A Comedy-Free Fall

NBC has announced its fall lineup, and for the first time in 50 years, there will be no situation comedies on its broadcast schedule. The network that brought use some of the greatest sitcoms in American TV history–Get Smart, Family Ties, Seinfeld, The Office, 30 Rock, my personal favorite, Cheers, and countless others–isn’t going to broadcast even one comedy when autumn rolls around.

NBC says its comedies recently haven’t performed well in the fall, so they are saving some of their sitcom shows until winter. Instead of comedies, NBC’s fall viewers will see lots of dramas and various permutations of Law and Order shows.

Why are comedies struggling on a network that used to be loaded with them? Maybe it’s that people don’t feel much like laughing these days, or maybe it’s just that it is very tough to write a comedy in the current environment. Much of the TV comedy we remember from days gone by involved plots and storylines that pushed the envelope, with humor that often was based on making fun of someone or some thing. Modern sensitivities would find many of the shows that we laughed at a decade or three ago very offensive. How many episodes of Seinfeld or The Office, for example, would provoke howls of outrage if they were aired today? Asking a sitcom writer to be consistently funny while steering clear of any possible controversy or humor that might hurt someone’s feelings is tough duty.

You have to wonder about the future of comedy, given current views, and whether NBC’s comedy-free fall is a precursor of the future. Maybe we should change that phrase to read “comedy freefall” instead.

The Perils Of Overpromising

In a memorable episode of the classic TV sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, Sally the alien and Officer Don are discussing becoming intimate for the first time.  The straightforward Sally asks:  “Well, Don, are you ready to rock my world?’  And the nervous Officer Don gulps and responds:  “Well, perhaps jostle it a little bit.”

Officer Don clearly understood the perils of overpromising.  It’s a lesson that President Obama and his administration are learning the hard way these days.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been receiving cancellation notices from health insurers that are discontinuing existing coverage because it doesn’t satisfy all of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.”   It’s not clear how many people ultimately will receive cancellation notices, but experts predict that a significant percentage of those who currently buy individual coverage — between 7 and 12 million people — will be affected.  Under the Act’s “individual mandate,” all of those people will need to find new insurance that complies with the requirements of the Act, either through the dysfunctional Healthcare.gov website or some other process.  News sites are filled with stories about people who have found that they will need to pay much more each month for coverage, often with higher deductibles.

These people are upset because they remember President Obama’s repeated promise that, under the Affordable Care Act, if you like your insurance, you can keep it.  But the statute and its regulations were written to prevent that pledge from being honored, by requiring that all insurance plans include certain forms of coverage, such as maternity care, mental health benefits, and prescription drug benefits, that were not offered by many stripped down, inexpensive plans.  The inevitable result was that those plans would end and the new options, all of which include the mandatory coverage, would be more expensive for many people.  Of course, when you hit people who are trying to live within their means with monthly insurance costs that are significantly higher than what they had budgeted, you’re bound to make those people angry and bitter.

It’s a predicament that the humble Officer Don would have avoided.  Of course, few politicians seem to truly appreciate the perils of overpromising.