The B.C. Sitcom for P.C. Times

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, March 8, 2007

Sitcom-challenged ABC -- struggling to launch shows in the face of all those humorless groups that have killed TV comedy by rendering off-limits all the good jokes about blacks, Hispanics, Muslims, Jews, Christians, gays, women, stutterers, the physically challenged, Tom Cruise if he's working on a movie for your studio, the Amish and even Beverly hillbillies -- thinks it finally may have found the lobby-proof sitcom joke butt:

Cavemen.

ABC has ordered a pilot for a comedy called "Cavemen," starring the three guys in the Geico car insurance ads.

In the sitcom -- one of 16 the network has ordered as it puts together next season's prime-time slate -- the three cavemen live in the suburbs of modern-day Atlanta (which perhaps the network feels is closer to the Paleolithic era than, say, Manhattan). There, they suffer from the prejudice of others, in much the same way they have since Geico first claimed in its ads that its Web site is so easy to use "even a caveman can do it."

"We felt it was a way of doing a social satire without offending any particular group -- other than cavemen," an ABC network spokeswoman told The TV Column on condition that she be allowed to toil in anonymity. "It's just a big, noisy, fun idea."

Ironically, that's just what Geico and its Richmond ad firm, Martin Agency, had in mind when they were searching for someone about whom they could say even an idiot could navigate the insurance company's dot-com.

"We can't offend cavemen because they're not around anymore," Dean Jarrett, Martin Agency senior vice president of marketing, told The TV Column.

The leap to "what if they were around" was the work of a moment.

"I love those darned cavemen and think it could be great," says Martin, who has worked at the ad agency 18 years. "The fact the whole country is talking about it, even though it's just a possibility, says something about their popularity."

The idea of a "Cavemen" sitcom is not unlike the scathing social satire ABC aired from spring '91 to summer '94. "Dinosaurs" starred gigantic puppetlike reptiles and included an episode in which a dinosaur about to join the Young Males Carnivore Association (YMCA) decides to become a herbivore, for which he's called a "herbo" and booted for going against the laws of nature.

Yes, broadcast networks used to be able to get away with stuff like that. And dared to.

Details were sketchy on "Cavemen." It's not a given that the actors in the ads would get to reprise their roles for the sitcom. One of them, John Lehr, is not available -- he's attached to the TBS sitcom "10 Items or Less," about a family-run grocery store. And ABC may prefer to cast better-known actors with sitcom chops, though, sadly, Jim Belushi, Patrick Warburton and Kelsey Grammer are signed to other series and Michael Richards is, so far as we know, still in Racist Rehab, substantially narrowing the field.


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