (that’s almost twice as many people as checked out Jason Alexander in Bob Patterson). And it’s whipping major demo butt as well, winning its time slot among 18-to 49-year-olds. Amy Werkheiser, 32, of New Jersey, is part of that group, and she appreciates the show’s attention to detail when it comes to parenting. ”We have friends who have no kids who say it’s just that stupid show with the guy from Boston Common. But they don’t have the experience of carrying around a big rubber duck” (actually, it’s a shark O’Malley totes in Yes, Dear‘s opening credits).

”[There’s] a huge difference between the critics and mainstream America,” says CBS Entertainment president Nancy Tellem. ”My biggest problem was everybody wanted to jump on board among the critics and say this thing’s gonna die, it’s so unsophisticated. And you know what? Critics be damned. The public loves it.” In fact, Garcia used the negative reviews to galvanize the cast and crew. Knowing that the pilot tested through the roof with sample audiences, Garcia went around and personally reassured everyone that once Yes, Dear debuted, it would succeed. But the critical barbs have left a mark.

“The truth is, everybody wants to be loved,” admits Kirschenbaum. Garcia, on the other hand, is perfectly content with his show’s adversarial relationship with the press. “All I would say to those critics who wrote about us is: Thank you so much for inspiration. I hope you enjoy us over the next five to six years.”

Yes, Dear
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