TV panel: Comedy making a comeback

Showrunners talk about industry renaissance at HRTS event

For once, the TV writers were content.

A quartet of showrunners agreed Wednesday during a Hollywood Radio & TV Society panel that the biz is experiencing a renaissance of sorts as such innovative new hits as Fox's "Glee" and ABC's "Modern Family" creatively refresh the industry.

"It was over -- the sitcoms were disappearing," "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner said. "Everything was being replaced with news magazines, there was all this terror about the marketplace ... and here it is, coming back. It's a good time to be watching TV."

Weiner spoke during HRTS' annual gathering of top writer-producers, joined by Steve Levitan ("Family"), Carter Bays (CBS' "How I Met Your Mother") and Ryan Murphy ("Glee").

"All of us are in a shock that it did work," Murphy said of "Glee," which he said tested "in the middle" among Fox's focus group. "Kevin Reilly and Peter Liguori said, 'This is a bizarre show, but we really want to keep thinking outside the box because that's what we think is going to be a big hit on network television now, not just the same old procedurals.' "

After years of such events where writers answered questions about the latest dire challenge facing the industry, moderator Peter Tolan (FX's "Rescue Me") didn't seem to skirt hot-button issues by sticking to more fan-friendly questions.

When asked about dealing with fans' high expectations, Levitan said that after working for years on less successful projects, the pressure on "Family" is outweighed by "the joy that people like and care about the show."

One line of inquiry explored how CBS reacted to "Mother" star Neil Patrick Harris revealing to fans that he is gay during the show's second season.

"He's such a phenomenal actor, you're not thinking you're watching Neil Patrick Harris when he's performing," said Bays, who said the network supported the decision.

Weiner said that though Harris' case turned out fine, gay actors continue to have valid concerns about coming out.

"It can be a commercially devastating thing," he said. "If you're a sex symbol to women ... your position as a fantasy object, the viability of that, it can be jeopardized. And people still struggle with it."