For the past few weeks, Bravo has been quietly airing a small reality series named Situation: Comedy. Chances are you haven’t seen it because it’s been shuffled around the schedule seemingly every week. Nevertheless, like the giant fishing net that it is, the Tivo has managed to rein in all the episodes, and I’m proud to say that I’ve watched every show. You can pay me later, Bravo.
I haven’t been recapping it because for the most part, while the series is interesting, it’s a bit quaint and dull. That’s not to say I didn’t like it. As someone who’s worked in the television industry for the past seven years, I actually found Situation: Comedy‘s look at the pilot process enjoyable, even fascinating.
The basic premise behind Situation: Comedy is that two writers (or teams of writers, as it were) would be plucked from the ether, Project: Greenlight style, and allowed to produce their very own pilot presentations. Then the audience would vote on which pilot it likes more, thus crowning a winner who will go on to bigger and better things in the world of network television.
Well, last week I took a gander at these finished pilot presentations (they’re hosted at AOL. Voting ends on Friday), and I’ll just put it out there: they’re both horrendous. Really honest-to-god awful.
Normally, I’d just close my browser, but since I always have to say my piece, I did cast a vote. The official TVgasm endorsement (or at least, my endorsement) after the jump.Before I talk about these two pilots, I just want to vent a little bit about this whole Situation: Comedy process. I admire this show. I really do. And, heck, I even respect most of the people on it. I probably could banter with Maxine Lapiduss for hours. I think they all seem like very nice people (except for that jerk on Stephen’s Life. You know, the guy who talks like he’s deaf, but he’s not. Very weird).
Anyway, here’s the thing. The whole point of this show is to find a fresh new voice to reinvigorate the sitcom landscape. I think that’s a fantastic idea and something the networks desperately need (cough, hire me, cough). But right from the get-go, Situation: Comedy has only served to rile up the cynic in me. After all, from the very first episode right until last week’s installment, we’ve watched these supposedly “fresh” scripts get worked and re-worked through the old studio system.
First we saw the pool of ten thousand (!!) pilots get whittled down by Sean Hayes, his writing partner Todd Milliner, former Golden Girls writer Stan Zimmerman, former Roseanne writer Maxine Lapiduss, and NBC development honcho, Renate So-And-So (sorry, I forgot her last name. That’s okay. Her first name is more fun to say anyway. It’s pronounced like Renatta. Say it. It’s a blast). To be honest, I don’t know how funny or not funny any of these people are, but watching this selection process, I couldn’t help thinking that the very people picking the scripts could arguably be the same ones responsible for the stale state of sitcoms. Certainly that could affect the sort of pilots chosen to be winners.
After this crew narrowed their finalists down to five writers/writing teams, the newbies then had to pitch to NBC executives, and then based on those pitches, NBC head Kevin Reilly (who didn’t even read the scripts) chose the two winning teams.
As the series progressed, we watched as The System slowly molded the scripts. Whether it was forcing a single-camera pilot to go multi-camera or enlisting sitcom vets to punch up the drafts, it became evident that the old guard had a lot more input than we ever thought they would.
That being said, I’m a realist. These writing teams desperately needed the leadership and help of people who’d been around the industry and knew what they were doing. Still, after seeing the final product, I was massively disheartened. The winning presentations were so bad, I was led to two equally sad conclusions:
- Either these scripts started off funny but then the NBC sitcom machine turned them into mediocre dreck; OR
- These scripts were never funny, but they still managed to win the competition because the NBC sitcom machine no longer knows what funny is.
Some people might argue “all of the above,” and I too believe it’s probably a mixture of both, but honestly, I just don’t know. Either way, it’s a rough indictment of comedy development (by the way, I’m so not ever getting hired by NBC now).
What I do know is that the final presentations, Stephen’s Life and The Sperm Donor, were truly bad. I’m not just saying that because I’m a blogger and supposed to trash on everything. I went in with an open mind but ultimately really did feel both shows were unfunny and, even worse, boring.
Stephen’s Life is about a pudgy little kid who could best be described as a young Alex P. Keaton. He hires George Wendt to produce a campaign video to help him win Class Presidency, all the while bossing around his pushover parents to maximize his election bid. Unfortunately, the jokes just aren’t funny. Not even the talented cast can make the punchlines pop (Cheri Oteri is amusing, however). Plus, the gag that Stephen is precocious wears thins very, very quickly. At the end of the pilot, the whole thing simply feels like a low-rent, run-of-the-mill TGIF comedy.
The Sperm Donor is also nearly laugh-free. It’s a more conventional sitcom. An uptight mother tracks down the father of her daughter, only to discover that he’s a free-wheeling biker type. You know the drill, fish out of water, opposites attract, yada yada yada. Again, not many punchlines connect, but at least one made me laugh out loud (a bawdy joke about semen – go figure). Like Stephen’s Life, this pilot certainly is undeserving of a pickup, but what I liked about it was that while the jokes by and large failed, there was an attempt at witty humor all the way through. The pilot at least tried to connect with a smart audience — and through dialogue, not intangible tricks like stunt casting.
So in case you couldn’t tell, I voted for The Sperm Donor, and not just to rebel against the NBC execs who clearly favor Stephen’s Life.
Ironically enough, just before I watched these presentations, I happened to have caught the pilot for The Cosby Show on Nickelodeon. This is a series that’s over twenty years old, and yet, it’s still hysterical — all the jokes land. Now, I know what you might say. “That was The Cosby Show! You can’t compare Stephen’s Life and The Sperm Donor to that!” Of course not. I never would. But if there’s anything The Cosby Show taught us, it’s that comedy hasn’t changed over the past two decades. The only thing that’s changed is who’s presenting it to us.
Maybe it’s time for Situation: Network Executive.
What do you think? Which pilot did you like more?