Remember 2007? What a time. Who knew that only a year later we’d spiral into the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression? (Well, besides the folks who did know.)
It was also the year that 30 Rock, the NBC sitcom created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, won its first Golden Globe, with Alec Baldwin recognized as best lead actor in a comedy. It launched a half-decade of accolades for the hilarious show, leading many to believe we were witnessing a revival of the network sitcom. A slate of super-funny peers—The Office, Parks and Recreation, Community, New Girl, Up All Night, and Modern Family—helped firm the belief that the long drought of hits following the finales in the previous decade of Seinfeld, Fraser, and Friends was finally over. And maybe, for a time, it was.
If tonight’s Golden Globes are any indication, however, the renaissance was short-lived. This year’s nominees for best television comedy include not a single network sitcom. Instead, there’s Veep and Silicon Valley from HBO, Hulu’s Casual, Netflix’s fan-favorite Orange Is the New Black, and two from Amazon: Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle.
Which isn’t to say it’s not an exciting time for television. Veep is hysterical, and ever-prescient in a US election year. Orange Is the New Black consistently nails that hard-to-pin-down territory between outright comedy and drama. Transparent is groundbreaking in its portrayal of transgender characters. And newcomer Casual is the smartest, albeit quietest comedy to take to the air (or rather, web) in years.
That said, I’ve got nostalgia for the old networks—as I’m sure plenty of other Americans do. The networks that brought us M*A*S*H, Cheers, Laverne & Shirley; that introduced us to Mary Tyler Moore and Carole Burnett—they occupy a special place in our collective heart. And it’s sad not to see them pumping out the good stuff anymore (though ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat has been consistently robbed.)
Maybe the 2016 Golden Globes are the wake-up call that the US networks need. Digital streaming services have upped the ante, and are showing no signs of letting up. NBC had the opportunity for another 30 Rock with Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, also written by Fey and Carlock, but ultimately passed. And where did it land? You guessed it: Netflix. Fox, meanwhile, handed the smart and very funny Mindy Project off to Hulu.
I don’t want to look back on 2016 and point to it as the year the network sitcom died. And I haven’t lost all hope. After all, 30 Rock came along nearly 10 years after the launch of Friends. Nearly another decade later, I think we’re due for another revival.