Sitcoms on the upswing

Procedural dramas are in, serials are out. Sitcoms are back, reality TV is fading fast.

BANFF — Procedural dramas are in, serials are out.

Sitcoms are back, reality TV is fading fast.

Those are some of the pronouncements that top-tier television experts are making as they converge at the Banff World Television Festival this week to assess the health of the industry and chart a course for its future.

Christina Jennings of Shaftesbury Films, whose production roster includes CTV’s The Listener and Citytv’s Murdoch Mysteries, says procedural dramas that feature self-contained episodes are the new standard after years of dominance by serialized television.

“We’ve all heard the story of people saying, ‘I tried to watch so-and-so and I missed a few weeks and I felt like I had to wait for the DVD set to come out,”’ says Jennings, whose company will be getting the 2009 Lionsgate/Maple Pictures Innovative Producer Award at the festival.

“I think that no broadcaster right now wants to be in that situation, you know…. You don’t want that audience member to come in in the third or fourth or fifth episode and go, ‘What’s going on?’ It diminishes an audience, you go, ‘Oh, well I’ll wait.’ Well, no in this day and age, there’s no waiting. It’s about growing.”

Norm Bolen of the Canadian Film and Television Production Association says drama will remain the most popular form of programming overall, noting that “anything to do with crime, forensics and police” do especially well. It’s the reality genre that’s on the wane, says festival director Peter Vamos.

He stopped short of declaring the genre dead, but said the format has started to wither as audiences grow tired of the same sensational gimmicks.

“It stops being interesting for a lot of people because it’s like, ‘I’ve seen this exact same thing — I’ve seen the sniping and all the things that make these shows interesting,’ ” says Vamos.

“There’s nothing really new after a while so then you start to go, ‘OK, well what else can we do?’ And then the pendulum swings back the other way.”

It’s becoming less attractive to broadcasters and producers, as well, because once they’ve created the reality show, “there’s no ability to syndicate it,” he says.

“It’s done.”

That’s not to say reality has left the dial — uber-producer Mark Burnett brings his newest series Shark Tank, to ABC, and also has a 19th season season of Survivor and a new round of Celebrity Apprentice on deck.

Canadian and U.S. networks revealed their fall lineups in recent weeks, providing fodder for small-screen aficionados to weigh in with their predictions of where programming is headed, and what will appeal to audiences in the new season.

Vamos says the sitcom is back, and a glance at the schedule seems to bear that out. ABC’s Wednesday block is packed with half-hour comedies, with veterans Courteney Cox, Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton and Ed O’Neill each helming new shows.

Writer/producer Mark McKinney, of Citytv’s Less Than Kind, says he’s pleased to see some variety among the half-hour comedies on the dial.

“There’s everything from Weeds to your standard three-wall sitcom, audience, laugh-track kind-of-thing,” says McKinney, who receives the Peter Ustinov Award for comedy today at the festival.

This side of the border, Canadians have the Winnipeg-based Less Than Kind, in which beleaguered patriarch Sam Blecher does everything he can to cut corners and boost the bottom line of his driving school company.

The Banff World Television Festival runs through Wednesday.

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