Remember how the new TV season was going to be all about Simon Cowell’s new “The X Factor,” Fox’s new dino-drama ”Terra Nova” and the period-piece battle between Playboy bunnies and Pan Am stewardesses?
Turns out, the big story of the new season is: comedy.
In the first three weeks of the TV season, younger viewers who decide what’s hot and what’s not have given up trying to find the next “Lost” and have cooled on reality competition shows.
This season, they want half-hour comedies.
Oh, and about the comedy genre being dead? Never mind.
Seven of the top-10 series this season among 18- to 49-year-olds are half-hour comedies. (That’s the age bracket, of course, that broadcast networks target when making their programming choices because advertisers will pay a premium to reach them.)
Two of those seven comedies are new this season: CBS’s hash-slinger chick-com “2 Broke Girls,” from “Sex and the City’s” Michael Patrick King; and Zooey Deschanel’s latest exploration into dork-dom, Fox’s “New Girl.”
“2 Broke Girls” — CBS’s highest-testing new show ever, the network says — is also this season’s No. 1 ranked new show.
The other five comedies in that top-10 list are ABC’s “Modern Family” and four CBS shows: “Two and a Half Men,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Mike & Molly” and “How I Met Your Mother.”
CBS clearly has the edge, having stuck with sitcoms all those years that suits at other networks were pronouncing the genre dead. With that kind of a head-start, CBS has dominated the top 10 for the first three weeks of this season among those 18- to 49-year-olds.
It’s the first time since 2003 that any network’s entertainment programming has dominated the top 10 in this age group for the first three weeks.
Comedy’s domination has produced some unexpected headlines in the early days of the season:
●Nearly 30 million people tuned in to “Two and a Half Men” on the first night of Premiere Week to see Charlie Sheen’s demise and Ashton Kutcher’s debut. That’s “Men’s” biggest audience ever — and the biggest season debut for any scripted series on any television network in about six years.
Despite all the hysteria that surrounded the premieres of “The X Factor,” “Terra Nova,” “Playboy Club,” blah, blah, blah – the “Men” season start remains the most watched scripted program on any network this season.
●ABC’s returning “Modern Family” whomped the much-ballyhooed “X Factor” premiere the first Wednesday night of the new TV season — and then did it again Weeks 2 and 3.
●CBS’s returning “Big Bang Theory” took over for “Modern” on Thursday, thumping “X Factor” in Premiere Week — and then did it again Weeks 2 and 3.
●Meanwhile, CBS Monday sitcoms stomped all over the unveiling of Fox’s $20 million two-hour “Terra Nova” pilot episode in the second week of the new season.
●“New Girl” has outstripped its lead-in “Glee” every week so far this season, officially becoming the new It Girl over at Fox — without the help of Madonna, Britney, or Gwyneth Paltrow. Fox’s first live-action half-hour comedy hit in forever.
●“New Girl” became the first new series to get a full-season pick-up. “2 Broke Girls” followed suit closely.
So far, comedies are the only new series that have bagged full-season orders. NBC even picked up two of its new comedies despite much lower ratings: “Up All Night” and “Whitney.” NBC said, it’s deeply committed to comedy in prime time. Non-Jay Leno comedy, that is.
(Meanwhile, “Playboy Club” became the first new series to be cancelled.)
And it ‘s not just new comedies that are making headlines. “Modern Family,” “Two and a Half Men,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “The Middle,” and “Mike & Molly,” are all doing better this season than they were at the same point last season.
“A lot of shows are asking for big commitments of people these days — reality shows that run four hours a week ask an awful lot of people. Comedies are nice little entertaining packages,” CBS senior exec vice president Kelly Kahl speculated to The TV Column.
But not all new comedies are catching on. NBC’s “Free Agents” tied CW’s reality show “H8Rs” in the race to become this season’s second cancellation. And last Friday, after seeing the numbers on the Thursday debut of its what-where-they-smoking-when-they-picked-up-this-one? sitcom “How to Be a Gentleman,” CBS announced it was shipping it to Saturday nights — and moving perennial utility player “Rules of Engagement” to “Gentleman’s” plum post-“Big Bang Theory” time slot.
In “Gentlemen’s” defense” its numbers were better than any regular episode to date of NBC’s “Up All Night”– just not good enough for CBS.
In other comedy news, the year’s traditional French Apache dance between “The Simpsons” studio and the actors — which can usually be counted on for week’s of hair-pulling, eye-blacking, name-calling fun — ended prematurely Friday, when both parties decided to split the difference in their positions.
The voice-over artists did not accept the 45 percent pay cut — to $4 million per 22-week work year — that the studio insisted it needed to continue bankrolling the animated series beyond this, its 23rd season. Nor did the studio fly the white flag for the 30 percent pay cut that the actors had said was all that could be expected if they were to keep roofs over their heads in the super-pricey west side of Dottyville on the Pacific.
In the end, the actors accepted a straight 30 percent pay cut, in exchange for guaranteed employment for two more seasons — at which point, we can hope, the DOH will declare that the show contains too much moldy material and order it shuttered.
“In the words of Mark Twain: Woo Hoo! Two more seasons!” Simpsons chief producer/writer Al Jean summed up — exclusively to EW — after the deal was announced, illustrating our point, above, about dangerously moldy material.