The Disappointing End to Fox’s Comedy Renaissance

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily express those of The TV Ratings Guide. 

After ruthlessly yanking the series off the schedule and haphazardly tossing the remaining episodes on an island of repeats during the summer months of 2018, Fox announced that they had pulled the plug on freshman comedy Ghosted after a single season in late June of that same year. For those who follow Nielsen ratings, this came as a fairly predictable decision. Taking a program out of circulation in the middle of January and forcing it to undergo a “soft reboot” conveys that the network has all but given up on the program. It was only a matter of time before the Disney-owned company ejected its rotting carcass and fashioned together a cancellation announcement. Although the demise of Ghosted itself took no one by surprise, it marked the end of an era for the broadcasting company. Out of nowhere, Fox ordered a purge of their live-action comedy roster in May 2018.The Mick, Brooklyn Nine-Nine,The Last Man on Earth, and LA To Vegas were all erased from the network’s lineup during this overhaul. To fill the void that these unique, inventive, and acclaimed sitcoms left, the ones in charge decided to select broad, multi-camera comedies (that critics generally rip to shreds) as replacements. Ghosted remained the lone soldier in the battle to preserve the creativity that Fox had cherished during the mid-to-late 2010s. While not without flaws, the Adam Scott-led sitcom had an enticing premise that put paranormal activity and sci-fi adventure in the forefront. Its departure signaled the start of a new phase for the network. Innovation and originality lost. The cheap, bland, and lackluster have taken over.  

While CBS adored their stilted, formulaic multicams and ABC felt content with family sitcoms, Fox paved their own path by stockpiling a variety of dissimilar situational comedies. None of them fell under a single bracket or classification, each one brought its own unique traits to the table.The Last Man on Earth displayed a post-apocalyptic dystopia and consistently strayed away from ordinary sitcom storylines.Son of Zorn had a fresh concept that focused on an animated warrior interacting with humans in a real-life setting.The short-lived Making History told the story of three friends traveling back in time and witnessing various historical moments. If pitched to a network like CBS, these ideas would have never seen the light of day. Unlike its older counterparts, Fox was never afraid to try something that would not appeal to the common viewer. Sadly, that itself turned into the downfall of this collection of imaginative programming and caused the company to sever ties with the experimental. Although many appreciated these projects, critical acclaim simply does not pay bills. In reality, none of these comedies performed nearly as well as those on CBS or ABC in the lucrative 18-49 demographic. Even those that ran for multiple seasons, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and The Last Man on Earth, garnered ratings that other broadcast networks would have never tolerated. 

To put things into perspective, the nine comedies that aired on the Los Angeles-based network during the 2017-18 television season averaged a pitiful 0.9 rating. If one excludes the three, healthy cartoon staples (The Simpsons, Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers) from the equation, that number drops to an outright pathetic 0.76 rating in the 18-49 demographic. In contrast, ABC managed a respectable 1.4 average for the eleven sitcoms it housed and CBS achieved a 1.32 for the ten it aired. Although Fox narrowly edged out NBC’s mean score (a 0.89 rating), the peacock network also aired comedies that year that did not fall under a single umbrella. Superstore, AP Bio and The Good Place all differed greatly from each other. Unsurprisingly, the two networks that created comedies using an assembly line thrived while the ones that attempted to stray away from the norm crashed and burned. Through this, one can easily comprehend why the Fox network decided to cleanse themselves of struggling sitcoms and start over with a clean slate.Their valiant efforts to craft a diverse, engaging group of comedies completely backfired.

Christopher Sanders (left) & Tim Allen (right)

Through reviving Last Man Standing and picking up Rel and Cool Kids for the fall 2018 season, the network seemingly adopted CBS’s strategy. They began to invest in cheap, multi-camera sitcoms. Although the latter two were canned after airing a single season apiece, the network continues to try their luck in the arena populated with blaring laugh tracks and tired clichés. In fact, the only new live-action comedy to be ordered by the network for the 2019-2020 television season was Outmatched, a multicam (not counting the miniseries The Moodys). Not one single-camera comedy is around in 2020. In sharp contrast, the 2017-18 season had six of them.The once dominant species has become extinct. 

In all, high-concept comedies simply do not belong on broadcast television. One certainly cannot put the blame on Fox for the change of heart. For many years, they populated our airwaves with eccentric shows like The Grinder, Son of Zorn, The Mick, Making History, and more. Unfortunately, they either performed poorly out the gate or only pulled strong numbers initially. Fox had no choice but to shift to a new method to revive their underwhelming sitcom department. Putting the viewpoint of critics aside, no live-action comedy they have churned out in the past decade can comfortably be called a hit when it comes to Nielsen ratings. New Girl may have performed well at one point, but it nearly became the lowest-rated comedy on broadcast television for its final season.The Last Man on Earth may have opened with a healthy 2.4 rating, but it dropped down to a 1.4 by the end of its first season and only performed worse as the years went by.

It was almost foolish to think that this fantastic resurgence that birthed wonderful single-camera gems would last very long. On the contrary, one should be thankful that it even made it this far. While Brooklyn Nine-Nine has found itself a home on NBC until at least its eight season (thanks in part to massive fan outcry), most of their comedies died a premature death. Similar to how one would handle a breakup, Fox has cleared out any last remnants of a time period that gave life to many quality programs. At the end of the day, television is a business. None of the networks cater to everyone’s taste. Even if moving to multi-cams served as a rather wise business decision, it’s painful to see what broadcast television has become. With streaming services and cable television breaking boundaries and offering unique projects that do not need to fill a certain time-span or omit inappropriate language and suggestive scenes, it’s becoming clear that broadcast has turned into a desolate land of retreads, reboots, and spinoffs. Nonetheless, while the renaissance may be over, the silver lining comes with the fact that some wonderful pieces of television were created in the process.

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