NBC has a comedy problem. The network only has two returning sitcoms next year, Community and Parks & Recreation, both of which are nearing the end of their runs. And its crop of new comedies looks less than promising. The once mighty home of '90s Must See TV is fast becoming a laugh-less wasteland of sexy firefighters and The Voice judges. Though, to be fair, NBC does do late-night comedy well(ish). New media-savvy Jimmy Fallon, a Saturday Night Live alum, moves into the Tonight Show chair next year, the assumption being that he'll bring his younger and hipper audience with him. He'll be replaced on Late Night by current Saturday Night Live head writer and "Weekend Update" anchor Seth Meyers, who also has a contingent of relatively youthful fans. And of course there's SNL itself, which has deftly used the Internet to successfully keep the show in the cultural conversation. So, what could be better for NBC than one SNL? Two SNLs, of course.
The Hollywood Reporter reports today that the network is planning a new sketch show, the thinking being that if SNL works well as its own show and as a talent mill for the network — Jimmy, Seth, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler — maybe this new sketch thing could, too. There's nothing set in terms of format yet, but THR makes comparisons to In Living Color and The Carol Burnett Show. The network has hired former Comedy Central exec Lou Wallach to produce the show, which could mean good things; Wallach oversaw the development of Chappelle's Show and The Colbert Report. (And, as THR cruelly points out, Crank Yankers.) As far as casting, the plan is to do a national search, looking at comedy shows and improv theaters like Second City and Upright Citizens Brigade. So if you have a friend in improv, hold onto your butts. Things are about to get intense.
Is this a good idea? Well, it certainly could be. One rare thing you can say in the NBC's favor is that it has been supportive of good, smart comedy in the past. The new lineup of sitcoms looks like a lot of junky attempts to recreate Modern Family's success, so maybe their edge has been blunted a bit, but there is still some degree of comedic innovation at the network. After making such a tactical blunder with the whole Conan/Jay fiasco, the network seems to be handling this Jimmy Fallon transition well. Whatever you think of Fallon and his goofy/giggly shtick, he's undeniably been quite successful at carving out a niche in the late night market. So if NBC taps into the same thinking that put Fallon in such a prime position, this new sketch show could be something. But if they go too broad, we could be looking at something really awkward. Obviously it's key that they find the right performers, but they'll need to structure and pitch the show in a particular way. It's been a long time since we've had sketch comedy in primetime, so it has to be done just right. And, of course, it will have to distinguish itself from SNL, no easy feat on a network that's so defined by that venerable old show. Wallach and company have their work cut out for them, basically. Comedy really is hard.