Sitcom Showrunners Expound on the Future

…And they sure as hell know a lot more than most TV execs!

The Future of Sitcoms According to the Creators of ‘Parks and Rec,’ ‘Enlightened,’ ‘Don’t Trust the B—’ and ‘Raising Hope’ – by Alison Willmore

Greg Garcia (the creator and executive producer of Fox’s “Raising Hope”), Nahnatchka Khan (the creator and executive producer of ABC’s “Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23”), Michael Schur (the co-creator of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”) and Mike White (the co-creator, co-star and executive producer of HBO’s “Enlightened”) gathered in Manhattan this past weekend for a New Yorker Festival event entitled “The Future of Sitcoms.” While the panel did not, as jokingly promised by moderator Emily Nussbaum, the magazine’s TV critic, come up with a plan for the next stage of comedy during its 90-minute run, it did cover some very interesting ground about how sitcoms are evolving in a way that may be quieter but is no less significant than what’s happening with dramas. Here are some highlights from the event:

Storytelling is getting more sophisticated. When working on his 2004 Fox series “Cracking Up,” the single-camera aesthetic was “still in its infancy,” according to Mike White, and “networks were extremely prescriptive about how it should look and feel.” White said he feels it’s since changed and opened up considerably. That said, it doesn’t mean that everyone’s ready to come along for the ride — as Garcia pointed out, “the shows that get the biggest ratings aren’t doing anything new” and that the definition for success is “what will make the most money for networks in syndication.” But Khan was hopeful, saying that what’s important is that these ideas are “percolating” and that “change takes time” — “what’s considered a hit now” is different, she said.

Everyone’s in awe of “Louie.” Louis C.K.’s FX show was brought up several times as something to admire. “Among writers, that’s the number one thing we talk about,” said Schur, while Khan called out the episode “Dad,” in which a long sequence was dedicated to Louie running away from his father, as “fantastic to me” — “It’s so raw. I find it refreshing. For me, that’s hopefully where comedy is going.” But they admitted the show wasn’t for everyone, and that it wasn’t something everyone could pull off. Garcia acknowledged that “some members of the audience could find it offputting,” and Schur cautioned about claiming the show heralds a new era: “To do what he does, you have to be as funny as Louis C.K. — and that narrows the field down to one person… It’s hasty to say everything’s different because of Louis C.K.”

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