Monday, July 11, 2011

Has the sitcom bar been lowered?

In a hotel room not long ago I found myself channel surfing. First I checked the pay channels. None of the recently released Hollywood features were any good. God, Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston have made some bad movies. And their one together is biblical in its badness. I bet hotels are really starting to take a bath on this feature. Now that everyone has a laptop we can Netflix and see the same “blockbusters” for free (although warning: that Sandler/Aninston bomb will likely crash your computer faster than any Trojan Virus). And who needs to pay for softcore “Adult Fare” when there are only a billion hardcore porn sites right there at your idle hand fingertips?

So I just surfed through the stations. I had seen the LAW & ORDER, LAW & ORDER SVU, LAW & ORDER: UK, and LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT that were all playing. ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT has become CHARLIE SHEEN TONIGHT. Some college basketball game from only two months ago was being replayed on ESPN “CLASSIC”. And FOX NEWS was blaming Obama for the tornadoes.

Finally, I came upon a CHEERS episode. It had just started. From the teaser I recognized it as one my partner, David Isaacs and I had written. It was from one of the later years and I remember it not really being our best work. When you write 40 episodes of a series there are going to be your favorites and your least favorites. This was in the latter category. Not that I thought it was bad per se, just… “okay”. One of those episodes that fills out the season.

So needless to say, I hadn’t seen it in awhile. Years actually. Why would I want to go back and watch something I didn’t particularly like?

Okay, I can almost hear you screaming at the screen. “Which episode was it??!!”

It was the one where Norm & Cliff, as a goof, cancel Frasier’s credit card, so the card is rejected when Frasier tries to settle up his tab, and this ultimately escalates into a big fight between Sam and Frasier. The B-plot is Woody becoming addicted to the shopping channel.

Anyway, I decided to watch it. And was pleasantly surprised. There were some really good laughs in there. The stories, although trifles at best, zipped along. Woody, in particular, was terrific. It was a lot funnier than I had remembered it. And let me just say that’s not always the case. More often than not a show I originally liked I see again and want to give back my WGA card.

But when this episode was over I was left with an odd reaction. You’d think I’d be very pleased but I wasn’t. I was more puzzled than anything else. Why? This one question kept surfacing:

Was this episode actually better and funnier than I had recalled. Or has the bar of television sitcoms just been so lowered now that what still is an average episode of CHEERS seems better than it is?

Now I’m not talking about the truly excellent episodes of today’s best comedies. I’m sure you can put this year’s Emmy nominees up against the best from any era. But this was hardly an Emmy-worthy episode of CHEERS. So pitting this against the general quality of sitcom today, does it stand on its own or rise in comparison?

I have no answer.

And you, from your perspective, might say this episode of CHEERS is far worse than what’s usually on today. That’s fair too.

So I’ll throw it open for discussion. One middling episode of CHEERS aside, do you think the bar has been lowered in today’s situation comedy? I’ll be checking back from time to time to see what you say. At the moment though, I’ve got to chase a few kids off my lawn. Thanks.

On another note:

I just made 20 short videos in which I answer the questions I'm most commonly asked about writing sitcoms. You can check 'em out here. I'll be hurt if I don't go viral.

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