Flipping Channels: Prince on New Girl, But Royal Pain for TV Comedy

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Two recent announcements, as well as a current article in TV Guide, show just how badly situation comedies are faring these days, both on the networks and cable.

The first was Fox's decision to put its critically praised, ratings-starved Zooey Deschanel showcase New Girl in the plum spot after the Super Bowl Sunday. While many (male) critics continually fawn over Deschanel — who is admittedly the best thing about the show — audiences have never warmed to it.

Fox (WZTV-Channel 17 locally) hopes that airing the program right after the season's most watched event will both introduce it to millions who've ignored it and also provide it some momentum for its regular 8 p.m. Tuesday slot, where it's been getting steamrolled by CBS's NCIS: Los Angeles.

The show is being pre-empted tonight by the president's State of the Union address. But Fox has called out a big gun for the Sunday show (approximately 9:30 p.m., or whenever the Super Bowl ends). The special guest star is Prince, who meets Jess (Deschanel) at a party where the two strike up an immediate friendship. Under ordinary circumstances, this would make any boyfriend livid — but Nick (Jake Johnson) seems almost giddy at the thought there's any attraction between Jess and his favorite artist.

It's always great to see Prince on network TV — but he's only booked for this episode (barring any unforeseen Under the Cherry Moon storyline). Whether one dose of His Royal Badness is enough to boost the show's fortunes is iffy. Fox executives remain high (at least publicly) on New Girl, but the post-Super Bowl episode will be closely watched as a harbinger of the program's future.

The second announcement came from NBC, with the news it's developing a multigenerational comedy starring Bill Cosby. There were zero details beyond that bare-bones notice — no title, script or timetable for the program, though presumably things could coalesce in time for a 2015 midseason debut. More likely it would be fall 2016.

It's been 30 years now since Cosby came riding to the rescue with 1984's landmark The Cosby Show. Then as now, the situation for TV comedy — at least the traditional half-hour multi-camera format — was in deep trouble. Currently there's one network comedy blockbuster, CBS's The Big Bang Theory (7 p.m. Thursdays on WTVF-Channel 5). While ABC's Modern Family (8 p.m. Wednesdays, WKRN-Channel 2) is the prestige model, regularly earning Emmy awards and critical praise, it has suffered a significant ratings dip — losing between 10 and 15 percent on average of its viewership from last season.

An article in the Jan. 20 TV Guide titled "Funny Business?" details the difficulties almost all network comedies are suffering. NBC put itself behind the 8-ball by giving Michael J. Fox a guaranteed 22-episode commitment for The Michael J. Fox Show (8:30 p.m. Thursdays, WSMV-Channel 4). It is one of four comedies that night getting NBC buried on what is still the most important evening of the week for advertisers.

Whether Bill Cosby can save the day a second time remains a question mark, to be kind. He's 76 on a medium that considers 50 too old, and reruns of The Cosby Show still live on TV Land. Having seen his recent special on Comedy Central, if I were NBC, I wouldn't be putting all my comedy eggs in his basket.

Reality in short supply
The Wall Street Journal's John Jurgensen put the spotlight (or lowlight) on the current slew of Music City-based reality shows with his Jan. 24 article "Nashville's Reality TV Invasion." Jurgensen says at least four such shows are set for coming months. They're being tabbed "docu-series" in an attempt to convey prestige — an effort as futile as crop-dusting a landfill with Airwick.

As an example of the scintillating fare viewers can expect, Jurgensen cites a clip from TNT's forthcoming Private Lives of Nashville Wives that features a cast member telling Raul Malo's spouse to "shove it right up your a—." Live the dream, Nashville.

Black websites have seethed for months with criticism of the image presented by shows like Real Housewives of wherever or Basketball Wives. As someone whose extent of interest in the genre ended with the old Candid Camera, I avoid this stuff like the plague. But those who enjoy it will get a steaming plateload in coming months — proof that the city's rising fortunes can be a mixed blessing.

In the article, Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. chief Butch Spyridon says his office has spurned producers seeking to set up similar franchises. Furthermore, he sums up many locals' feelings: "If I could flip 'em off, I would." His parting shot is on the money: "There's nothing authentic about contrived love triangles and cat fights."

Truer words have seldom been spoken.

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