NBC Looks to Shake Some of the 'Sweet' from Its Comedies

Network Hopes to 'Find Its Mojo' With Bigger, Attention-Getting Shows

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NBC's next stab at rebuilding its comedy chops will come next week with the return of last summer's "Undateable" and the debut of a new comedy from Ellen DeGeneres, "One Big Happy."

With those series and 13 sitcom pilots in development, President of NBC Entertainment Jennifer Salke hopes the Peacock Network will "find its mojo in the comedy brand" in time to pitch advertisers during the annual upfront market this summer.

For the new season, NBC is trying to crack the multi-camera format. It's also moving away from the "sweeter, more emotional comedies," it has developed the last few years, which Ms. Salke said "are not as accessible."

"We are going to try to be less sweet and get funnier with bigger, attention-getting ideas," she said.

Finding a hit comedy is a challenge for any network, but NBC's arsenal of sitcoms pales in comparison to that of rivals CBS and ABC -- a tough position for a network that was once the home of "Must-See TV" with hit sitcoms like "Cheers" and "The Cosby Show" and later "Friends" and "Seinfeld."

Ms. Salke praised ABC for putting its own stamp on the genre with "smart, family shows." The alphabet network has seen several notable successes with freshman comedies "Black-ish" and "Fresh Off the Boat," as well as "The Goldbergs," now in its second season.

Currently, NBC has just a handful of comedy series with mediocre ratings, like "About a Boy" and "Marry Me," both of which are expected to go the way of freshman comedies "A to Z" and "Bad Judge," which were canceled earlier this season.

NBC also recently bid farewell to "Parks and Recreation," its last vestige of niche, quirky comedies that included "30 Rock," "Community" and "The Office."

While these series were critically praised and developed loyal fan followings, they did not translate into ratings successes. For this reason, Ms. Salke said the network is not focused on attempting another comedy of that nature. It's also why NBC was supportive of Tina Fey's latest project, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," which originally was expected to appear on the network's mid-season schedule, moving to Netflix.

Ms. Salke is looking forward to shows like "Mr. Robinson," which stars "The Office" alum Craig Robinson as a journeyman musician who gets a job as a music teacher at a middle school. While the series was picked up in January 2014, it's been delayed following several re-castings and switching from single-camera to multi-camera.

NBC is attempting to cultivate comedy talent with initiatives like "Comedy Playground," where it is inviting aspiring writers to submit short video pitches for original comedy projects. The network will also introduce an online-subscription comedy network that Ms. Salke said could serve as an incubator for sitcoms that could appear on TV.

While thus far NBC's attempts at creating more inclusive comedies haven't panned out, Ms. Salke is optimistic.

"People don't want to go down really dark paths right now. They want more escapists, entertaining and fun programming that exudes hope, positivity and heroism," Ms. Salke said. The hope is this desire for lighter fare could also signal a resurgence in comedy, she said.

"It's tough, but we believe we will win," Ms. Salke said. But when it comes to pinpointing exactly what will work for the network she admits that's not exactly easy and they will know it when they see it.

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