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Skedding laffers is a serious biz

Number of major net comedy blocks has shrunk

Laffers “The War at Home” on Fox and “How I Met Your Mother” on CBS are among the season’s early success stories, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

After all, they air in the only protected comedy “hammock” slots around.

As recently as 10 years ago there were eight two-hour comedy blocks on the major nets, but that number has shrunk to two this fall as the number of comedies overall has been halved to 25 during that time period.

But if the nets want to get serious about planting more comedy seeds on their skeds, they should consider consolidating their strongest comedy assets into two-hour blocks.

CBS had the right idea heading into this fall when it returned “King of Queens” to Monday at 8, slid “Two and a Half Men” into the old “Everybody Loves Raymond” slot at 9, and then popped in its two best new comedies in the 8:30 and 9:30 slots.

It’s not surprising then, that 8:30 laffer “How I Met Your Mother” has performed fairly well, building in 18-49 rating on its “King of Queens” lead-in after four episodes (3.7 to 3.5, according to Nielsen) and earning a full-season pickup.

Fox has similarly given a full order to “The War at Home,” which has performed well enough between animated hits “The Simpsons” at 8 and “Family Guy” at 9. In its first four outings, “War” has averaged a 4.1 rating in 18-49, to a 5.0 for its “Simpsons” lead-in.

Their successful four-packs put Fox and CBS ahead of ABC and NBC in the comedy game, even though the Alphabet and Peacock had the most two-hour comedy blocks until a few years ago.

But ABC lost anchor comedies like “Dharma & Greg” and “Drew Carey” and NBC said good-bye to “Friends” and “Frasier” — and there was nothing sitting on the bench to pick up the slack.

Instead, ABC now airs six comedies (two each on three nights), and none of them is particularly strong. NBC has four comedies on its air split in one-hour blocks on different nights, and one of them (“Will & Grace”) will be leaving at season’s end.

ABC is in a transition period with its comedies, as traditional, domestic skeins like “According to Jim” and “George Lopez” near the end of their runs and the net charts a more sophisticated course.

The Alphabet’s three best-looking comedies are all on the bench: the new “Emily’s Reasons Why Not” starring Heather Graham, and the quirky single-camera “Sons and Daughters” joining John Stamos starrer “Jake in Progress,” which returns after a brief, not-too- successful, run last spring.

ABC lacks anchors, though, making it difficult for schedulers to find a spot where these comedies might work. Monday is a possibility, but the net may want to work toward a Tuesday four-comedy sked next season, as this is where it has enjoyed its biggest laffer success over the years.

NBC is farther along on the comedy rebound trail — even though second-year series “Joey” is clearly not working. New Tuesday entry “My Name Is Earl” has emerged as the season’s No. 1-rated new show in 18-49 (5.7 average).

“Earl” is also the top-rated comedy on any net — despite airing in a tough Tuesday at 9 time period and coming out of an ill-matched lead-in, the unscripted weight-loss series “The Biggest Loser.”

Imagine what “Earl” could do if moved to Thursday, where it could be surrounded by “Will & Grace,” “Scrubs” and maybe “The Office” or another new comedy in a return to a four-comedy block.

The way “Joey” and “The Apprentice” are foundering on the night, we may not have to wait long to find out.

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