Attention, comedy writers: These hillbillies are out to steal your dadgum timeslots
ABC announced Thursday that two stars from A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” would make their “acting debut” on the sitcom “Last Man Standing” in September, which only goes to demonstrate that whoever wrote the press release A) has never actually watched “Duck Dynasty” or B) is as funny as most of the people writing network sitcoms.
After a hitless 2012-13 season in terms of new sitcoms, comedy scribes prepping for the fall should take note: “Duck Dynasty” returns Aug. 14, leading a parade of not-entirely-scripted programming designed to scratch the same itch, without relying on writers.
From “Duck Dynasty” to “Doomsday Castle,” National Geographic Channel’s contribution to this month’s mini-wave, the unscripted genre is sending in a quack attack of clowns. And when those programs can attract audiences approaching — and in some instances eclipsing — scripted comedy in addition to being cheaper to produce, the scrum for real estate can start to look a trifle one-sided.
A&E breakout hit will be joined the day before by a Discovery Channel program from the same producers, “Porter Ridge” (pictured), designed to tap into the same hillbilly-chic niche as “Duck Dynasty” and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”
Around Porter Ridge — where the protagonist is fond of saying “dadgum” as an expletive — “playing with bears, holding family demolition derbies and wearing a shirt is optional,” we’re told, “but their code of life is simple: respect the lord, love your family and watch each other’s backs.”
As “The Beverly Hillbillies’” Jed Clampett would say, woo doggie. Plus if you shoot at some food, you might wind up with black gold. Texas tea.
A&E will follow on Aug. 21 with “Modern Dads,” essentially a reality-TV version (although there doesn’t feel like much that’s “real” in it) of “Guys With Kids,” the NBC sitcom that failed to escape last season. Here, the guys sit around talking about parenting techniques ranging from ill-advised to flat-out dense, and admiring the single dad’s way with women.
Two more of this month’s newcomers are more of the freak-show comedy variety: “Doomsday Castle,” about a dad trying to train his grown kids to be ready for “the end of days” — or at least, an electromagnetic pulse weapon capable of making another NBC series, “Revolution,” a near-reality; and “Heroes of Cosplay,” a Syfy hour about the “artistic, sexy and cutthroat world” of those who dress up in elaborate costumes at fan conventions.
If any of this sounds like TV has officially run out of ideas, rest assured, the unifying theme is that the traditional “sitcom” can be replicated, more inexpensively, using real people happily willing to play versions of themselves.
“Duck Dynasty’s” success is reasonably easy to grasp, with colorful characters who seem authentic, even when they’re following what amounts to a broad script. In the premiere, that includes a renewal of wedding vows and a wacky neighbor, essentially an “A” and “B” plot designed to evoke “Aws” as well as chuckles.
Wading through the screeners, it was hard to think of a single thing to say regarding “Modern Dads,” which is so overt in pounding home its Mr. Mom jokes it’s a wonder the direct-to-camera interviews aren’t accompanied by actual rim shots.
If there’s one to watch for sheer absurdity’s sake it’s “Doomsday Castle,” an extension of NatGeo’s “Doomsday Preppers” franchise featuring an ex-Army dad named Brent Sr. (think an R. Lee Ermey type) who seemingly possesses not only unlimited resources but also an attractive group of progeny so obedient as to have signed away any free will along with their reality-TV release forms.
In the premiere, dad hires a group of pals (I believe the colloquial term would be “actors”) who brandish automatic weapons and storm their remote location — essentially a mock war game to demonstrate to his wide-eyed brood just how unprepared they are for the pending apocalypse. The fact they respond as if they are really under attack suggests even preppers can take stage direction when duty calls.
While it’s easy to laugh off this motley bunch, “Duck Dynasty’s” feather-padded ratings (and to a lesser extent, those of “Honey Boo Boo”) underscore there’s a sizable audience out there able to buy into comedy that’s manicured, yes, but not written. And after surveying this fall’s crop of new sitcoms, while that might not be the end of the world, it does herald a state of affairs many of those responsible for scripting gags have yet to fully comprehend.
Perhaps appropriately, there’s a book by Tim Cahill with the title “Pecked to Death by Ducks.” For comedy writers, there has to be a less dignified way to die, but until the EMP hits, it’s frankly hard to think of one.