Viewpoint: The best comedies with the worst viewership
Television comedy was officially declared dead on Thursday, January 2013. “30 Rock,” the funniest show you never really watched, came to the end of its miraculous seven-year run.
How it lasted seven years, no one really knows, because when measuring viewership of shows run during Primetime hours, it never ranked higher than No. 69 in any of its seasons. This was despite dozens of high-quality guest stars (Al Gore, Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston, Will Arnett, Sherri Shepherd, Edie Falco and a million others), overwhelming critical support and more award nominations than there are trophy cases in New York.
Maybe it’s because viewers don’t want their comedies to be too smart. Maybe comedy is a place for people to come home from work, sit on a couch, relax and not think too hard. But whatever it is, the best-written comedies seem to have the hardest time attracting viewers, while shows like “Two and Half Men” and “Two Broke Girls,” which have not been critically approved for quite some time, can’t seem to get rid of viewers. And many shows which have previously been funny and creative, like “Glee” or “Up All Night,” have either completely jumped the shark or changed from a multi-camera filming style to an easier-to-swallow live studio audience.
In that vein, here is a list, in no particular order, of the best 10 comedies (in recent TV years) which have struggled with TV viewership:
- “30 Rock.” Some viewers have been put off by its fast-paced, urban style of comedy, as well as the endless series of pop-cultural references and topical humor, but this show has maintained a loyal following of younger viewers (and entertainment news buffs) who have fallen in love with the four main characters, played expertly by Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski.
- “Community.” This show has struggled every season to be put back on the air, but its young audience froths at the mouth and protests every time there’s a threat of it leaving. Starring Joel McHale, Donald Glover and Chevy Chase (who has recently said this season will be his last), this show is set around a community college and the off-kilter students it attracts.
- “Parks and Recreation.” The comedy with the nicest spirit about it, this upbeat show about a fictional local government in Pawnee, Ind., utilizes what might be the best overall ensemble cast in TV comedy. Viewers who tire of mean, sarcastic comedies should tune in to this positive gem.
- “King of the Hill.” Finally canceled in 2010, this quiet animated comedy was the anti-”Simpsons.” Centered around the Hills, a Methodist family living in Texas, it attempted to maintain a natural approach to humor.
- “Arrested Development.” Most critics, if pressed, would put this show in their top three comedies ever made. It only ran for three seasons (2003-06), but this dysfunctional and chaotic series built such a large cult following after cancellation that it’s being renewed as a Netflix series (with a movie soon to come).
- “Family Guy.” It’s hard to imagine a world where “Family Guy,” the animated Fox comedy, is struggling, but in 2001, Fox canceled the series for two years due to struggling ratings (and questionable content). It’s back, of course, and thriving.
- “Pushing Daisies.” The “forensic fairytale” that never really stuck, this comedy starred Lee Pace as Ned, a pie-maker with the ability to bring dead things back to life. Though nominated for 17 Primetime Emmys, the show only lasted from 2007-09.
- “Chuck.” This action-comedy/spy show was almost canceled several times, but, thanks to a successful fan-mounted campaign in its second season (and some help from sponsor Subway), the show came back for another three seasons.
- “Freaks and Geeks.” Entertainment Weekly ranked this show the 13th-best series of the past 25 years, though it only ran for 15 episodes. Taking place around a motley crew of high-school students in the early ’80s, this show was also the jumping-off place for current stars James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel and John Francis Daley.
- “Bob’s Burgers.” It could be easily passed over as just another one of the animated comedies on Fox, but there’s something about this small, contained show centering on the Belcher family and their coast-town burger joint that makes it stick out. Funny and dysfunctional, “Bob’s Burgers” is creative and chaotic.
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