Upfront about Upfronts: The state of the sitcom at NBC, May 2013

Welcome to Upfronts! The annual TV pageant in which each network puts its new shows and returning hit series on display for potential advertisers. This differs from the summer and winter press tours only insomuch as these parades of stars aren’t explicitly for the TV Critics Association — no dedicated press-conference have-at-em Q&As here — as they are for corporate America. Don’t ask questions. Just look at the stars! They’ll have viewers glued to the tubes this fall and winter, so much that they won’t be able to look away or change the channel when you advertise your products and wares on our broadcast network.

In the age of Internet media, in which every procedure move of show business is regarded as equally worthy of an “EXCLUSIVE” headline and an individual blog post, we the audience may lose sight of what’s real and what’s merely really important to the bank accounts of the movers and shakers in show business.

What matters to us is what we actually see on our TVs (or more and more, on our computer screens, smartphones and electronic tablets).

So, what can we make of all of this Upfront hoopla? Realistically, that is.

What matters is landing a dedicated time slot on the fall primetime schedule. If you’re not on the fall schedule, don’t hold your breath — and if you’re not on the midseason schedule either, well, good luck. Odds are, if you’re a returning series (like, say, Community), the network has less faith in its new shows that it leads on and wants you ready to come in as a substitute when it has to throw down the cancellation hammer a few weeks into the season. Or, if you’re a new series, you may just sit on the bench long enough for the suits to forget why they ordered you in the first place (and in some cases, the suits might change, so they didn’t even give you the green light).

Parks and Recreation is the last NBC midseason comedy to make it to the magic 100 (or 88, depending upon your magic number of) episodes needed for syndication success. April showers may bring May flowers, but in network TV, April shows blow away by May.


30 Rock, The Office

30 Rock ended its seventh season at the end of 2012, and how NBC already must miss it as much as the sitcom’s fans do. The Office ends this month after nine seasons, could have ended after seven when Steve Carell’s “Michael Scott” left Scranton, maybe should have departed sooner, and even though it found a way to tie things up with the reveal of the Dunder-Mifflin documentary, it only stuck around this long because its fans were more loyal to it than to anything else on NBC’s scripted lineup.


1600 Penn, Animal Practice, Go On, Guys With Kids, The New Normal, Up All Night, Whitney


Next Caller, Save Me

In May 2012, NBC wanted to open up three new nights of comedy — not just Thursday, but also Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday — that didn’t hold, even with the Summer Olympics attracting Olympic-sized audiences to summer sneak peeks of last year’s new sitcoms. Network executives were so high on Animal Practice, until viewers realized that the network must have been high to put all of its stock into a monkey. NBC kicked the series to the curb in November and brought back Whitney, thereby cratering the entire Friday-night comedy block and sending Community into its darkest timeline.

Jimmy Fallon’s future with the network couldn’t save Guys With Kids. Matthew Perry’s past couldn’t save Go On. The New Normal? Made more headlines in media stories about culture wars than it did inside the homes of actual viewers. Next Caller? Next. NBC ordered only seven episodes of Dane Cook’s series as a radio host for midseason but hung up on the idea midway through production and never aired it. Is that better or worse than the fate for Save Me, trumpeted last May only to find itself advertised now for a burn-off of episodes beginning next week.


About a Boy, The Family Guide, The Michael J. Fox Show, Sean Saves the World, Undateable, Welcome to the Family

This fall, they’re hunkering down on Thursdays and Thursdays only, with Parks and Rec opening the two-hour block at 8/7, followed by three new sitcoms: Welcome to the Family, Sean Saves The World, and The Michael J. Fox Show. They’ll try Tuesdays again in midseason at 9/8 with About A Boy and The Family Guide. Left unscheduled for now but ordered: 13 episodes of a fifth season of Community, and an inaugural season of Undateable (which keeps Whitney’s Chris D’Elia on the network).

We’ll dig into them individually this fall. For now, here’s what we do know:

About A Boy


Al Madrigal and Anjelah Johnson have supporting roles in this adaptation of the Nick Hornby novel that already was a movie in 2002 starring Hugh Grant and Nicholas Hoult. Jason Katims writes the U.S. sitcom update, with David Walton and Benjamin Stockham in the lead roles. Minnie Driver plays the boy’s mom. Writer Jason Katims, director Jon Favreau, Tim Bevan (“Les Misérables,” “About a Boy”), Eric Fellner (“Les Misérables,” “About a Boy”), Liza Chasin (“Les Misérables,” “About a Boy”), Robert De Niro (“About a Boy,” “Meet the Parents”) and Jane Rosenthal (“About a Boy,” “Meet the Parents”) serve as executive producers. “About a Boy” is produced by Universal Television, Working Title Television, True Jack Productions and Tribeca Productions.

The Family Guide


Parker Posey already bowed out of this sitcom barely a day after NBC ordered it to series. J.K. Simmons remains as a blind dad in a family that brings his daughter and grandchildren closer to him through divorce in the 1980s. Jason Bateman voices narration as a grown-up version of the 11-year-old boy in the family (Eli Baker), with his sister played by Ava Deluca-Verley. Writer DJ Nash (“Up All Night,” “Guys with Kids”), Jason Bateman and Jim Garavente serve as executive producers. “The Family Guide” is a production of Universal Television and Aggregate Films.

The Michael J. Fox Show

Michael J. Fox brings some of his real life into fiction, except instead of being a star actor with Parkinson’s disease, he’s a New York City news anchor. After five years outside of the spotlight to focus on his health and his family, he’s back. Wendell Pierce (“The Wire,” “Treme”) plays his boss. Betsy Brandt (“Breaking Bad”) plays his wife. Writer Sam Laybourne (“Cougar Town”), director Will Gluck (“Easy A,” “Friends with Benefits”) and Fox serve as executive producers. “The Michael J. Fox Show” is a production of Sony Pictures Television and Olive Bridge Entertainment.

Sean Saves The World

Sean P. Hayes from Will & Grace fame also returns to NBC Thursdays. Here, he plays a divorced gay dad. Linda Lavin (“Alice”) plays his mom. Sami Isler plays his daughter. Thomas Lennon (“Reno 911”), Lindsay Sloane (“Weeds”) and Echo Kellum (“Ben and Kate”) also star. Writer Victor Fresco (“Go On,” “Mad About You”), director James Burrows (“Friends,” “The Big Bang Theory”), Sean P. Hayes (“Hot in Cleveland,” “Grimm”) and Todd Milliner (“Hot in Cleveland,” “Grimm”) serve as executive producers. “Sean Saves the World” is a production of Universal Television and Hazy Mills Productions.



Here’s a show full of single, male, stand-up comedians. Chris D’Elia and Brent Morin play roommates, with Ron Funches and Rick Glassman also in the mix. Writer Adam Sztykiel (“Due Date”), Bill Lawrence (“Scrubs,” “Cougar Town”) and Jeff Ingold serve as executive producers. “Undateable” is a production of Warner Bros. Television and Doozer Productions.

Welcome To The Family

This is your new normal for 2013. Mike O’Malley and Mary McCormack are parents of a daughter (Ella Rae Peck) who graduates from high school and announces her pregnancy to a boyfriend (Joseph Haro) from East L.A. Ricardo Chavira and Justina Machado play his parents. Writer Mike Sikowitz (“Rules of Engagement,” “Friends”) and Jamie Tarses (“Happy Endings, “Franklin & Bash”) serve as executive producers. “Welcome to the Family” is a production of Sony Pictures Television and FanFare Productions.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

View all posts by Sean L. McCarthy →