On March 17th, NBC premiered One Big Happy, a Three’s Company-esque sitcom about a straight guy who decides to have a baby with his lesbian best friend before meeting and marrying the love of his life. The show marks NBC’s nearly seasonal stab at creating the perfect “relationship/family” comedy — an attempt that, without fail, seems to fail every time.
Perhaps the trend began at NBC out of ratings envy for CBS’s How I Met Your Mother, a long-running series that, in spite of widespread protestations that it was merely a Friends rip-off, pioneered a particular genre blend that had never really been seen before in TV: the rom-sitcom. In fact, the most recent victim of the apparent NBC relationship comedy curse was last fall’s A to Z, a series starring the How I Met Your Mother’s titular “Mother,” Cristin Milioti. A to Z’s near axing before the completion of its first season would not come as a shock to those attuned to the trend. Prior to A to Z’s unofficial cancellation came that of The New Normal, a sitcom about a pair of gay fathers-to-be and their live-in surrogate that lasted a full season before a flagrantly homophobic response from the media protest group “One Million Moms” evidently lead to the show’s cancellation in 2013.
In 2012, NBC’s Whitney, which starred comedienne and 2 Broke Girls producer Whitney Cummings and focused on her fear of “relationship boredom” as one half of a couple determined to avoid marriage, was cut after being panned by critics for two seasons. In 2011, the self-explanatory Perfect Couples was dropped after its only season, and in the same year Love Bites survived only a nine-episode run plagued with production complications. This trend can’t possibly mean that the rom-sitcom doesn’t work as a TV format, since other networks have had varying degrees of success and longevity with shows like Happy Endings (ABC) and Baby Daddy (ABC Family).
In spite of the fact that Undateable and Marry Me’s stars both hail from failed rom-sitcoms — Whitney’s Chris D’Elia and Happy Ending’s Casey Wilson, respectively — these two new shows currently running on NBC showed early signs of possibly being able to break the single-season streak. Entertainment Weekly’s recently released insider Deathwatch list, however, suggests a different fate for these shows as well as the fledgling One Big Happy. The list divides NBC’s network series into “Safe,” “Endangered,” and on the “Bubble” – and places Undateable, Marry Me, and One Big Happy in the latter category. The EW list notes “NBC insiders are somewhat happy” with the performance of One Big Happy in spite of the fact that the show’s early ratings are “still soft.” In other words, even if One Big Happy is not on the verge of cancellation, it doesn’t show any signs of breaking the NBC relationship comedy curse.
Is the success of shows like Mother — and the hunger for new shows within this trend — due to the fact that fewer romantic comedies are hitting the box office? Why is NBC trying so hard to nail this new subgenre — and more importantly, why does it keep failing?