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Sitcoms: Still an Alien Concept for ABC

September 7, 2012

On September 26th, ABC will roll out its newest addition to its Wednesday night line up, “The Neighbors.” The show will first premier right after “Modern Family,” at 9:30PM, and then shift over to its permanent home after “The Middle” at 830PM. It’s an important premier for ABC, because with the network’s current Wednesday night line up of “The Middle,” “Suburgatory,” and “Modern Family,” they’re only one half hour away from accomplishing something that has only been achieved once before. In fact, the marketing slogans have probably already been flushed out behind closed-door strategy meetings,

“How about, ‘hilarious Hump Day?’ or ‘Really Witty Wednesday?'” 

because, if “The Neighbors” is successful, a “Must See” night of sitcoms won’t just belong to The Peacock.

1984 was when NBC first got their magical ingredients right, combining “The Cosby Show,” “Family Ties,” “Cheers,” and “Night Court” into one entire “No Flipping” 8-10PM Thursday night block of television. Since that time, NBC’s “Must see TV” line up has not lost much. It’s wave of funny has safely surfed hits like “Wings,” “Seinfeld,” “Friends,”Will & Grace,” and “Scrubs” to lucrative syndicated successes. Today, the sitcom portion of NBC’s Thursday night, which is currently “30 Rock,” “The Office,” “Up All Night,” and “Parks and Rec,” remains as highly viewed for the network as ever (compensating for cable disbursement, of course).

So, now it’s time for us to “Meet the Neighbors” on ABC, an occasion that the alphabet network hopes will solidify their very own “Gotta Watch All Four Shows” night of television. So, will this be the one that does it? Will it be able to complete the full two hours, something that “Happy Endings” and “Don’t Trust the ‘B’ in Apartment 23” fell just short of, forever banished to Tuesday nights. The quick answer is, YES! It is more than likely that “The Neighbors” will achieve the minimum required success that ABC needs to fulfill its Wednesday night line up and hit syndication. Unfortunately, according to TV history, its success will be short-lived. Approximately four seasons to be exact. 100 episodes. Of course, some will offer opinions that say it will have less success and some will say it will have more, but if Las Vegas were to put a line on the lifespan of “The Neightbors,” that line would be 4.

The show is funny enough. A group of aliens comes to Earth and purchases an entire gated neighborhood subdivision, allowing for their alien day-to-day lives to remain private. It’s a living situation that seems to adequately secure their secrets until one of the alien families decides to go back to their home planet, leaving one of the units available for sale. Instead of pooling monies together and buying up the property themselves, however, the aliens throw up their hands (or tentacles) and leave their fate up to the market. Enter “The Neighbors.” The rest of the pilot episode is then made up, almost entirely, of the same joke that goes something like this,

When one of the human neighbors notices green stuff pouring out of one of the alien neighbor’s ears, the alien replies, “This is how I cry. You should have seen me when I was pregnant.”

The show’s got enough of the sitcom staples, there is a slob husband with a way too attractive wife, an ingredient that first proved to work in “The Honeymooners.” There is also the snarky adolescent, which has yielded duplicated success time and time again since 1989 gave us “The Simpsons.” But, the most obvious, and tellingly familiar theme that this show boasts is the, “fish out of water” story of an alien trying to secretly exist in suburban America. This theme is why Las Vegas would know that this show will get exactly four seasons.

In 1963, CBS started the trend with
“My Favorite Martian,” starring Ray
Walston and Bill Bixby. It lasted
107 episodes.

In 1978, ABC ran an alien show from a fictional
planet called Ork. “Mork and Mindy” starred
Robin Williams and Pam Dawber. It made
it just 95 episodes
(Shazbut!)

ALF landed on NBC in 1986. This time
the alien who lived among us was played by
a puppet. He lived on cats, but couldn’t ever
catch one. He only survived 102 episodes.

“Out of This World” premiered in 1987 on NBC, and was
basically “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” except she was alien.
Maureen Flannigan starred in 93 episodes before
it was cancelled.

Then came 1996’s “3rd Rock From the Sun,” the
concept that is most like “The Neighbors,” about a
whole family of aliens trying to pretend to be like us.
With the star power of John Lithgow, French Stewart,
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jane Curtin, this show saw two
more seasons than all its predecessors. It ended at 139 episodes.

The humor in ABC’s quirky alien family reboot will be familiar to you. You know, It’s funny because they’re like us and it’s funny because they’re not like us. It’s pretty much all Hollywood has figured out how to do with aliens with a laugh track behind them.  Of course, if you’re an alien and you don’t have a laugh track, then you’re necessarily a full hour long, and either hunting humans or being hunted by them. Either way, I give “The Neighbors” three episodes until one of the characters  tries to have a conversation with an inanimate object like a mannequin or a gas pump.

As predictable as the jokes and the lifespan of “The Neighbors” is, it’s worth a look.  Lord knows this futuristic alien family will have more success than the network’s more archaic (and fairly racist) sitcom attempt back in 2007.

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