also_loled_irl (also_loled_irl) wrote in ohnotheydidnt,

Why Fox Should Pick Up the Likely-Cancelled Better Off Ted

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As much glorious, giddy fun as it was to mock and deride NBC recently over its late-night wars - a finger-pointing, cover-your-mouth giggle fest that even other networks participated in - let's not forget that they are not the only boneheads on the block.

Network television is one endless list of shortsighted decisions, programming directions that backfire and leave countless people out of work, and maliciously ignorant maneuvers that confuse loyal viewers.

In short, there's enough stupidity to go around. No need for NBC to hog it all.

And while it might be fun to list five or eight years' worth of laughably bad, inane or incomprehensible programming decisions across the network spectrum, let's focus for a second on ABC and Fox, two networks doing quite well at the moment.

ABC's inability through the years to put a comedy on television that was actually funny is one stumble short of staggering. It wasn't just tone-deaf to good humor - it had a knack for finding funny shows that would never work for its particular audience (see "Sons & Daughters" among others; and, no, you're not expected to remember it).

All networks have an identity, whether you know it or not, or even whether the network is willing to admit it. ABC does very well with women and families. Its dramas are emotional and soapy, and its comedies are rooted in family issues. Not surprisingly, that kind of sitcom is as dull and precious as a tween girl whose only remarkable attributes were a genetically gifted frame and designer clothes.

But this year ABC developed three sitcoms that were not only funny but also fit within the parameters of its core audience. The first - and best - was "Modern Family," about three related but distinctly different families, which quickly became one of the funniest shows on television and is by far the best freshman sitcom. "The Middle," starring Patricia Heaton as the bumbling matriarch in a loving but slightly dysfunctional family in, ahem, fictional "middle America," was exponentially better than it sounds. And "Cougar Town" - from "Scrubs" creator Bill Lawrence and starring Courteney Cox - overcame an even worse name and some fumbling around to finally appeal to ABC's main audience. All three comedies have been picked up for a second season.

Three touchdowns

Now, just to put that in perspective, presenting three freshman sitcoms - on the same night, no less - and turning them all into various degrees of hits is extremely rare. Like a pitcher hitting three home runs in one game. Like a third-string quarterback from a tiny college heaving three touchdowns against a top-flight defense - with ease.

The only show that didn't work that night was "Hank," a Kelsey Grammer series that fit in like a Girl Scout at a strip club. Its very inclusion on ABC's Wednesday night lineup of all freshman comedies (a ridiculously risky programming decision) was an indication that the network had no idea what it was doing besides throwing stuff against the wall.

While this immense and probably lucky good fortune was befalling ABC, you can bet that rival Fox was apoplectic. Because ABC had failed at comedies for ages, little was expected of it. Fox, on the other hand, is relatively new at producing only strong dramas. It was always best at comedies (and reality shows - but why dredge that up?). But right now Fox is in the midst of one of the most unprecedented failure streaks in all of television for developing live-action comedies. Animation? No problem. Real people reciting dialogue with a punch line at the end? No.

Beyond embarrassing

What's happening at Fox goes beyond embarrassing. It has strong, visionary leadership. But ever since it killed "Arrested Development," the network has seemingly had its comedy development department living on ancient Indian burial grounds. It actually allowed "Brothers" to get on the air. Worse, it keeps "Til Death" on the air. That's like stabbing comedy in the private parts. Which brings us back, momentarily, to ABC.

The network has just finished masterfully bungling "Better Off Ted," a scathingly funny, wholly original, wonderfully inventive sitcom that was the best new comedy ... of last season. Even back then, running on acclaim and originality in a dead zone of unfunny shows that ABC surrounded it with, ABC failed to promote it correctly and even aired original episodes in the summer, effectively destroying it. Those programming moves were like a master class in how to kill something good. Miraculously, ABC renewed the series, perhaps belatedly realizing what it had and trying to reverse course. This season's results? Another fumble by ABC, which couldn't turn critical raves to actual viewers. So ABC - flush with new comedy success elsewhere - began double-running "Better Off Ted" in a transparent we-give-up burn-off.

Did it fit with what ABC does? Probably not. Could ABC have done a better job in Season 1 (oh, Lord, yes) and Season 2 (wait, there was a Season 2?)? ABC is cocky about its other hits, without merit or memory. You can never have enough good comedies, period. But with the damage apparently done and "Better Off Ted" off the air as of Tuesday, do you think there's a network that could revive such a show?

Well, sure. It's made at Twentieth Century Fox. Yes, that Fox. When asked by critics if his network would pick up "Better Off Ted" if ABC canceled it, Fox's Kevin Reilly said the network would rather develop its own comedies.

Dumb luck
Which was, if you think about it, the funniest line coming out of Fox in three seasons or more. Reilly is a bright guy. He knows that Fox's comedy development has been abysmal. He's in no position to dismiss a show that's infinitely funnier than anything he has right now. That ABC has cluelessly dropped the ball on "Ted" doesn't make the show less funny. It makes ABC look bloated with dumb luck and recklessly forgetful of its past development woes. It's willing to let a good sitcom go just because it struck comedy gold elsewhere on the schedule.

Can we just acknowledge that "Better Off Ted" would actually work in the edgier Fox brand? That ABC is like a drunk rich kid spilling cash out of its pockets? That an opportunity exists?

This is no time for worrying about sloppy seconds. If ABC is dumb enough to let "Better Off Ted" go, then Fox should be smart enough to pick up the hot line to its own studio and say, "We'll take it and we'll make it work."

Tags: cancellation, television

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