Could Chuck Lorre Be the Smartest Person in Television?

By
Photo: Getty Images, Courtesy of CBS

Pop quiz, asshole: Name us today's three most successful half-hour comedies on television. 30 Rock? The Office? Family Guy? If you rattled off any of the above, Dennis Hopper has already blown up your bus. Instead, you should've gone with any of the three sitcoms anchoring the suddenly formidable comedy block that CBS airs on Monday nights: The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, and Two and a Half Men. Last night, all three of these shows scored either series- or season-high ratings (and the possibly canceled Worst Week benefited greatly, too). So what is CBS doing that the other networks aren't? Well, it all starts with the last man standing from the sitcom explosion of the eighties and nineties, Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men series creator Chuck Lorre.

Lorre, who along with a veritable who's who of television writers like Joss Whedon and Amy Sherman-Palladino, cut his teeth writing for Roseanne in the early nineties. He went on to create Grace Under Fire and Dharma and Greg, before developing the exceedingly middlebrow (yet also envelope-pushing) Two and a Half Men for CBS. While snobby television critics turned their noses on the show, Men resonated with Middle America in a HUGE way and has gone on to become the highest-rated comedy on television since Everybody Loves Raymond called it a day. And now the show is even proving its worth in the highly profitable afterlife of syndication, where it is generating even more bank than series star Charlie Sheen has spent on hookers and is propelling the first-run shows to even higher ratings. "More people discover the show in reruns than they would necessarily when it is up against nine dramas, football games, dancing amputees and whatnot," Lorre told TV Week.

Following in the footsteps of Men, Lorre's other show, The Big Bang Theory, is on track to be television's next big comedy. Launched in the fall of 2007 just months before the writers' strike crippled Hollywood and made our lives even more boring than usual, the show about four science-geek friends and the "hot" girl who lives across the hall from their apartment has been catching fire, ratings-wise, since moving to the 8 p.m. time slot this year. It was also the beneficiary of a glowing Wall Street Journal review just last week. Though it will probably never reach the mass audience success of shows like Roseanne or Friends, all of the metrics are pointing toward the show being around for a long, long time. And based on the few episodes of the show that we've actually seen, this isn't necessarily a bad thing — believe it or not, the show's actually kinda funny!

All of which is kind of a long-winded way of once again bringing up Entertainment Weekly's 25 Smartest People on Television list. Yes, Chuck Lorre was included, but despite helming the two most popular comedies on television, he only managed to come in at No. 20. Yes, nineteen spots below Ken Tucker's favorite person on television, Seth MacFarlane. Lorre shrugged off the dis in typical fashion during the close of last night's Big Bang Theory, using one of his now-patented closing-credit vanity cards.

Recently the magazine Entertainment Weekly had an article entitled the "The 25 Smartest People in Television." Yours truly was ranked at number twenty. If the article is to be taken seriously, and God knows, why wouldn't any sensible person take it seriously, that means there are currently nineteen people in the TV biz who are smarter than me. Now I'm just thinking out loud here, but if something were to happen to those nineteen people … if say, they were to, one by one, have horrible accidents, or mysteriously disappear, then that would make me, ipso facto, the number one smartest person in television. Then I'd just have to keep an eye on number twenty-one. Christina Wayne, Senior VP of original programming at AMC, looks like the kind of woman who would stop at nothing to move up a spot.


Though we're not about to crown Lorre as the Smartest Person in Television based solely on the fact that he's got two shows resting comfortably in the top twenty each week, we can commit to starting to pay more attention to what's going on over at CBS these days (particularly on Monday nights). And now that execs at CBS seem to have begun figuring out that there's more to life than churning out procedurals, maybe it's high time to pronounce the Tiffany Network the smartest network on television. Maybe.

Ratings: 'Chuck' delivers for NBC, but CBS still rules Monday [Hollywood Insider/EW]
A Nerdy Comedy's Winning Formula [WSJ]