VPs talk sitcom Rx

What’s network comedy’s way out of the wilderness? Variety contributor Betsy Boyd went over the map recently with five development execs.

CRAIG ERWICH

Exec VP of development, Fox

“A, know that it’s just a drought, and it’s not permanent. B, time-honored traditions of what works last longer than any lesson you learn from what doesn’t work… I agree there is increased competition — it just forces you to do better. I think there’s very little room now for mediocrity… I don’t want to pick on a show, but ‘Wings,’ or something, those kinds of shows — middle-class hits — I think those are tougher to come by now.”

WENDI TRILLING

Senior VP of comedy series development, CBS

“Finding that magical combination of really great writing and a great cast is key. You can have the greatest script in the world, and if you don’t cast it exactly right, you won’t have a great television show. It’s really hard to make those two things happen at the same time — it’s harder than it looks. If you think about ‘Everybody Loves Raymond,’ and change one of those actors, would it be the same show?”

GHEN MAYNARD

Exec VP of primetime development, NBC

“Across the networks, we’re all pretty much in a drought, save for one or two shows. The truth is, overall, there are some moderate players and a lot of weak. I think over time there was such a big boom in comedy that a lot of very young writers with not much experience rose very quickly up the ranks. I think the same thing’s happening in reality. There are some very talented, very smart people, but who don’t have the years.”

FRANCIE CALFO

Exec VP, entertainment, ABC

“Our audience is tougher now because there’s so much entertaining (programming) between drama and comedy. Whatever it is that does rejuvenate this world is going to come from a character that really resonates with people. … I think our audiences are a little more sophisticated now and less interested in laughing for laughing’s sake. We’re really evolving our brand of comedy. (For next season), we developed a little twist on family shows. We did a lot of shows that were more adult, rather than three kids and parents.”

LAUREN CORRAO

Exec VP of original programming and development, Comedy Central

“What we try to do in the beginning of shows is guide them in terms of what we know about our audience. The most important part of my job is picking the right people to be in business with. Once we see that the show is what it needs to be … there’s no reason to second-guess great writing and great comedy instincts. Look, we want to be the first stop for talent who wants to do a show on television, and we want to be the first stop for the audience who enjoys watching comedy on television. We also want to find a way to laugh at the things that used to make us laugh instead of everybody trying to get along and walking on eggshells around each other.”

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