Tuned In

Fixing the Sitcom Audience: Where's Your Sense of Humor, People?

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In last week’s TIME, I wrote about the two latest in a series of last-great-hopes-for-the-sitcom: UPN’s Everybody Hates Chris and NBC’s My Name is Earl, which debuts tonight at 9 p.m. You can read my praise for the funny, sweet-natured Earl there. But I have been thinking: people who follow the TV business, like me, talk a lot about what can be done to fix the sitcom. But honestly, sometimes I think we should really be worrying about how to fix the sitcom audience.

As much attention as Chris and Earl deserve, the fact is that there are already excellent sitcoms on the air, including Arrested Development (which returned in raunchy top form last night) and NBC’s The Office, which returns tonight. But neither has been able to find the audience they deserve. The easy, reflexive explanation is that the shows are too challenging to watch, but I don’t buy that: being intelligent and demanding hasn’t stopped Lost, for instance, from becoming a top 10 show.

Still, if a show like the perfectly observed, painfully funny Office — with Steve Carrell coming off a movie hit with The 40 Year Old Virgin — can’t stay on the air, and if smart new comedies like Earl bomb, you can bet that will be the explanation of choice. And you can only imagine the bone-stupid sitcoms that the networks will put on next year, figuring that that’s all your puny brain can handle. We’re talking chimpanzee sidekicks here, folks.

You heard me right: those pointy-head elitists in Hollywood say you’re too stupid to watch The Office! Go prove them wrong, folks, and send a monkey back to the unemployment line.