The 'Roseanne' Effect: Networks Doubling Down on Multicamera Comedies

A year after the ax fell on comedies '2 Broke Girls,' 'Last Man Standing' and a wave of other multicams, the broadcasters have reversed course after ABC found ratings gold in a 20-year-old sitcom.
Adam Rose/ABC

Call it the Roseanne effect.

This upfront season, the Big Four broadcast networks are reinvesting in multicamera comedies a year after a wave of cancellations that left only a handful on the air. The news follows a pilot season that saw the genre explode, jumping to 16 orders compared with seven a year ago, with many expected to get the series pickup call. By the end of upfronts 2017, ABC, NBC and CBS had collectively ordered only four multicamera comedies to series. This year's tally, after only a handful of comedy pickups, has already matched that number with more expected.

Roseanne, which will likely end the 2017-18 season as TV's No. 1 series in both total viewers and the advertiser-coveted adults 18-49 demographic, was ABC's lone multicamera comedy in the 2017-18 season. The network last year opted to exit the format and canceled Tim Allen's Last Man Standing and Dr. Ken and passed on its two multicamera comedy pilots. This season, ABC ordered three multicamera comedy pilots: Man of the House, starring Alyson Hannigan; Diablo Cody's Most Likely To, starring Yvette Nicole Brown; and Kenya Barris' straight-to-series entry. Of those, Man of the House is expected to go to series, while the Barris comedy was downgraded to pilot and pushed off-cycle following trouble casting a star.

CBS — which is home to multicam hit Big Bang Theory — the canceled 2 Broke Girls, The Odd Couple and rookie The Great Indoors. Its multicam roster this season includes Chuck Lorre-produced Mom (already renewed for next season) and bubble comedies Man With a Plan, Kevin Can Wait and Superior Donuts. Of the three, the Matt LeBlanc and Kevin James vehicles have the best shot at joining a 2018-19 schedule that has already seen CBS order three multicamera shows: the Murphy Brown reboot, Cedric the Entertainer starrer Welcome to the Neighborhood and the untitled Damon Wayans Jr. comedy. That's up one from last season when the network added Living Biblically and 9JKL — both of which have been canceled. And there may be more to come as all eight of CBS' comedy pilot orders this season were multicams (up from three last season).

At NBC, which renewed its multicam Will and Grace revival through 2020, the network has second-year comedy Marlon returning this summer. On the pilot side, NBC ordered twice as many multicams as last year (four) and has already converted one to series (Mike Schur-produced Abby's, which is filmed outside in front of a live audience). Of the other two, Suzanne Martin's Universal TV-produced Like Family, starring You're the Worst duo Brandon Mychal Smith and Kether Donohue, has the edge over Warner Bros. TV's Friends-in-Law, from The McCarthys' Brian Gallivan.

As for Fox, the network was completely out of the space this season and appears poised to re-enter the genre with both of its multicamera pilots heating up for series pickups: Rel, starring Lil Rel Howery and exec produced by Jerrod Carmichael, and retirement comedy Cool Kids, starring Vicki Lawrence, David Alan Grier, Leslie Jordan and Martin Mull.  

Multicamera comedies are less expensive to produce — a boon in an era of dwindling viewership and ad dollars — and faster to make, with Roseanne and Big Bang Theory currently ranking as TV's top two comedies, with the latter having set a per-episode record with its syndication sale to TBS.

Here's a snapshot of new multicamera series orders over the years:

2018: 4 (so far)
2017: 4
2016: 4
2015: 6
2014: 5
2013: 6
2012: 4

Keep track of all the renewals, cancellations and new show orders with THR's scorecards for ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and The CW  and with all the latest pilot pickups and passes with our handy guide. For complete coverage, bookmark THR.com/upfronts.