TV comedy stars discuss reality TV’s impact on the resurgence of TV comedy

During a panel discussion of sitcom stars from How I Met Your Mother, Raising Hope, and Modern Family, actor Jason Segel said comedies came back because people were tired of reality TV, but Jane Lynch and others pointed out that isn’t entirely the case, since reality TV emerged from a black hole of creativity on TV.

The panel with male stars of Twentieth Century Fox Television stars was held for TV critics during our visits to various sets, and was moderated, for some unknown reason, by Flipping Out’s Jenni Pulos, who was less funny than she is on the show because she was trying to be funny, and here she was up against real talent. (As an example, she asked Raising Hope’s Lucas Neff, “So W.C. Fields said never work with dogs or children. I work with a big baby, and it’s working out for me. How is it going for you?”)

How I Met Your Mother’s Jason Segel said, “I think the pendulum swung too far on reality TV,” and pointed out that the series in which he co-stars with Neil Patrick Harris debuted when “the whole schedule of every network was permeated with these weird game shows and reality shows and all that, and I think you would finally get to the point where you’re switching through the TV, and that was all you were offered, Deal Or No Deal or Whose Got the Better Deal.”

Modern Family’s Ty Burrell chimed in and said, “The whole string of Deals shows,” and Segel continued, “That’s what happened. We were told comedy was dead. We didn’t stand a chance. Sitcoms aren’t going to make it. And slowly people got tired of it, and they wanted to sit and laugh.”

But Lucas Neff pointed out that the same thing was “true of the dramatic genre as well. I know that people talk about this sort of being the golden age for television, and, like, cable suddenly being this realm of real exploration, and your Mad Mens and Sopranos are on for so many years and stuff like that. Would anybody be talking about that if the writing wasn’t there? I mean, at some point, as much as this isn’t a meritocracy, it’s like, it’s important for things to be good. Like if it’s funny, people will laugh. It it’s dramatically truthful, people will pay attention.”

Then Neil Patrick Harris made fun of him for saying “meritocracy.” Later, Glee’s Jane Lynch said something in a similar discussion with the shows’ female stars, which was a discussion frequently punctuated by sexist questions about how it’s possible that women are allowed to be funny, at least until Martha Plimpton smacked that down. Anyway, Jane Lynch said, “I remember when Friends was at its peak and everybody was trying to do their own Friends. … I think it just needed to reinvent itself.”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.