As the saying goes, family is forever.
The future is bright for family sitcoms — despite some of the genre’s biggest shows nearing their conclusions.
“Modern Family” became the latest longrunning comedy series to announce the end is coming, as ABC shared last Wednesday that it renewed the show for an 11th and final season.
Before that, “Fuller House” said its upcoming fifth season will be its last. And “The Big Bang Theory” is currently in the midst of its final batch of episodes.
Although these fast-approaching finales represent an end of an era for television, pop culture experts are confident that family-friendly sitcoms aren’t going anywhere.
“I don’t think sitcoms about families are going away,” says Robert Thompson, the director of Syracuse University’s Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture. “I always said sitcoms are like cockroaches: When everything else is dead, there will be nothing left on Planet Earth besides cockroaches watching sitcoms.”
There are multiple reasons for the potential of prolonged success, Thompson explains. For one, sitcoms are often a simple form of entertainment that people can turn on and enjoy while they do chores, rather than having to intently focus on a story line that stretches across multiple episodes.
Plus, family shows are highly relatable.
“Family sitcoms can be really funny because there’s so much stuff you can deal with,” Thompson said. “Kids can get in trouble. Kids can do stupid things. Parents can get in trouble and do stupid things. And it also appeals to an awful lot of Americans [because they] have had the experience of being in families. … It’s a pretty universal experience. I think comedy writers are always going to be going back to that well. It’s just harder to do now without looking so square and so old-fashioned. ‘Modern Family’ managed that very nicely.”
Thompson names “Black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat” as examples of sitcoms that continue to do well on network television, and points to the success of the Netflix series “One Day at a Time” as proof that sitcoms are viable in the era of streaming services as well.
What has changed, however, is the way people consume these family comedies. Mostly gone are the days of parents and kids gathering around the TV and all watching the same show.
That shift began decades ago when families started to buy more than one TV for their homes, and has progressed during an era where content is easily accessible at any given time on individual smart devices, Thompson said.
What also helps the sitcom genre’s future, though, is society’s desire to see old shows brought back to life, explains David Schmid, an English professor at the University of Buffalo who teaches a course on TV history.
“At the same time that ‘Modern Family’ and ‘Fuller House’ and ‘The Big Bang Theory’ are being canceled, there seems to be an increasing appetite [for] nostalgic reboots,” Schmid told The News.
“Roseanne,” “Full House,” “One Day at a Time” and “Arrested Development” are among the shows that have been reprised in recent years, and rumors often circulate about the returns of other popular shows.
It also helps that Netflix — which aired each of those reboots besides “Roseanne” — and other streaming services have gotten involved in the sitcom game.
“As Netflix goes, so the industry goes, and so the family sitcom goes,” Schmid explains. “So the fact that they brought back ‘Arrested Development,’ the fact that ‘One Day at a Time’ is coming back [for another season], the fact that they’re doing more of their own original sitcom programming as well, that’s the other reason I think family sitcoms have a bright future. If Netflix is behind them, that’s pretty much all you need to say.”
Netflix has done well with original shows like “Master of None,” “Dear White People” and “Big Mouth.”
The reality that shows are mostly being consumed by single viewers rather than whole families has also introduced a wider variety of subject matter on these series, as networks are able to appeal to more niche audiences instead of attempting to satisfy everyone with every show.
But at the end of the day, Schmid believes the universal appeal of family sitcoms is what allows them to continue to thrive, even as series come and go.