February 20, 2009 / 6:45 AM / 10 years ago

Networks' comedy pilots reflect recessionary times

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - A group of friends gets fired on the same day. Troubled cops check into a halfway home. A Wall Street executive loses his job and has to reconnect with his small-town family.

The Fox logo is pictured on signage at the Fox TV network summer press tour in Beverly Hills, California July 14, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

Laughing yet?

Those are a few log lines for next fall’s TV pilots — the comedy pilots.

Networks are looking at recession-friendly ideas for their new half-hours, with many projects embracing characters in crisis and avoiding office settings.

CBS’ “Waiting to Die” is, according to its description, a “buddy comedy about two simple guys who are happy with their life, no matter how bad it might look from the outside.” Fox’s “Two Dollar Beer” is about a blue-collar couple in Detroit who “deal with the reality of their long-standing roots in this community slowly becoming less relevant as the rest of the world passes them by.”

Groups of single, perky young people seem to be waning. No more friends with benefits — they’re now friends with unemployment benefits.

The creative upside is that networks that have rushed back to relatively conventional police and medical procedurals for their fall drama pilots seem to have ordered some refreshingly untraditional comedies.

Story lines suggest grown-up themes: single parents, a couple with an age difference, unexpected pregnancies. Yet the police-show resurgence is getting some play on the sitcom side, too, with four comedies in development that center on police officers or security guards.

Office-based shows seem less popular as networks likely figure that viewers do not wish to be reminded of their workplace — or lack thereof — during a recession.

In another assumption-busting move, there are plenty of single-camera comedies on the list. This season, the traditional multi-camera style of sitcom seemed more likely to draw viewers, suggesting that networks might avoid the alternative format in the fall. But nearly 40 percent of current pilots are single-camera shows, using the cinematic style that’s popular with critics and younger viewers but has a shaky track record in the ratings.

Editing by Sheri Linden at Reuters

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