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Jim Parsons, right, and Johnny Galecki of The Big Bang Theory. (Sonja Flemming)
Jim Parsons, right, and Johnny Galecki of The Big Bang Theory. (Sonja Flemming)

No laughing matter: There’s a crisis in the TV comedy racket Add to ...

Already there is talk about the hot shows that might arrive on network TV in the fall of 2013.

The main reason for the chatter is the news that CBS has ordered up a pilot for a new comedy from Chuck Lorre, the guy behind Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory and Mike & Molly. The new comedy, a multicamera show (that is, with a studio audience and a laugh track), is called Mom and it is about “a newly sober single mom who tries to pull her life together in Napa Valley.”

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According to rather addled coverage in the trade press that covers the TV racket, the lead role on Mom is already the most sought-after gig among actresses of the female persuasion. What. Ever.

Fact is, a sitcom about a single mom getting her act together after a battle with the demon drink, and now living in California wine country, sounds a bit groan-inducing to many people. Yes, already.

However, the fact that Lorre is behind it makes it a hot property. Some people might loathe Chuck Lorre (well, Charlie Sheen made it clear that he does) and his slick comedies but, given his track record, there is every likelihood that Mom will be slick, mechanical and rooted in stereotypes. It’s what has made him successful and CBS a lot of money.

And yet one has to wonder if there’s guaranteed gold to be mined from the comedy vein these days. One striking aspect of TV in 2012 has been the number of comedies that failed to find an audience.

For the 2012/13 TV season, several networks bet heavily on half-hour comedy. Inspired, perhaps, by the success of new shows such as New Girl in the fall of 2011, comedies came tumbling down the network production chute. NBC had six new comedies, ABC had four, Fox had three and CBS had two.

How did they do? Well, some have yet to air and will arrive in January or the spring of 2013, but not one that aired so far has been an outright hit. Those coming closest to success with viewers are NBC’s Go On and ABC’s The Neighbors, though both have a fraction of the audience garnered by Modern Family, Two and a Half Men or 2 Broke Girls. NBC’s Animal Practice was quickly cancelled, as was the awful CBS sitcom Partners. Fox’s highly touted Ben and Kate and The Mindy Project are struggling with tiny ratings – no matter how droll or ironic they are, the shows are having minimal impact.

What’s going on amounts to a crisis in the comedy racket. Certainly for the networks. Big Bang Theory and Modern Family are mega-hits (Big Bang is the No. 1 show in Canada), but hardly anyone is interested in new sources of laughter.

Perhaps the problem is quality. There is little that’s original coming from the networks. And as corny as the new Chuck Lorre project Mom, might sound, there’s a certain safety in being unoriginal.

Perhaps the problem is familiarity. If you’re watching Big Bang and Modern Family, you’re familiar with their rhythms and can be guaranteed a laugh or two. Are you going to spend time with something that’s totally unfamiliar and probably unfunny? Nope. There is little that’s original coming from the networks.

And then there is the competition from cable. HBO’s Girls is best classified as a comedy and

is certainly original. FX’s Louie can appear disorienting if you’re used to network sitcoms, because it seems to have no structure.

But once you’re inside Louis C.K.’s world, you’re hooked. Both Girls and Louie are for adults and make network comedy look very tame.

This Mom thing coming from CBS had better be very, very funny. Possibly, it will all end in tears for CBS and Chuck Lorre, as so many comedy projects have, recently.

Airing tonight

Glee (Fox, Global, 8 p.m.) is the last episode before the show disappears for many weeks. It’s a sort-of Christmas episode, apparently, paying homage to the movies It’s a Wonderful Life and Love, Actually. Also, the Mayan prediction of an apocalypse plays a role. And the episode marks the return of Rory, the Irish student – the one Brittany believes is a leprechaun. More fun than any sitcom tonight, probably.

All times ET. Check local listings.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

 

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