Television: More Than Yuks Redux

Facing a slump in the sitcom genre, some producers are taking new series off the beaten laugh track

A few years ago, everybody knew how to make a sitcom. You'd get a few cute actors, maybe a stand-up comic, a nice couch and some of those big cappuccino mugs from Pottery Barn. Take a few meetings, punch out a few scripts--then sit back and wait for the Brinks truck to pull up.

O.K., that's a gross oversimplification. (Without gross oversimplification, there would be no sitcoms.) But the business of TV comedy has fallen, and hard, since Jerry Seinfeld poured his last bowl of cereal. As recently as 1996-97, the year-end Nielsen ratings listed seven sitcoms in the top 10....

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