How FOX Saved ABC Comedy

Get ready to hear one of the greatest paradoxes in modern day television.

Back to You (2007-2008)
Remember Back to You? Probably not. It was a short-lived comedy series that had the misfortune of airing in the 2007-2008 season. A.k.a, Writers' Strike season. This meant that after airing just seven episodes, the show would have to go on hiatus for about 3.5 months. It went on to air seven more episodes in the spring, when it was cancelled by FOX.

Wait, so how did FOX canceling a mediocrely rated show save ABC comedy? That doesn't even make any sense!

Actually, yes it does. Let's start with the two stars of Back to You: Kelsey Grammar and Patricia Heaton. Both were understandably paid much to star in the shows given their strong backgrounds on hit comedy series (Cheers and Frasier for the former, Everybody Loves Raymond for the latter). The result of their high salaries was that FOX was willing to cancel it over the lower-rated 'Til Death due to expenses. The show was subsequently pitched to other networks, and CBS was reportedly very interested until negotiations fell through.

But that only meant that these two huge sitcom stars were back on the market. Kelsey Grammar was recruited by ABC to star in their upcoming sitcom Hank, and Patricia Heaton in fellow sitcom The Middle. Hank and The Middle were ordered to series with these big names attached, and made up the first hour of ABC's all-new comedy Wednesday in fall 2009 (you can find more about that in the ABC Comedy article here).

Would either of them been on the air without them? Possibly for Hank (but it wouldn’t matter since if Kelsey Grammar couldn’t save it, barely anyone could), but The Middle more than likely would not. See, it was first developed in the 2006-2007 season as a Ricki Lake vehicle, but was not ordered to series. It was then redeveloped for the 2009-2010 TV season, with only Atticus Shaffer as youngest child Brick keeping his role. ABC told the creators that in order for them to consider picking it up, however, was if they could get a big star to play the role of Frankie. When Patricia Heaton signed up, ABC ordered a pilot, and later picked it up to series. Now, The Middle is entering its seventh season, and has been ABC’s most stable comedy since its start.

Now, let’s move onto the people behind the scenes of Back to You. It was created by Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan. Names ring a bell, Modern Family fans? That’s because the creators of Back to You were also the creators of Modern Family. The two arranged for Ty Burrell, who played a supporting character on Back to You, to play the breakout role of Phil on Modern Family. He has since been nominated for and/or won multiple major awards and has been considered one of the best parts of the show. They also arranged for Fred Willard, fellow Back to You supporting character, to recur as Phil’s dad on Modern Family. Modern Family was not pitched to FOX due to the creators being bitter about the cancellation of their previous show. ABC loved the pilot, and made it the centerpiece of its all-new Wednesday night lineup.

Breaking In (2011-2012)

So FOX cancelling Breaking In wasn’t exactly something that saved ABC comedy—though Back to You indeed was—but ABC was indeed allowed to take a major step forward with their comedy slate with the cancellation news. How, and why? I’ll tell you.

The creator of Breaking In was a man named Adam F. Goldberg. Yes, Goldberg. That name sound familiar to fans of ABC’s The Goldbergs? That’s because he created this show as well, a biopic about his family’s life narrated by Patton Oswald as grown-up Adam, which he created quickly enough to get a series order the season after Breaking In was cancelled. After a slow ratings year in Season 1, The Goldbergs escalated into a breakout sophomore hit when moved into the time slot between—you guessed it—The Middle and Modern Family. The three shows are currently ABC’s top three sitcoms.

So fans of The Middle, The Goldbergs, and Modern Family: you have FOX to thank for their existance as much as you do ABC.

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