Back to You by Sam Jones/Fox
A time-period-winning 9.5 million viewers watched Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton return to prime time Wednesday in their new Fox sitcom, Back to You. Most of them surely tuned in to see two stars from two of their favorite shows, Frasier and Everybody Loves Raymond. But the industry insiders are watching carefully for another reason: They're curious as to whether the series about two over-the-hill local TV news anchors with a past can prove that the multi-camera comedy has a future. Steve Levitan, executive producer, writer and creator of the show with partner Christopher Lloyd, offered his thoughts to The Biz about meeting the challenge. Do you feel the future of the multi-camera sitcom is riding on this show?

Steve Levitan: I hate the thought of that. We have enough pressure trying to do a funny show. But some people are saying it, and it does start to weigh on you. I'm not sure that's fair. The No. 1 comedy on TV is a multi-camera show in Two and a Half Men. So I'm not sure it's entirely accurate [that the genre is dying]. Why do you believe it's going to work?

Steve Levitan: I'll tell you why Christopher Lloyd and I wanted to do it. The way things go in Hollywood is the whole town makes a collective decision that one thing is cold and one thing is hot, and we don't buy it. We don't buy that audiences only want single-camera comedy. We believe audiences are starved for another multi-camera comedy that has wonderful actors and great characters and good writing. I find it impossible to believe that human nature has changed so much in the past few years since Seinfeld, Everybody Loves Raymond and Will & Grace, you name it - and people say, no, I don't like that form of comedy anymore. Perhaps there haven't been enough shows that have connected. But putting on a sitcom with such a strong cast and production auspices is something of a test as to whether there is still a real appetite out there, right?

Levitan: One agent has told me, "if this show doesn't work, I am quitting the television business and going into movies, because I don't get it." I think there's a sentiment out there that if this doesn't work, we really don't know this business anymore. Some people would say local TV news has seen better days, too. What makes it such an appealing setting for a sitcom?

Levitan: You've got stories that come in naturally. [A local TV newsroom] is looking for stories. It becomes easy for us to find ways for interesting things to happen. For example, in our second episode, one of the reporters gets tasered. We wrote it months ago and just shot it weeks ago, and what's the biggest story in the news today? It all comes around. What made the pilot episode immediately contemporary was showing Chuck Darling's gaffe on YouTube. Today when you make a fool of yourself on TV, you can't run and hide.

Levitan: If you make a mistake, the world is going to know. It's great for us because we've used YouTube as a wonderful source of reporter and anchor screw-ups. The changing world affects those in TV news and they're wrestling with the digital age. It's just another element to play with. There's a lot of goodwill towards the two stars. Does that give you a lift when you're taping in front of an audience?

Levitan: When people come to the show, they've said, "I feel like I've been watching this show for five years. I come in and feel comfortable watching this show. They all seem like they've been doing it for a long time together." It doesn't feel like we have that slow, creaky start. It feels like we've hit the ground running from our point of view. But it's different because?

Levitan: This is a very different dynamic for both of them. Kelsey didn't really play against a single strong woman in Frasier. There were a bunch of women who would come and go. It was largely his family. Debra on Raymond was dealing with married issues. Now they are both dealing with very different things, and I think that's what makes it fresh. But the fact that they are strong characters and great actors makes it feel reminiscent of their great shows. Hopefully, people will say it's funny and smart like those shows were, but it's different enough that I want to watch it. One critic suggested, "Why do we need this show when we have Raymond and Frasier?" That's one of the dumbest things I've ever heard. Why do anything new? Should we stop making television?