Stubbornly high unemployment. Foreclosures and frustrated underwater homeowners. Bank fees here, record-high student loan debt there. Financial volatility forecast for years to come. These are the stories dominating the news. No wonder TV viewers seem to be picking shows to zone out and enjoy a few laughs.
Increasingly, the American public appears to be saying “enough reality”—and enough drama and reality TV, for that matter. The New York Times declares that the sitcom is back, based on the fact that 7 of the top 10 entertainment programs are now half-hour comedies. In 2008, by contrast, only 2 of the top 10 were sitcoms, and two years before that there were no comedies in the top 10.
Why the shift? One explanation is that today’s sitcoms are better than their counterparts from a few years ago. Another explanation has it that today’s viewers are simply more interested in goofball humor, likely to serve as a distraction from the nonstop stress of economic turmoil.
(GALLERY: 12 Things We Buy in a Bad Economy)
There is some history to the idea that the gloomier the economy is, the more likely the public will seek out quick, easy laughs. How else can you explain that the top-grossing movie during the recession’s heyday of early 2009 was “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”?
Chuck Lorre, creator of top-rated sitcoms such as “Two and a Half Men,” says that it’s not complicated why people turn to humor when the economy struggles:
Mr. Lorre, who had hits before and after the economy tanked, said, “Comedy thrives during economic downturns. You know, if you’ve had a bad day, laughter is a better remedy than watching a coroner pick shrapnel out of some poor guy’s private parts.”
Actually, though, a coroner and some guy’s private parts? I’m laughing already. That sounds like the makings of a fairly typical “Two and a Half Men” plot. Just lose the shrapnel and add a few quick one-liners.