It’s all relatives on networks’ new sitcoms this fall
By LORI RACKL TV Critic September 23, 2013 5:02PM
On NBC’s “The Michael J. Fox Show,” the TV veteran co-stars with Betsy Brandt, Katie Finneran and Jack Gore.
Updated: October 25, 2013 6:03AM
When it comes to new fall TV comedies, broadcast networks are keeping it all in the family.
Nine of the 13 sitcoms debuting on ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox revolve around relatives. More family comedies are hitting the schedule this fall than the total number of sitcoms launched by the Big Four this time last year, when half of the freshman crop centered on characters sharing the same DNA.
“We do extremely well in family shows,” said ABC programming chief Paul Lee, whose overhauled Tuesday line-up begins this week with “The Goldbergs” (★★1/2) starring Chicago’s Jeff Garlin as a gruff patriarch raising kids in the ’80s, and “Trophy Wife” (★★ 1/2),co-created by Chicago comedian Sarah Haskins.
Loosely based on Haskins’ real life, “Trophy Wife” is about a woman who marries an older man with lots of baggage in the form of three kids and two ex-wives. Haskins noted that her own husband “has been married three times before, but we didn’t think America could accept that.”
Family comedies are bettered suited to broadcast networks than to cable television, whose greater latitude with language and sex attracts edgier fare.
“The Goldbergs” and “Trophy Wife” inherit timeslots previously occupied by recently canceled “Happy Endings” and the snarky, singles-centric “Don’t Trust the B---- in Apt. 23.”
On NBC, Thursday nights have long been the domain of workplace comedies. With veterans “30 Rock” and “The Office” gone, the Peacock net is hoping to snare bigger ratings with broader comedy.
“We spent a lot of time talking about that Thursday line-up, which is probably the most scrutinized night of television for us based on the history of what we’ve had and the importance of the night for advertisers,” NBC Entertainment head Bob Greenblatt said. “We wanted to build a sort of family night with a series of family comedies and ‘Parenthood.’ ”
To that end, NBC welcomes back former “Family Ties” star Michael J. Fox with his eponymous sitcom. Fox plays an ex-TV reporter with Parkinson’s disease who goes back to work, much to the relief of his wife and kids.
“The Michael J. Fox Show” (★★ 1/2) follows a new series featuring another familiar NBC face: Sean Hayes of “Will & Grace.” In “Sean Saves the World” (★1/2),the Glen Ellyn native does a turn as a gay, single dad raising his teenage daughter. Its lead-in is another newcomer, “Welcome to the Family” (★), about two disparate clans joined together by a teenage pregnancy.
If that last one doesn’t sound especially funny, that’s because it’s not. The season’s best new comedy is “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” (★★★), a Fox show chronicling the exploits of New York City police detectives. It’s one of the few rookie sitcoms that has nothing to do with la familia.
Even Robin Williams’ new CBS workplace comedy “The Crazy Ones” (★ 1/2), set in a Chicago ad agency, has a strong family component. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Williams’ daughter and business partner — a parent/child dynamic that wasn’t in the original pitch from Leo Burnett executive John Montgomery.
CBS is betting big on comedy this fall, adding two new half-hours to Monday and Thursday. Last year the No. 1 network rolled out only one new sitcom, the short-lived “Partners” about two best friends.
“The Millers” (★★) plays off the increasingly popular trope of grown children living with their parents. Will Arnett stars as a newly divorced man whose about-to-be-divorced mom (Margo Martindale) crashes at his pad.
Premiering Wednesday, ABC’s “Back in the Game” (★) has a similar setup. Maggie Lawson plays a divorcee with a young son who reluctantly moves back in with her short-tempered father (James Caan).
CBS’ other new family comedy is “Mom” (★★), Chuck Lorre’s unintentionally depressing show about a recovering alcoholic (Anna Faris). She’s struggling to be a good mother despite the bad example set by her former drug-addict mom (Allison Janney).
With an equally uninspired title, Fox’s new sitcom “Dads” (★) has a couple of out-of-touch, politically incorrect seniors moving in with their successful, thirtysomething sons.
Not surprisingly, “Dads” is the most father-centric of the new family comedies, which tend to focus on males. That’s also not surprising, given that two out of three TV writers are men, according to a 2013 study by Writers Guild of America, West, which also found that 76 percent of executive producers for the 190 shows it looked at are white males.
“It’s kind of the ‘write what you know’ kind of thing,” said “Sean Saves the World” creator Victor Fresco, who, like Sean’s character, has a 14-year-old daughter.
“Dads” co-creators Wellesley Wild and Alec Sulkin said they spend so much time talking about their fathers, they figured they might as well use them as TV show fodder.
“We were like, ‘Let’s write about something we know will generate comedy on its own every time we see them,’ ” Wild said.
“I couldn’t write about my mom,” he added. “I’d feel too guilty about it.”