As Donald O’Connor sang – make ’em laugh, make ’em laugh

The proliferation and growth of video streaming channels has led to an insatiable demand for new content: great news for actors, creatives and production houses but is it good news for subscribers?

New comedy has not fared as well as drama.

Let’s take the announcement that How I Met Your Father, a spinoff to long-running CBS comedy How I Met Your Mother, is finally set to make it to air. Back in 2014, HIMYM creators Craig Thomas & Carter Bays and Emily Spivey wrote a pilot for CBS that wasn’t picked up.

In 2016, Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger created a new take, but again, after the pair were appointed co-showrunners of This Is Us for NBC they were unavailable.  So Studio 20th Television tried again in the 2017-18 with writer Alison Bennett (You’re the Worst) but still it did not get the green light.

Now, in 2021, Hulu has given How I Met Your Father a straight to series, 10-episode order with Aptaker and Berger back as creators, writers and exec producers. It will no doubt be an excellent series but having taken 7 years to break ground would it have done so were it not for the almost insatiable demand of streaming channels.

In their formative years, Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services spent almost all their content budget acquiring older TV shows and movies, which had already been released on television or in the cinema. It is believed that Netflix spent $100m on the licence to run Friends now being retrieved by HBO. But that format changed around 2013 when Netflix launched the EMMY nominated House of Cards, its first original series starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Frank and Claire Underwood

By demonstrating it could create quality content, that its millions of subscribers would watch, Netflix change the game. Over the next two years, it would premiere some of the most popular TV shows of the decade, including Hemlock Grove, Orange is the New Black and Marco Polo

This move forced Amazon, which launched in 2006, to follow suit in 2015, with the launch of Bosch, The Man in the High Castle and Sneaky Pete among others.

Now the world’s airwaves are brimming with additional channels such as WarnerMedia, HBO, NBC, CBS, Disney+, Hulu, Peacock and Apple which have all launched streaming services to compete with Netflix. They are producing some great programming but it begs the question: can they all survive? Will they all survive? Afterall even with pandemic lockdowns there are only so many hours in a day that viewers can spend on the couch.

Time was when sitcoms ran for many episodes: Frasier 264, Everybody Loves Raymond 210, Friends 236. UK produced sitcoms in the main ran over a longer period but did not have the same prolific episode output: Only Fools and Horses 80, My Family 120, Not Going Out 74 (still in production), Two Pints of lager 80 and the longest runner of them all Last of the Summer Wine 295.

When it comes to current sitcoms output neither Netflix nor Amazon have a great record of longevity with sitcoms/dramedies. Few make it past a second season with only Amazon Prime’s ‘Just Add Magic’ and ‘Annedroids’ making it past the half century. ‘Grace and Frankie’ notched up 78 episodes before getting axed.

You will no doubt have your own favourite sitcom/dramedy among the output from the major players over the past few years but, as covered in the article ‘Are Laugh-out Loud Comedies Dead,’ much of the output is satisfyingly amusing rather than a generator of audible laughs.

It’s vital that in pursuit of quantity the channels do not sacrifice quality with their production of original comedy. It’s vital that in these dark times; laughter still rings out.

If ‘How I Met Your Father’ is as good as its parent, HIMYM, then all should be well.

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