‘Philadelphia’ producers/stars say it’s always sunny at FX

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PASADENA, Calif. – This is not a news flash: traditional TV sitcoms are struggling. And if this were a traditional sitcom, a precocious preteen would have had a snappy little put-down for me for even saying that.

This is a big part of the problem. We always know what’s coming, and that’s why the new generation of TV comedies, the un-sitcoms like NBC’s “The Office” and “My Name is Earl,” HBO’s “Entourage,” or almost anything on Comedy Central, are connecting. In big part, it’s because they’re fresh.

“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” a cheeky, shameless little comedy returning to FX this summer, is a good example of that new TV wave, and the producers/stars were here this week, talking about how TV comedy may be changing.

“Always Sunny” is written and produced by its stars, and it’s been given some room by FX to experiment, and to be shameless. And the foundation of any good comedy, or any good show, period, is to find creators with a strong idea, and let them run with it.

“Humor by committee (standard sitcoms usually get written by a group) doesn’t necessarily work,” said Charlie Day, one of the producer/stars. “The FX guys give us a lot of liberty and a lot of trust, and they’re letting three basically unknown, unproven guys produce a show and just put it out there. They’ll steer us in the right direction a lot of times, but they trust our humor.”

Rob McElhenney, another producer/star of the show, says a lot of networks want shows to fit a style or demographic and force a worn-out, or an out-of-sync approach, on comedy writers.

“I have a lot of writer friends who are really talented and a lot funnier than I am, who work on a lot of those (not-so-funny) shows. And they say they wind up being dictated to what they can and can’t actually do or show,” McElhenney said.

“We also trust our audiences,” Day said. “I feel like a lot of shows don’t do that, especially comedies where they spend a lot of time telegraphing the jokes, saying let’s make sure our audience gets the joke. A lot of times, we’ll just sort of point the camera at the action and say, you know what? The audience is smart enough to find what’s funny about this.”

So, their biggest argument is that it comes down to finding good people and letting them do their jobs – like in pretty much anything.

“There are people out there trying to push the envelope in a lot of different ways, and those are the funny shows and some are on the big networks, too,” McElhenney said.

“I feel like those shows probably have a really strong, creative show runner that the network is trusting,” Day said. “So maybe this is the direction that comedy’s heading.”

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