Robert and I are contacted from time to time by reporters looking for TV ratings data for a story they’re writing. Often it seems like they’re bent on writing the story the way they want to write it, whether or not the data fits.

While we weren’t contacted about it, today’s  story in the NY Times by Stuart Elliot, “10 New Sitcoms Meant to Cure the Recession Blues” has the feel of a story being written to fit the idea of  “comedy is big during a recession” whether it actually fits the current facts or not.

As the big broadcast networks get ready to start selling advertisers commercial time for the coming season, they are hoping for an affirmative answer to this question: Is there money in funny?

The prime-time lineups for 2009-10, which the broadcasters presented to Madison Avenue last week, are chockablock with shows meant to make recession-weary viewers laugh and feel better.

Problem is, the reality of the fall broadcast comedy schedules don’t really fit that story.

The CW is abandoning its two remaining comedies, The Game and Everybody Hates Chris. Recession scrooges? Hardly. They just don’t fit the demographic the network’s after, but that doesn’t write a “comedy in a recession” story.

CBS is adding the Jenna Elfman vehicle Accidentally on Purpose, but they’ve cancelled Worst Week, for no net comedy addition. Les Moonves, think of the unemployed, where will they find cheer?

Fox is also maintaining the comedy status quo, canceling King of the Hill and Do Not Disturb while adding The Cleveland Show and Brothers. Does Rupert Murdoch not want people to laugh when their houses go into foreclosure?

NBC is also keeping its number of half hour comedies constant.  And while it is adding 5 hours of The Jay Leno Show in prime-time, the history of the show (created to keep Jay away from the competition at 11:35, as well as a money saving schedule buffer for NBC) makes arguing that it’s some sort of recession inspired move just silly.

Finally, ABC is the only broadcaster adding net comedies, canceling one, while picking up 4. Could that be a recession inspired move? Perhaps. Or it could be the recognition of (1) the cost of producing comedies vs. dramas and their value in syndication, or (2) a strategy change after ABC’s drama devastation from last fall (Eli Stone, Pushing Daisies, Dirty Sexy Money, Life on Mars).

Given those facts what story would you write?

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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