A successor to NBC’s ‘Comedy Night Done Right’
Matt McMahon | Monday, January 18, 2016
The last true bastion of network comedy block scheduling — which the NBC TV network ran as its “Comedy Night Done Right” in different iterations on Thursday nights from 2009 to 2013 — may finally have a worthy successor. However, with NBC’s abandonment of its sitcom programming, its new successor mirrors neither network nor night of the week. What Fox Network’s 2016-restructured Tuesday night comedy block of “New Girl,” “Grandfathered,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “The Grinder” does closely resemble is NBC’s similarly-minded sitcoms from its final “Comedy Night Done Right” iteration.
The four Fox sitcoms dwell in familiar comedic spaces to the NBC shows — “Community,” “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office,” “30 Rock” and the occasional, incidental filler — that came before them. “New Girl” leads into the night’s block schedule much like “Community” did throughout its run airing on NBC. As “Community” was, “New Girl” is a confident, well-shot ensemble sitcom old enough to understand exactly what it is. Late into their lifespans, both became so knowledgeable of their characters and their weird eccentricities that they eschewed the draws of their main characters based on the strength and chemistry of their whole casts. As a result, the writers and actors are able to fire on all cylinders even in episodes with lesser stories to tell. The plucky, group hangout vibe is both what is at first so inviting to them and what has kept audiences around past either’s arguable heyday.
Next on Fox’s Tuesday night scheduling, “Grandfathered” has more in common with the forgotten shows of the 2009-2013 run of NBC’s “Comedy Night Done Right.” Similar to shows like “Whitey,” “Outsourced” and “Up All Night,” “Grandfathered” is the expected outlier in quality. The show hits all the notes of its only slightly fresh concept: A life-long bachelor, not so much played as inhabited by John Stamos, navigates the particularly prickly revelation that he has a 25-year-old son. The twist — that his son also has a daughter, making him a grandfather — does nothing to liven up the expected humor. It’s the perfect mix of inoffensively average and yet mildly absorbing content that allows the network to retain viewers between the shows they actually want to watch.
Shows, for instance, like the follow-up to “Grandfathered,” the critically acclaimed “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Co-created by network sitcom veteran Michael Schur, “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” features similar office-setting antics as Schur’s previous shows, “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation.” Just like its NBC precursors, the show has built up a huge repertoire of equally great but completely varied unexpected relationships between all of its curiously defined main characters. The only differences are that Schur traded the business office and government building for a police precinct and that “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is even more unconsciously diverse than its predecessors. The latter fact is especially praiseworthy for how natural and inconsequential — yet nonetheless important to viewers — the show handles its diversity.
Fox’s Tuesday night comedy block closes like NBC’s “Comedy Night Done Right” did, and as another NBC staple, “Saturday Night Live,” always does: with its most experimental offering. Like NBC’s “30 Rock,” which usually resided in the last half-hour slot, Fox’s “The Grinder” plays with the conventions of being a television show about a television show. As Tracy Morgan did on “30 Rock,” Rob Lowe plays a fictional, comedically exaggerated version of himself as the star of a recently-concluded hit drama, also called “The Grinder,” trying to acclimate to a more normal lifestyle. Showing scenes of the fake show within the real show, “The Grinder” often pokes fun at the formulaic structure of sitcoms, as well as the industry itself, always extremely self-aware that itself is a television show. The similarities shouldn’t come as a surprise, since the show’s writing team includes Dominic Dierkes, a member of the Internet sketch comedy group Derrick Comedy — just as “30 Rock” employed his teammate Donald Glover — and writing partners Hayes Davenport and Sean Clements. The duo — who have previously written for “Eastbound & Down” and “Workaholics,” respectively — have also co-hosted the podcast “Hollywood Handbook” as exaggeratedly inept Hollywood insiders, dealing over-the-top musings similar to those of Rob Lowe’s Mitchard Grinder/Dean Sanderson.
It may be an unlikely continuance, but Fox has, after two seasons of rather disjointed television scheduling from networks across the board — barring, perhaps, ABC — provided a comedy block to match the great, late two-hour blitz of “Community,” “Parks and Recreation,” “The Office” and “30 Rock.”