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The Joke Is on Them

1/17/2009 11:25 AM Eastern

With the economy in the dumps, several cable networks made the case at the recent Television Critics Association tour that viewers need to laugh more.

A number of comedy shows will make their way to the small screen in 2009 as cable networks look to resurrect the sitcom genre.

With the exception of a few comedy breakout hits like Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, HBO’s Entourage and Showtime’s Weeds, scripted comedy fare over the years has taken a back seat on network programming lineups as viewers have gravitated to reality content like VH1’s Celebrity Rehab and MTV’s The Hills, as well as scripted dramas like Sci Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica, TNT’s The Closer and USA Network’s Burn Notice.

But networks like Showitme, Starz, HBO and ABC Family believe that viewers are ready to laugh more and will look to tickle viewers’ funny bones with several new comedy shows in 2009.

“It does seem to me that it will be a great time for comedy because there hasn’t been good comedy in a while — there seems to be a groundswell of comedy returning,” said Kate Juergens, executive vice president of original series, programming and development for ABC Family.

A sample of new comedy shows announced at the TCA include:

  • The Sopranos’ matriarch Edie Falco will play a promiscuous, drug-addicted nurse in Showtime’s new comedy series Nurse Jackie, premiering in March.

  • Starz in March will debut Party Down, a 30-minute comedy which follows a team of Los Angeles cater-waiters stuck working for tips while awaiting their big break. Party Down will team with sophomore comedy series Head Case — featuring Alexandra Wentworth as a Hollywood celebrity therapist and new series — to create a Friday night comedy block on the premium channel.

  • HBO will team with comedian Will Ferrell to develop Eastbound & Down, a comedy series that features Danny McBride as a star professional baseball pitcher whose self-destructive behavior forces him to return to his North Carolina hometown to teach physical education.

  • Disney Channel will look for its next big comedy hit when it premieres Sonny With a Chance in February, starring Camp Rock standout Demi Lovato as a Midwestern girl who relocates to Los Angeles to join the cast of a popular sketch-comedy show.

In addition, ABC Family will debut a pair of new comedy series in March: Roommates, which follows a group of friends in Manhattan trying to figure out matters of love and life; and Sophie, starring Natalie Brown as a young woman facing a year of life-changing obstacles. The network also has a pair of pilots to consider: 10 Things I Hate About You, which follow the lives of two sisters with different personalities; and Ruby and The Rockits, starring David and Patrick Cassidy as former pop-music stars living under the same roof.

Given the plethora of reality and scripted drama series on the air today, Juergens said viewers are ready to once again embrace good comedic sitcoms and series.

“Dramas have served the audience well over the last decade, but it does feel like it’s slowing down and cannibalizing itself at this moment,” she said.

Linda Haugsted and Linda Moss contributed to this report.

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