Breaking In a Formula for a Successful Network Sitcom
by Jennifer Porst — University of California, Los Angeles
May 16, 2012 – 00:00
When Fox tested the pilot for Breaking In, it scored the highest of any of their pilots for the 2009-2010 season. Nonetheless, Fox passed on the show. Then, in November 2010, Fox changed its mind and ordered seven episodes as a midseason replacement for the painfully awful Running Wilde. Breaking In debuted as the highest-rated Fox live-action comedy show of the past three years, but, in May 2011, Fox canceled the show before it finished its run. The rumor was that Fox decided to go with all female-skewing comedies.
Miraculously, the show was resurrected again in Fall 2011 for a thirteen episode midseason pickup, making it only the second show ever, along with Family Guy, to survive cancellation by the same network twice. The show’s second season premier aired on March 6, as part of Fox’s two-hour Tuesday night comedy block that includes (female-skewing) New Girl and Raising Hope. As a part of the show’s attempt to appeal to Fox’s desired female audience, the show introduced Megan Mullally as a new co-lead for Christian Slater, and shifted from a caper-of-the-week structure to an office-based show. Although the ratings improved from the end of the first season, on April 11, Fox pulled the rest of Breaking In’s episodes with no indication of when it might return.
This all highlights the fact that, while Fox may be particularly schizophrenic in their scheduling, networks currently face a nearly impossible task when developing successful sitcoms. While cable channels’ subscriber dollars allow them to run lower rated, edgier, single camera comedies aimed at niche audiences, networks are stuck trying to maintain relevance among a younger demographic while still amassing the widest audience possible.
When networks develop shows like Breaking In, they end up with a show that only kind of appeals to most people. Unfortunately, that does not make people tune in every week, and unless the networks can figure out a formula that works—or convince their advertisers to prefer smaller, quality audiences—audiences might be stuck with promising shows like Breaking In that undergo painful retooling as they’re cancelled and revived, while bland shows enjoy an eternity in primetime.