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Pilot Season 2019: Multi-Camera Comedies Remain in High Demand

For the second pilot season in a row, multi-camera comedies have proven to be a hot commodity.

The Big 4 have collectively ordered 28 comedy pilots this year, including two animated straight-to-series orders at Fox. Of those 28, 12 are single-cams and 13 are multi-cams (including one multi-cam hybrid at ABC and two at CBS). There is also a hybrid comedy in the works along with the two animated comedies.

The balance between the two formats comes after several years when multi-cams were all but written off as a defunct format. In 2017, for example, only seven of the 33 comedy pilots ordered were multi-cams. That changed in 2018, with 16 multi-cam pilot orders between the Big 4 versus 14 single-cams.

One TV lit agent who spoke with Variety views this year as a natural “course correction” from when single-cams were all the rage. Following the success of single-camera shows like “Modern Family” and “The Office,” broadcasters bent over backwards to get single-cams on their airwaves. But as broadcast looks to remain competitive with cable and streaming, the networks are always looking for ways to improve their bottom line. That is perhaps the biggest advantage multi-cams have over single-cams — they are much cheaper to produce and therefore can be more financially lucrative for networks, particularly if they hail from the network’s vertically integrated studio.

Multi-cams also have plenty of potential to become runaway hits. One need look no further than CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” which remains one of the highest-rated and most-watched shows on TV even in its twelfth and final season. Fellow CBS multi-cam “Mom” also enjoys solid ratings in its sixth season, with the network picking the Allison Janney-Anna Farris led series up for two more seasons back in February. Fox also had the much-anticipated seventh season revival of “Last Man Standing” this past fall, with that show surging in the ratings over its sixth season on ABC.

Multi-cams have been criticized for not being strong awards contenders anymore, which is only partially true. In the 2018 Emmy nominations, no multi-cams were nominated for best comedy series. Still, Janney remains a perennial favorite in the lead actress in a comedy category, having been nominated for the Emmy for “Mom” five times and winning twice. Likewise, Jim Parsons has been nominated for his role on “Big Bang Theory” six times, winning four. Christine Baranski and Mayim Bialik have also picked up multiple nods in the supporting actress in a comedy and guest actress in a comedy category respectively for their work on “Big Bang Theory,” while Laurie Metcalf has recently picked up nominations for appearing on “Big Bang Theory” and in the revival of “Roseanne.”

Several multi-cam pilots on the slate this year also boast impressive names both in front of and behind the camera. Original “Hamilton” cast member Leslie Odom Jr. is set to star in and executive produce a multi-cam at ABC inspired by real-life progressive pastors Toure Roberts and Sarah Jakes-Roberts, with Kerry Washington on board as an executive producer. At CBS, “Crazy Rich Asians” author Kevin Kwan has “The Emperor of Malibu,” with “Crazy Rich Asians” star Ken Jeong attached in a leading role. Also at CBS, “Jane the Virgin” actor Jaime Camil will star alongside Pauley Perrette and Natasha Leggero in “Broke,” which “Jane the Virgin” creator Jennie Snyder-Urman will executive produce.

Check out a breakdown of the comedy pilot orders by network below.

Network Single-Cams Multi-Cams Hybrids Animated
ABC 4 3* 0 0
CBS 1 6* 1 0
Fox 2 2 0 2
NBC 5** 2 0 0
Totals 12 13 1 2

*Including multi-cam hybrids

**Including pilot presentation for “Village Gazette”

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