New sitcoms no threat to TV Land's comfort zone

The Associated PressMarch 18, 2010 

— When TV Land was launched in 1996, it was more than just another cable channel. It was a refuge where viewers could revisit old friends like Beaver Cleaver, the Clampetts and Sheriff Andy Taylor. It was a portal into a video past, a carefully tended landscape of idealized TV.

TV Land hasn't trampled on that landscape in the meantime. But, even so, the neighborhood has been spruced up through the years.

Consider "Hot in Cleveland," a comedy series set for a June premiere. For the first time, TV Land is producing its own original sitcom. But "Hot" should fit right into the neighborhood. It's funny, comfy and a true-blue reflection of the shows that surround it.

Filmed in the trusty multicamera style, it stars a bevy of grand dames of classic comedies: Valerie Bertinelli ("One Day at a Time"), Jane Leeves ("Frasier"), Wendie Malick ("Just Shoot Me") and the incomparable Betty White ("The Golden Girls").

The premise is evergreen: Fabulous friends make an abrupt life change, cutting their Los Angeles roots to relocate in, of all places, Cleveland. Then laughs ensue (at least judging from a sneak peek at the pilot that will kick off the series' 10-episode season).

"All the other networks are looking to reinvent the comedy," says Keith Cox, TV Land's executive vice president of development and original programming. "'How do you step away from the traditional? What's the new thing?' But we're embracing the good old traditional comedy - it just needs to feel contemporary, be really funny and have really great actors."

TV Land has another sitcom in gestation. "Retired at 35" hasn't gotten an official go-ahead, but don't bet against such an announcement soon, with a premiere sometime after October. Based on its pilot, "Retired" has its own easy feel, comfort factor and familiar faces (George Segal and Jessica Walter among them), and its own reservoir of laughs.

Wait, there's more

Meanwhile, TV Land has more scripts in development, with the goal of building a slate of original sitcoms.

"We're already out there in a very big way looking for the next one," says TV Land President Larry W. Jones.

TV Land, which began as a "classic TV" spinoff of Nickelodeon's Nick at Nite franchise, has already been airing original programming. Since 2008, several unscripted series like "High School Reunion" and "Make My Day" have found their place on the schedule.

Unscripted reality shows may seem out of place, but TV Land execs insist that, conceptually, they're part of a unified whole, with the total package aimed at the audience TV Land has always courted: baby boomers.

"We always kept a certain life-stage age in mind: the 40- and 50-something demographic," says Jones, 49 (colleague Cox is 45), noting that TV Land's audience can be a good one for advertisers: higher income, fewer responsibilities and maybe a midlife urge to pamper themselves.

Who's watching?

TV Land is available in 90 million homes, where average viewership during the day is 550,000 total viewers. In an average week, more than 30 million people tune in.

What do those people tune in to watch? Research found the overarching theme for shows that fit on TV Land deals with life changes, second chances and self-reinvention. The theme is aspirational, or at least liberating. And it transcends program genres.

It applies to reality shows like "First Love Second Chance" (what if you could give your very first love a second chance?) and "She's Got the Look" (which aims to discover the next supermodel over the age of 35).

"You don't really come to TV Land to learn anything," Jones says with a chuckle. "We're pure escape, here to give you a laugh. That's what our heritage is."

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