Frowns turned upside down

Unconventional comedies about coping dominate nets' fall pilot lists

A group of friends gets fired on the same day. Troubled cops check into a halfway house. A Wall Street executive loses his job and has to reconnect with his small-town family.

Laughing yet?

Those are a few loglines for next fall's TV pilots — the comedy pilots.

Networks are looking at recession-friendly ideas for their new half-hours, with many projects embracing characters in crisis and avoiding office settings.

CBS' "Waiting to Die" is, according to its description, a "buddy comedy about two simple guys who are happy with their life, no matter how bad it might look from the outside." Fox's "Two Dollar Beer" is about a blue-collar couple in Detroit who "deal with the reality of their long-standing roots in this community slowly becoming less relevant as the rest of the world passes them by."

Groups of single, perky young people seem to be waning. No more friends with benefits — they're now friends with unemployment benefits.

The creative upside is that networks that have rushed back to police and medical procedurals for their fall drama pilots seem to have ordered some refreshingly untraditional comedies.

Loglines suggest grown-up themes: single parents, a couple with an age difference, unexpected pregnancies. But the police-show resurgence is getting some play, too. Odd as it might sound, there are four comedies in development about police officers or security guards.

Office-based shows seem less popular as networks likely figure viewers do not wish to be reminded of their workplace — or lack thereof — during a recession.

In another assumption-busting move, there are plenty of single-camera comedies on the list. This season, the traditional multicamera style has seemed more likely to draw viewers, suggesting that networks might avoid the format in the fall. But nearly 40% of the pilots are single-camera shows, using the cinematic style popular with critics and younger viewers yet bearing a shaky track record in the ratings.

Given the WGA strike last year, networks have plenty more pilots to choose from that presumably will result in a better-quality crop of shows hitting the air in the fall. If networks greenlight "losers of the recession" comedies, however, will the shows be funny enough to survive an economic recovery? (partialdiff)
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