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Viewers Watching More Old Sitcoms


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Viewers Watching More Old Sitcoms

by David Bauder

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'Friends'

NEW YORK, New York - Fans of television comedy are stuck in a time warp. TV viewers are watching more sitcoms each week than they did a decade ago, a new study concluded. Unfortunately for broadcast networks, they're tuning in to "Friends," "Seinfeld" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" reruns more than anything new on the air.

As network executives spend early spring behind closed doors plotting their fall schedules, the statistics starkly illustrate how these programmers are forced to compete against the best of the last 30 years when developing new comedies.

"The viewers say we're not going to tolerate mediocrity anymore because we've got the classics and there's a lot of competition out there," said NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly on Thursday.

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'How I Met Your Mother'

There have been a handful of new sitcom successes this season, most recently the promising start of Julia Louis-Dreyfus' "The New Adventures of Old Christine" on CBS. NBC's "My Name is Earl" and CBS' "How I Met Your Mother" have shown promise creatively and in the ratings.

Still, only two sitcoms rank among Nielsen Media Research's top 20 programs this season: CBS' "Two and a Half Men" and "The New Adventures of Old Christine," the latter with only three episodes aired.

The ratings would indicate that people just aren't interested in watching sitcoms anymore. Not so. The average household is tuning in 4.84 hours worth of sitcoms each week this season, according to a report by ad buyers Magna Global. During the 1993-94 season, it was 3.78 hours.

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'The Cosby Show'

Twelve seasons ago, more than half of that comedy viewing (56 percent) came in prime-time on the big broadcast networks. Startlingly, this year only 13 percent of this season's sitcom-watching fits that category.

Where are they going? Nick at Nite delivers a prime-time lineup with "Roseanne" and "The Cosby Show." TBS is all comedy, with "Seinfeld," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Friends" and "Sex and the City." Many of those same comedies are sold in syndication, often competing strongly with Jay Leno and David Letterman late at night.

An average of 171 hours of comedy were aired each week during the 1993-94 season on broadcast networks, cable and in syndication, the report said. This season, there are 568 hours of comedy on each week.

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'American Idol'

Those statistics don't even count shows like "Desperate Housewives," Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" or anything on reality TV where people often turn for laughs

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