Remember when “Seinfeld” was the top-rated show on television? Remember when the “Friends” finale captivated a nation? I hope you do because, as our society moves forward, it’s hard to imagine sitcoms like those two being as successful in today’s TV world as they were. I’ve spent some time in the last six months talking about the past, and I’ve talked a lot about the present, but what about television’s future? Where does it go from here? It’s definitely a tough question because you never know when the next “American Idol” will come along and change the landscape. One thing is for sure though: The classic sitcom is dying, and with it goes everything we once knew and loved about primetime TV.
If you take a look at next year’s tentative TV schedules, it’s startling just how few half-hour sitcoms will be given a shot. ABC has announced only one new one – a cartoon from the creators of “King of the Hill.” FOX will always have its Sunday night cartoons, but the workweek is dominated by game shows and mediocre dramas until “24” and “American Idol” arrive midseason to save the day – and the ratings. NBC will still have “My Name Is Earl,” “30 Rock” and “The Office,” but that’s about it until the rumored midseason debut of a – wait for it – spin-off of “The Office.” It’s either going to be brilliant or disastrous, but either way it’ll be one of just a handful of new comedies on the air. Sure, “The Big Bang Theory” is beyond awful, but at least CBS is trying to keep sitcoms alive with semi-popular shows like “How I Met Your Mother” and “Two and a Half Men.” All in all, it’s a pretty bleak future for those who like the traditional half-hour laughter, and I shudder to think of what will happen when the current generation of comedies has run its course.
But my friends, the future isn’t all bad. First of all, as you grow up, you’ll likely watch less and less TV, which means you won’t need more than a handful of quality shows and my thoughts will become increasingly irrelevant. While we may have fewer shows to watch, we have more ways to watch them than ever before, and that’s only going to expand in the coming years with TiVos and DVRs becoming the norm. As the landscape has changed, the networks have done a good job of keeping up, and these days you can watch virtually anything online – a dangerous development for those of you who plan on sitting behind a computer from 9 to 5. The changing landscape has also allowed shows like “Friday Night Lights” and “Gossip Girl” to use their stellar DVR numbers as a complement to their low ratings and stay on the air. Society is changing the way it watches TV, and there’s no telling where this trend stops. Who knows, by the time my kids are my age, they’ll probably be watching a 3-D reality show about Spencer and Heidi’s kids on their iJetpacks as I try to explain to them why they can’t possibly vote Ryan Seacrest for president.
As for my future, it brings a life without being able to write a TV column, which is too bad, since I never got to rip on “Degrassi.” Last fall, I told the opinion editor that I wanted to expand my reach beyond just writing about sports to writing about TV and, for some reason, she said yes. I think it was the Black Velvet. Nonetheless, I held her to it, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Patty and C.K. for letting me write a weekly column about whatever I happened to be watching at the time. You’re both more than a slice of all right in my book. It’s been a great experience, and hopefully most of you out there could connect with at least one of the columns I wrote. If not, well, then I guess I didn’t touch you in the way I intended to. That’s what he said.