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ABC’s Wednesday Comedies – Really, They’re Funny

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Do you believe in self-fulfilling prophecies? I'm not sure if I do or not. I certainly don't believe that wishing for something makes it so, but I do tend to believe that if you're certain that something you're doing is going to fail it's more likely to fail – "I'll never pass that test," "I'll never get that job," "I'll never laugh again. Never, ever, ever, I simply won't and there's nothing anyone can do to make me laugh. I'll never laugh. The laughs will never, ever come," that kind of thing. But can a self-fulfilling prophecy happen on the good side too?

At the start of the television season – and rabid readers of this column may remember this – I said I was quite excited for ABC's Wednesday night comedies. Now, most of the way through the television season, when ABC Wednesdays are new, I’m as excited as I am for any other night on television (stop me if I've told you this before). Have I made this night one of my favorites because of how much I was looking forward to it before it started or is this night one of my favorites because the folks over at ABC are just doing things right?

Maybe it's me; after all, I do have a lot of Phil Dunphy in me, and I think Courtney Cox is terribly funny, as is Neil Flynn. It was Flynn's character on Scrubs that kept me coming back to that series year after here and it may be Flynn's single scene appearance this season that generated the only laugh that show had this year. And, those are just three people in three different comedies, two of which are ensemble comedies and the other of which isn't the lead character (even if he's the lead male).

Sitting down to watch The Middle, Modern Family, and Cougar Town just plain works. All three of the comedies have been picked up for next season already and if ABC can find a fourth funny show to air alongside those three they'll have the strongest two-hour comedy block that television has seen for many years (sorry NBC, it's more than kinda true).

At the start of the television season I thought that Cougar Town was the funniest of the three – I balked at the notion that Modern Family was yet another fake documentary show. Actually, that still distresses me – it would be clever and unique if only it were remotely unique. Prior to Modern Family premiering, NBC was already airing two comedies that used the format, and it felt old when Parks and Recreation premiered. I think Modern Family succeeds despite using the style and clearly that show has become the standout of the three (and I won't even get into here how 30 Rock became a success stealing bits of my life for the character of Kenneth and Modern Family has only slightly distorted me for Phil, but you should feel free to draw your own conclusions).

The 8:30 to 10 lineup on ABC Wednesday nights is just another example of how taking risks in developing a television schedule pays off. The network went out and spent a lot of money on talent to create a lineup stocked with the sitcom – something so many people out there said was dead. Taking risks – calculated risks, not crazy ones – can pay big dividends. If ABC had followed conventional wisdom and simply put on a couple of dramas or some forgettable reality show or another hour of a newsmagazine it is certainly possible that they could have succeeded. They also simply could have been airing just another drama or just another reality show, nothing new, nothing special, and nothing that made the network different, a stand-out.

Dramas, reality, and newsmagazines may be interesting, but – with rare exception – you don't tend to walk away from them smiling, and it's even rarer that you laugh out loud throughout and it's probable that your laughing wasn't the intended response. What ABC is airing makes you laugh, makes you feel good, and is just the sort of risk that networks ought to be taking.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.
  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/a-geek-girl A Geek Girl

    I’m not a tv watcher, but this is the one night that I’ve become addicted to. Modern Family and Cougar Town have engaged me more than anything I’ve watched in years… and years.

    I’ve actually told people not to call me during this time slot–I’ll just pick up and hang up. I wait all week for this night.