New Lessons of Fall TV: Comedy Is King

Patrick McElhenney/Fox

Early full-season orders of freshman shows "New Girl," "2 Broke Girls" and "Up All Night" prove that comedy rules the tube this season.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

Five weeks into the new television season, and a consensus has emerged: Comedy is king. Whatever has sent viewers to the tube in search of a laugh -- the dire economy and stubbornly high unemployment or simply the cyclical nature of primetime programming trends -- a preponderance of freshman shows getting full-season orders have been sitcoms. Fox and CBS, the Nos. 1 and 2 networks, quickly ordered full seasons of New Girl and 2 Broke Girls, respectively. NBC followed suit with Whitney and Up All Night. ABC already has given Suburgatory a full-season order, and Tim Allen's pricey Last Man Standing -- which bowed to strong ratings Oct. 11 and brought men to the female-skewing network on a night when Fox had Game 3 of Major League Baseball's American League Championship Series -- is a shoo-in to score a pickup.

PHOTOS: Fall TV's 12 Most Anticipated Shows

Conversely, only three dramas have made the cut: ABC's campy soap Revenge and CBS' J.J. Abrams/Jonathan Nolan drama Person of Interest and Unforgettable, starring Poppy Montgomery. NBC also has ordered additional scripts of the Maria Bello starrer Prime Suspect. But none of the new dramas has been burning up the ratings charts, and ABC canceled its ill-advised reboot of Charlie's Angels while NBC axed its derivative The Playboy Club after three episodes.

Of course, not every comedy the networks threw at the wall stuck. CBS' critically excoriated How to Be a Gentleman was shunted to Saturdays, where it aired for a week before getting yanked. And a Twitter campaign by star Hank Azaria did Free Agents no good; NBC pulled it after four episodes.

PHOTOS: Fall TV Preview 2011: 10 Fresh Faces To Know


2 Broke Girls: The Michael Patrick King comedy benefited from a massive Two and a Half Men lead-in (nearly 30 million viewers) for its premiere, but it's also winning its regular time slot following How I Met Your Mother.

New GirlThe comedy gave Fox its best fall sitcom bow in 10 years and returns Nov. 1 after theWorld Series.

The X FactorIt might not draw the 9 demo American Idol averaged last season, but a 4-plus rating is worth singing about.

Revenge: With ratings that earned it a full-season order, the soapy thriller is a bright spot on ABC's fall drama slate.

Person of InterestIt's holding its own in the tough 9 p.m. Thursday slot, but the Abrams/Nolan drama is far from the barset by NCIS.

STORY: The Hollywood Reporter's 10 Showrunners to Watch

Terra Nova: Steven Spielberg's epic dinosaur drama came with a big budget and high expectations, making its 3-plus rating something of a disappointment.

Last Man Standing: The Allen comedy was down double digits for its second episode Oct. 18, but it still snagged a solid 3 rating in the demo.

Whitney: The Thursday night comedy has managed to outrate Community and Parks and Recreation, but ratings have been in free fall since itsbig Sept. 22 bow.

Prime SuspectDespite ratings nearly as low as Playboy Club's, NBC honcho BobGreenblatt is committed to making the highbrow drama work.

RATINGS SCORECARD*: Fox gets a foothold this fall, while fourth-place NBC continues to sink.

  1. Fox: 2.4 rating [+21% from 2010]
  2. CBS: 3.3 [no change]
  3. ABC: 2.7 [-4%]
  4. NBC: 2.5 [-14%]
  5. Uni: 1.6 [no change]
  6. CW: 0.9 [-25%]

*Source: Nielsen, most-current ratings in 18-49 demographic