Question: First, let me say that I really look forward to reading your columns each week; we seem to have the same taste in programming. My question is about how and why there seems to be an ever-growing incongruity in this country these days in terms of what passes for good TV comedy. To be honest, it really bothers me that shows like Arrested Development and Sons & Daughters could never bring in viewers despite being two of the sharpest and wittiest comedies to be produced in recent memory. Even Scrubs has never been a commercial success, and I frankly marvel that (thankfully) it's been able to stick around for at least five seasons. At the same time, inane drivel such as According to Jim and Yes, Dear have enjoyed great success in viewership (even making it to syndication!). It just seems that more often than not the only TV comedies that survive are the stale, formulaic ones, while the innovative, edgy, truly funny ones die premature deaths. Are these comedy gems just ahead of their time, or does most of the country just have a more conservative sense of humor?
Answer: The best way to answer your question is to hedge and say a little bit of both. Risky, smart and subtle comedy is always going to face an uphill battle for mass acceptance, and not just on TV. And let's not forget all those years of columns in which readers took me to task for what they saw as an attempt to shove Arrested Development down their throats. Everything about this column (and my job, to be honest) is subjective, but few things are more subjective than humor. I don't want to overgeneralize about those who reject a show like Sons & Daughters or who find comfort in traditional sitcoms like Yes, Dear and Jim. There's nothing wrong with wanting. Good comedy can be done old-style and in more innovative forms — bad comedy, too — and I am at least a little hopeful when a truly hilarious show like My Name Is Earl can find an audience. That one manages the rare trick of being fresh, original, accessible, lovable and very, very funny.