2012-2013 TV Season: The Year the Sitcom Died
2012-2013 TV Season: The Year the Sitcom Died
John Kubicek
John Kubicek
Senior Writer, BuddyTV
When history looks back at the 2012-2013 TV season, it might be considered the year the sitcom died. Sure, there are massive hits like The Big Bang Theory that are getting monstrous ratings and Emmy-winning favorites like Modern Family, but those victories only underscore the many, many defeats the genre has suffered.

Long-running staples like 30 Rock and The Office had their final seasons. New sitcoms like Animal Practice and Partners tanked after a few episodes. Cult favorites like Happy Endings and Community have been treated with disdain by the networks scheduling them. And sitcoms that were originally picked up have either been canceled before they began (NBC's Next Caller) or suffered dramatic episode reductions before the pilot even aired (FOX's The Goodwin Games). When put together, the outlook for live-action sitcoms on the major networks seems bleak.

Let's look at each network's live-action, half-hour comedy line-ups for the 2012-2013 TV season to see just how dead the sitcom really is.

NBC (13 Sitcoms)

New Comedies: The Dane Cook sitcom Next Caller was originally ordered for mid-season, but then axed before it premiered. The Anne Heche comedy Save Me was ordered, but still has no premiere date. Animal Practice was canceled after six episodes. The other new sitcoms, 1600 Penn, Guys with Kids, Go On and The New Normal, are floundering in the ratings, with recent episodes all getting less than 4 million viewers and falling, some even under 3 million. So that's seven new comedies, all failures.

Returning Comedies: Up All Night is basically dead with an extended hiatus, format change and the exit of star Christina Applegate. It's the final season for The Office and 30 Rock. Whitney is a non-starter with under 4 million viewers per episode. That leaves Community, the low-rated cult favorite that got pushed to mid-season, and Parks and Recreation, another critical darling languishing at around 3.5 million viewers.

It makes it seem entirely plausible that, of the 13 sitcoms NBC ordered for the 2012-2013 TV season, all of them could be canceled. If not, the best they can hope for is two or three surviving. Either way, an NBC comedy bloodbath is coming.

FOX (5 Sitcoms)

New Comedies: The mid-season sitcom The Goodwin Games doesn't have a premiere date and yet FOX has already cut its order from 13 episodes down to just 7. Ben and Kate was pulled from the air and canceled in favor of double-doses of Raising Hope. And The Mindy Project has failed to catch on, dropping below 3 million viewers several times this season.

Returning Comedies: Raising Hope is creatively strong in its third season, but ratings are going down to under 4 million per episode and the decision to double up on episodes means FOX is trying to burn it off as soon as possible. Even the network's most reliable comedy, the fan favorite New Girl, is stuck under 5 million viewers per episode, though recent kiss-centric episodes have seen a slight boost in its audience. In the end, New Girl really is FOX's only hope for comedy, and that's a sad statement based on the numbers.

CBS (8 Sitcoms)

New Comedies: CBS is the King of the Sitcoms, but even it was not immune to this season's bad showing. Partners was axed after just six episodes and the mid-season comedy Friend Me is in doubt following the tragic suicide of co-creator Alan Kirschenbaum.

Returning Comedies: This is where CBS has all of its eggs. The Big Bang Theory is getting record numbers and Two and a Half Men is benefiting from that with solid ratings in its 10th season. Mondays are equally strong with 2 Broke Girls and Mike and Molly as powerful shows with more than 10 million viewers. How I Met Your Mother is going strong, though it was already announced that next season will be its last.

Then there's Rules of Engagement, the reliable war horse now in its seventh season and still pulling in better numbers than 95 percent of the comedies on other networks. Can fresh three hits, two aging dinosaurs and one show on the way out be considered comedy success?

ABC (10 Sitcoms)

New Comedies: Mid-season comedy Family Tools had its episode order cut from 13 down to 10 before it began, and since it's scheduled to premiere May 1, it's doubtful the network has much confidence in it. There's also the poorly titled How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) which doesn't begin until April 3. Meanwhile, Malibu Country is doing just OK Friday nights, hovering around 6 million viewers, and The Neighbors is getting roughly the same numbers, though in a much better time slot.

Returning Comedies: The biggest tragedy of the season is the story of Happy Endings and Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23, two very funny shows that are essentially dead. They tanked Tuesday nights, did even worse when moved to Sundays at 10pm and now Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment is on an indefinite hiatus while Happy Endings is being banished to double episodes on Fridays at 8pm starting March 29. They're both basically dead.

Then there's Tim Allen's Last Man Standing, holding steady at 7 million viewers on Friday nights. Finally ABC has some good news on Wednesday nights with The Middle, Modern Family and Suburgatory, still doing solidly, but slowly slipping.

What does all of this mean? Well, of the 36 live-action, half-hour comedies announced for the 2012-2013 season, it's almost guaranteed that less than half will return for next year. NBC and FOX have no comedies that are able to bring in more than 5 million viewers per week. And only five comedies can bring in more than 10 million viewers with any regularity, four of which are on CBS.

The result is a comedy landscape that resembles a wildly unbalanced class structure where the top 10 percent of comedies bring in 90 percent of the ratings. The rich get richer and, for everyone else, it's almost impossible to climb up.

So say goodbye to the sitcom. With so many failures, it's doubtful that networks will continue to order as many in the future. It's not worth it to make a new sitcom when episodes of Betty White's Off Their Rockers can pull in more viewers than any original comedy on NBC's schedule. CBS owns Mondays and Thursdays, ABC owns Wednesdays and Fridays and, as ABC, NBC and FOX proved this season, Tuesday nights are a no man's land where everything dies. That's really the best you can hope for, until this current crop of hits dies out and the sitcom may be gone forever.

(Image courtesy of ABC/NBC)