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No joke: sitcoms fire up L.A. production

November 23, 2010 | 11:29 am

Sitcoms Sitcoms are making a comeback and giving Los Angeles some welcome comic relief.

A new crop of comedies is helping to drive up television production at a time when L.A. has been struggling to keep major feature films from fleeing the state to cheaper locales.

Just last week, activity for on-location shoots for television programs doubled over the same time a year ago, a sign the sector is rebounding after falling in the third quarter. Dramas were up 36%, TV reality programs rose 128% and sitcoms jumped a whopping 1,580 % from the same time year ago. A similar spike occurred the prior week.

Sitcoms,  which a year ago accounted for just 2% of TV production a year ago, saw its share of the pie increase to 16%, according to data from FilmL.A., the non profit film permitting group.

Fueling the increase are several new half hour comedies filming locally, including NBC’s “The Paul Reiser Show,”  Fox’s “Raising Hope”  along with new such cable comedies as “The Hard Times of RJ Berger”  on MTV and Showtime’s “Shameless.”

Following the success of hit shows such as “Friends” and “Seinfeld” there had been a lull in sitcom production earlier this decade because few new shows took off.  But with the success of such program as the hit CBS comedy “Two and a Half Men” and ABC's “Modern Family,”  studios and networks are devoting more resources to the format.

Sitcoms are more lucrative to the studios when the reruns are sold into syndication because they command higher prices than dramas from TV stations.

Cable channels also are getting into the comedy business.  A decade ago, sitcoms were almost exclusively the domain of the large broadcast networks.  But the explosion of cable channels hungry for programming, and recent success with such comedies as “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,”  has enticed basic cable channels, including FX, USA, MTV and even TV Land to get into the business.

Half hour comedies have been generating strong ratings: six of the top 10 scripted shows are comedies and about 40% of all comedies this season are maintaining or exceeding last year’s ratings, compared to 14 % for dramas, said Gary Newman, chair of Twentieth Century Fox TV.

“There just seems to renewed interest in comedies that for the longest time wasn’t there,’” Newman said. “Comedies across the board are performing better on network television than any other genre of programming.”

Newman chalks up the popularity of comedies to the cyclical nature of the TV business and to viewers “looking for an escape” from the dour economy.

Unlike traditional multi-camera sitcoms, which were typically recorded before a live audience, most of the new half hour comedies are shot more like dramas with a single camera. And they often are filmed on location, rather than just on a soundstage.

Fox is producing five half hour comedies in L.A., including the NBC show “Friends with Benefits’’ and the new series “Raising Hope,” which is based in Chatsworth and films heavily in the San Fernando Valley where the show’s writer, Greg Garcia, lives.  “Modern Family” is based on the Fox lot and frequently films in the surrounding area, including at The Grove, Cheviot Hills and the Century City Mall.

Unlike dramas, which can easily be shot out-of-state, sitcoms have always been centered around LA because comedy writers typically need to be close to the production so they interact with directors and producers.

“We think comedies have a better chance of working,’’ Newman said, “if we can get everyone in the same city.”

-Richard Verrier

Times reporter Meg James contributed to this report.

 

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