As the broadcast networks craft their early prime-time programming blueprints for next season, now is the time for me to campaign for the ratings-challenged freshman series I think are most worthy of renewal.
Naturally, it is not just about traditional Nielsen ratings that determine whether a show stays on air anymore. Time-shifted viewing and social media traction are two additional elements that can add to the success, or failure, of any series. And don’t forget critical acclaim.
In the tradition of classics like "All in the Family," "MASH" and "Cheers," shows that started out slow and owe their longevity to the support of TV critics, let me use my power of the pen to lobby for three single-camera comedies I feel are worth more time: NBC’s "Superstore," The CW’s "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" and Fox’s "The Grinder."
"Superstore," which is set in Cloud 9, a K-Mart-like department store that is populated by a staff of loonies and has an equally bizarre customer base, may not seem all that special on paper. It certainly generated little ink after being unveiled at NBC’s upfront presentation last May. But if you happened to like NBC’s "The Office" (and, let’s face it … that was a very accurate representation of an office environment), I think you will get equally addicted to "Superstore." Considering the quirky characters, it’s not surprising that "Superstore" was created by "The Office" alum Justin Spitzer.
Like in any sitcom with an assortment of unique personalities, "Superstore" needs to offset its oddballs with some strong, grounded characters. "Ugly Betty" star America Ferrera is supervisor Amy, and Ben Feldman ("Living with Fran") is new hire Jonah. They are the calm in a sea of insanity.
Leading the insane ones is Lauren Ash as Dina, Cloud 9’s assistant store manager, who just happens to dig Jonah. She is the Dwight Schrute (Rainn Wilson) of "Superstore," the polar opposite of Amy. She is also reminiscent of Melissa McCarthy in her breakout role as Amy in the 2011 theatrical "Bridesmaids."
While a second season of "Superstore" is likely for sitcom-starved NBC, may this personal recommendation push the trigger on renewal for what I humbly think is the best new network comedy this season. Considering the similar appeal of "The Office" started out slowly, "Superstore" deserves more time. With "The Voice" a sure bet to lead NBC’s Monday lineup next fall, I would move "Superstore" into the Wednesday 8 p.m. anchor position and ship older-skewing "The Mysteries of Laura" to Friday.
No one, of course, expected hour-long "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" to get decent ratings. Unlike the parade of superheroes on The CW, this is a musical comedy about a single female corporate lawyer in Manhattan named Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) who moves to California on a whim to follow an old summer crush she happens to run into. She sings, she dances…Rebecca is just the kind of kooky girl that any red-blooded Mama would want her son to bring home. But, alas, Vincent Rodriguez III as Josh Chan, her beloved, does not seem to know she even exists.
I did say this was unlike anything you have ever seen on The CW, didn’t I?
While "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" at 8 p.m. on Monday does fit well leading into "Jane the Virgin," good intentions is not always synonymous with attracting an audience. But Rachel Bloom, like Gina Rodriguez on "Jane the Virgin" one year earlier, recently took home a Golden Globe Award. And the CW now has two critically-acclaimed shows in its nine-year history, which is another reason to start taking the network seriously. The success of any broadcast network is dependent on diversity, and both "Jane the Virgin" and "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" add an element of sophistication.
Unless Rebecca Munch morphs into Wonder Woman, finding an audience on The CW will remain an uphill battle for a show that is daring to be different. But one way to keep this crazy ex-girlfriend afloat is to schedule it in "Jane the Virgin’s" 9 p.m. time slot in between cycles and find another show with stronger lead-in support. With the pilot for potential new drama "Riverdale" just ordered, I think the gang from the Archie comic book franchise – Archie, Betty and Veronica, Jughead and Reggie – could do the trick.
Finally, we have "The Grinder." Buried on Fox’s low-rated two-hour Tuesday comedy block, the audience size has been nil on this surprisingly fresh tale of an actor named Dean (Rob Lowe) who decides to return to his hometown to join the family’s law firm after his long-running TV show of the same name ends. Dean assumes playing a lawyer makes him qualified to actually be one, much to the dismay of his younger brother Stewart (Fred Savage), who is about to take over the company from their father Dean Sr. (William Devane). This new odd couple is the best mismatched male pairing since Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. Now it has to find a way to make this all work.
Naturally, Rob Lowe has been compared to that other over age 50 male sitcom star on Fox, John Stamos, who is also attempting a comeback on Tuesday this season in "Grandfathered." But Stamos is basically playing the same role he had ten years ago on the ABC sitcom "Jake in Progress," while Lowe and Savage offer different voices that put "The Grinder" in a class of its own. Since Fox, unfortunately, has no chance of making a dent in the comedy department on Tuesday, my suggestion is to ship "The Grinder" to Sunday next season in place of humorless "Cooper Barret’s Guide to Surviving Life," which recently launched.
While second season renewals for this trio is no guarantee more viewers will tune in, sometimes it pays to be patient.