Ten years ago, there were a bunch of TV comedies nominated for an Emmy. A decade later, that has flipped.
Of the Emmy nominees this year only one — "Black-ish" — is a sitcom in the traditional sense. It's in a category filled with shows better described as dramedies, including "Cobra Kai," "Hacks" and "The Flight Attendant."
Sitcoms, as a genre, are at their nadir at the moment. The absence isn't about younger viewers rejecting the form; if anything, Gen Z was the driving factor behind the streaming resurgence of "Friends" and "The Office."
And yet Netflix just canceled five sitcoms — including "The Crew" starring sitcom staple Kevin James and "Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!" starring another sitcom veteran, Jamie Foxx — which prompts the question: Are original sitcoms not gaining traction on Netflix? Or has Netflix yet to find the right mix of ingredients that would draw large numbers of viewers to these shows?
"The Upshaws," a family sitcom starring Wanda Sykes, Kim Fields and Mike Epps, premiered on Netflix in May and it was renewed for a second season. The bigger question is whether the streaming service will keep it around for several seasons to come, because that's part of the format's appeal, as well: The seemingly endless supply of episodes.
New sitcoms don't seem to be making a dent, but ironically the turgid and remarkably unfunny "Friends" reunion special that premiered on HBO Max in May? That nabbed four Emmy nominations.
But sitcoms are clearly on the mind of Hollywood creatives. In just the past few months we've seen two shows — "WandaVision" on Disney Plus and "Kevin Can [expletive] Himself" on AMC — that are rooted in subverting sitcom tropes, though neither show is a sitcom itself.
Sitcoms once dominated the TV lineup, not only in prime-time but in endless reruns during the day. They were threaded into our lives, with their catchphrases and theme songs.
"We watched these shows together as a family, in the same room, but we don't have that anymore," said Terrence Moss, who has worked in TV advertising for 20 years and blogs about television. "The way we watch TV is different. Someone's watching a show on their computer in bed while someone else is watching something from the couch in the living room."
Now, it's become increasingly harder for any one show to stand out amid the 500-odd scripted series that premiere each year. Entertainment genres have a way of falling in and out of favor; it tends to be cyclical and I wouldn't be surprised if sitcoms stage a comeback.
"But in order for that to happen, sitcoms have to change," said Marsha Warfield, who starred on NBC's "Night Court" from 1986 to 1992 as the no-nonsense bailiff Roz.
Warfield, who also starred on "Empty Nest," knows her way around the classic half-hour format. "But I think it's ripe for a little tweaking," she said. "You either have family sitcoms or you have workplace sitcoms. But where do people work now? And what is a family? Those basic things are in flux. We have to adjust to the world that is now," she said.
Warfield still has faith in the sitcom format and she's developing one for herself. "When things are so bad that nobody's making money anymore and they have nothing to lose, that's when you'll see more innovation," she said.