TV panel: Comedy making a comeback

Thu Dec 17, 2009 1:37am EST
 
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By James Hibberd

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - For once, the TV writers were content.

A quartet of showrunners said Wednesday that the business is experiencing a renaissance of sorts with such innovative rookies as the Fox musical "Glee" and the ABC ensemble comedy "Modern Family."

"It was over -- the sitcoms were disappearing," said "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner. "Everything was being replaced with news magazines, there was all this terror about the marketplace ... and here it is, coming back. It's a good time to be watching TV."

Weiner spoke during the Hollywood Radio & TV Society's annual gathering of top writer-producers, joined by Steve Levitan ("Modern Family"), Carter Bays (CBS' "How I Met Your Mother") and Ryan Murphy ("Glee").

"All of us are in a shock that it did work," Murphy said of "Glee," which he said tested "in the middle" among Fox's focus group. "(Fox executives) Kevin Reilly and Peter Liguori said, 'This is a bizarre show, but we really want to keep thinking outside the box because that's what we think is going to be a big hit on network television now, not just the same old procedurals.'"

Levitan said that after working for years on less-successful projects, the pressure on "Family" is outweighed by "the joy that people like and care about the show."

One line of inquiry explored how CBS reacted to "Mother" star Neil Patrick Harris revealing that he was gay during the show's second season in 2006

"He's such a phenomenal actor, you're not thinking you're watching Neil Patrick Harris when he's performing," said Bays, adding that the network supported the decision.

Weiner said that though Harris' case turned out fine, gay actors continue to have valid concerns about coming out.

"It can be a commercially devastating thing," he said. "If you're a sex symbol to women ... your position as a fantasy object, the viability of that, it can be jeopardized. And people still struggle with it."