NBC's Thursday night lineup was once dubbed Must-See TV — and with shows like The Office, Community and Parks and Recreation leading the comedy block, it's hard to say things have really changed from the days when Friends and Seinfeld once held court. This makes it even more challenging for new comedy Whitney to gain its footing at 9:30/8:30c, a spot previously held by the likes of 30 Rock, which returns midseason, and the short-lived Outsourced.
"Of course we're feeling a little pressure," executive producer Betsy Thomas tells TVGuide.com. "How are we going to fit in? Are we going to be embraced?"
One of the many challenges of joining this Thursday night block, Thomas says, is that Whitney, a rom-com developed by comedian Whitney Cummings, is the only multi-camera comedy on the network as of this fall. (Chelsea Handler's multi-cam Are You There Vodka,? It's Me, Chelsea debuts midseason.)
"I think people are closed off to the notion of multi-cam to a huge degree," she says. "I think there are a lot of people that enjoy smart comedy that feel that multi-cam is an old-fashioned, lesser form; it's for broader, cheaper humor. I think it's developed a reputation that isn't really fair. So, I think we're hoping that people will just be open-minded to our show and embrace what we're doing regardless of its format."
That's not to say multi-camera comedy is dwindling. In fact, CBS thrives on the format with sitcoms such as Two and a Half Men, which just broke ratings records in its Season 9 premiere with more than 28 million viewers, numbers NBC hasn't seen consistently since the days of Must-See TV.
"The most successful comedies in television are multi-camera," Thomas notes. "So, the whole going away from that, I don't think has necessarily been that successful for NBC. They may have some Emmys, but they're not getting the ratings. If I were an executive at NBC, if I were Bob Greenblatt, I would be trying to develop multi-cam comedy too because that was the bread and butter."
Another challenge for Whitney is that half the comedy block is filmed in a mockumentary style. "There's a comedy snobbery around the Thursday night lineup folks that I find incredibly irritating," she says. "It's like somehow it became cool to stop trying to be funny. I think the single-cam, like smirking at the camera, mockumentary thing, is one way to do comedy, but I don't think it's the only way."
Thomas does hope to follow in the footsteps of former Thursday night shows — just not any current ones. "Hopefully, [the show] will relate to people's lives in a way that isn't really on television right now," she says. "The way Mad About You struck a chord, or Friends struck a chord with people, in terms of their friends and their relationships, I think we hope that Whitney, to some degree, does that too."
"We're just making comedy, that's all we're doing," she continues. "We're not trying to prove a huge point, we're just trying to entertain people for 30 minutes as they wind down their day as they get their kids to bed. It's not rocket science, you know. Everybody just needs to relax a little bit about it. Everybody just stop taking yourself so f---ing seriously."
Now the challenge is facing what the viewers will think, especially after a mixed bag of critical reviews, some of which point to Cummings' other new comedy, CBS' 2 Broke Girls, as superior. "My husband and I were saying, if we weren't working on Whitney, without seeing a frame, we would be predisposed to not like it," Thomas admits.
"Here's this beautiful woman who has this reputation as a stand-up comedian who's on an NBC multi-cam. For all kinds of reasons, I think people are rooting for our demise. I think that you've got to brush that off and go, well, people hopefully will show up and tune in and be open-minded and enjoy it."
Whitney premieres Thursday at 9:30/8:30c on NBC.