TV Attempts To Cash In On The Financial Crisis (So To Speak)

There’s been plenty of speculation that the networks would start picking up projects that were somehow tied to the current economic problems, but ABC and NBC have confirmed the speculation by setting up… virtually the same show on two different networks:

The [ABC] half-hour reflects the harsh realities of the financial crisis as it centers on a hotshot Wall Street executive ([Kelsey] Grammer) who loses his job and is forced to move back with his wife and kids to his hometown and reconnect with his family.

…Writer Jim Herzfeld recently set up “Changing Positions,” a multicamera comedy at NBC that centers on a thirtysomething Wall Street guy who loses everything and is forced, along with his wife and their teen kids, to move in with his wealthy, sexually active parents.

Also, the untitled Grammer/ABC comedy (created by one of Everybody Loves Raymond‘s top writers, Tucker Cawley) has a very similar premise to Grammer’s flop of two years ago, Back To You, which starred Grammer as a hotshot news anchor who loses his job and is forced to move back to his hometown and reconnect with his previously-unknown daughter.

I shouldn’t make too much of the connection to the current economic climate; the projects that get pitched to the networks tend to have some relationship to whatever’s in the headlines at the time. There were many similar projects in the early ’00s in the wake of the Enron scandal; Arrested Development was basically The Royal Tenenbaums meets Enron, two 2002 fads in one. What’s more specifically related to the current situation, as everybody has already noted, is that networks are looking for more comedies, realizing as they do that audiences want lighter, funnier fare in dark, unfunny times. But even that is only part of the explanation; the other part is that CBS put together a solid Monday-night comedy lineup and the networks suddenly rediscovered the fact that it’s possible to do that, even now. Besides, with networks tightening their collective imaginary belts and cutting budgets, commissioning more multi-camera, studio-bound sitcoms is an obvious move: compared to one-camera shows with all their complicated lighting and location work, these shows are fairly cheap to make and have fairly small regular casts.

Since both of these shows are only in the planning stages, it would be foolish and ridiculous to speculate on which one will turn out better. So I’ll do it: if Back To You is any guide, shows built around Kelsey Grammer start with at least one strike against them. (Kelsey Grammer is a wonderful actor; it’s just that guys who did two hit shows already don’t often manage to come up with a third.) The other one sounds like it has a worse premise, but at least it’s an escapist premise about living with rich people, whereas the premise of being forced to move back to your hometown sounds a little depressing. That was one of the things that plagued Back to You, that the lead character was clearly depressed at being exiled to Pittsburgh, and his own resentment and dislike of being there made it hard to identify with him. Lots of shows start with someone being stuck someplace, but they usually very quickly make them fit in as much as possible/ Diane was a fish out of water at Cheers, and her reasons for being stuck there were really depressing if you thought about them, but the show made sure that we didn’t think about them too much.

Also, shows about moving back to your hometown seem to have a better track record in hour-long dramas, or hour-long dramedies like Ed, than in half-hour comedy. (On the other hand, if you do a show about city slickers who move to small towns because they’re stupid enough to think it will be good, then that can work; see Acres, Green, or Hart, New.)