What Has Happened to Comedy on Broadcast Networks? (Hint: Lots of Canceling)

It would be a little premature to say that there’s writing on the wall, but comedy definitely seems like it is playing second fiddle (or almost no fiddle at all) to hour long dramas at NBC, ABC, CBS, and Fox. Comedy is currently flourishing on cable and online and, perhaps, that is where episodic comedy, wholly, is headed. 

This TV season alone, freshman comedies Selfie, A to Z, Manhattan Love Story, and Bad Judge have been canceled along with relative new comers The Millers.

Community, Arrested Development, and now The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which had a series order from NBC but didn’t even make it to air, have moved from TV networks to online streaming services.

Just yesterday, it was announced ABC also scrapped a sitcom they had already ordered to series, Members Only starring John Stamos.

Bloggers and John Mulaney alike keep talking about whether Mulaney will last on Fox. On top of all of that, there are rumors that NBC has halted production on Last Comic Standing after it already had brought it back from the dead.

We’re not saying broadcast networks have drawn a hard line on in the sand (yet) prohibiting comedy from their airwaves. Cristela, black-ish, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine have found success just starting out and the networks have a few comedy mainstays like Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, and Two and Half Men. New Girl and The Mindy Project have also seemed to fared well in their tenure at Fox. Also, cable networks TBS and TNT have recently canceled Sullivan & Son and Franklin & Bash, respectively.

Still, this last couple of years have seen an unprecedented shift of the comedy genre as an aggregate on TV from going live on air to every household with a TV on a weeknight to niche cable networks and various online entities ranging anywhere from Netflix to YouTube to Amazon. Key & Peele, Louie, Portlandia, Veep, Transparent, and Children’s Hospital are all just a few perfect examples of this new paradigm.

The future for comedy on TV and the behemoths of television does have yet to be decided. The highly anticipated Last Man on Earth from Chris Miller and Phil Lord starring Will Forte is premiering next year. Networks, like CBS, are starting to get on board with their own streaming service. 

What is clear in the current TV landscape, above all, is that the Internet isn’t going away and, because of that, viewers can watch whatever they want whenever they want to watch it. Thus, people will watch their favorite Key & Peele sketch as many as times as they can stand, binge watch The Simpsons via The Simpsons World app/site, consume as much media that exists online of their favorite comedians (i.e. web series, podcasts, stand-up clips, etc.), and do so at any time of any day in any place versus Thursdays at 8 at home,

In such an environment, it’s much harder than it used to be to launch a broad franchise sitcom that lasts 10 seasons and lives on in syndication, which has been the network TV model for comedy for decades. So, for now, as NBC chairman Bob Greenblatt poignantly remarked during Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s move to Netflix, “…we have a very drama-heavy midseason schedule.”