Broadcast Networks Turn to Comedy In Next Wave of Live TV Stunts

ABC's 'All in the Family' and 'Jeffersons' special is part of a larger push to reinvigorate the space.
Courtesy of Photofest
Jamie Foxx and Woody Harrelson will play George Jefferson (left) and Archie Bunker, respectively.

Musicals are out as broadcast networks turn to live sitcoms in the quest for DVR-proof programming.

ABC said April 18 that it is teaming with Norman Lear and Jimmy Kimmel to re-create All in the Family and The Jeffersons for Live in Front of a Studio Audience, a star-studded 90-minute special that ABC Entertainment president Karey Burke hopes will become a recurring feature.

"We see a huge uptick when The Bachelor and American Idol are live, and we added hours to Idol this year as part of our live strategy as we continue to take advantage of what broadcast TV can do so well," Burke tells The Hollywood Reporter. "And a big cornerstone of our live strategy is supporting Jimmy in launching Live in Front of a Studio Audience, which will hopefully be a big franchise for us."

As most scripted half-hours now draw less than a 1.0 rating among the all-important adults 18-to-49 demographic, the Live effort is part of a larger push to reinvigorate the space. And, sources say, other broadcast networks are looking to go a step further with live scripted comedy series.

ABC, Fox and NBC have no plans to air a live musical in 2019, although all three remain interested in the genre. ABC, which will air the NFL Draft live in late April in partnership with ESPN and the league, is developing both an original live musical as well as one that draws from Disney IP. Fox, whose Dick Wolf-produced unscripted show First Responders Live premieres June 12, is mulling a live sitcom and other ideas, including a "jukebox" in which the network adapts an artist's discography as a live scripted movie. And NBC, even post-Bob Greenblatt, has three live musical titles in development despite scrapping plans for Hair.

NBC turned the third and final season of the comedy Undateable into a production that aired live on the East and West coasts in 2015 and a year earlier teamed with Sean Hayes to develop a multicamera comedy that would air live, including commercials, every week. (It did not move forward.)

"If you're in broadcast, urgency and immediacy have to be at the top of your list," one top broadcast executive tells THR. "You want to be at the center of cultural conversation." 

This story first appeared in the April 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.