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WHY ARE THESE STUPID SITCOMS SO STUNNINGLY SUCCESSFUL?

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The man was explaining why he frequented a restaurant he didn't like. "I know the food will be bad," he replied - "but I know just HOW bad."

That kind of thinking helps account for the success of Miller-Boyett Productions.Perhaps the names don't ring a bell, but Thomas L. Miller and Robert L. Boyett should be recognized for what they are - packagers of TV's most reliable mystery meat. Grandly, blandly routine, their "Full House," "Family Matters," "Step by Step" and "Getting By" bring not appetite appeal, but unexcelled comfort to TV viewing.

Perhaps as capably as anyone ever, Miller-Boyett has capitalized on how with TV, familiarity breeds not contempt, but contentedness.

"I know what I like," viewers contentedly tell themselves as they tune in a Miller-Boyett show, little suspecting that what they have conceded is quite the opposite: "I like what I know."

With Miller-Boyett, they do know. Every week, even before the fade-in, they know just what they're gonna get. And how could it be otherwise? Like it or not, they've had the menu and the recipes memorized for years.

All four series are about a loving but insult-hurling family. All four feature bright, smart-mouthed kids. All four center on the living room. All four have a fondness for contrived, awwww-inducing finales. All four bear an off-the-rack, all-purpose title (c'mon, what series COULDN'T be called "Step by Step," unless it was maybe about ice hockey?).

Worst of all, with all four shows, an interchangeable, smiley-face theme song is tacked on. One champions "hanging in for the big break, but we must have some of the wedding cake." Another chirps, "All I see is a tower of dreams, real love bursting out of every seam." Can anybody out there match either lyric to its series? Or are you still retching?

If not, read on.

"Where did you get such a beautiful bouquet of flowers?" asks the hospital patient, triggering this riposte: "The room next door. The guy just croaked."

Or consider this zinger: "Look, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Mike's nickname is `Mike the Mover' - and they don't call him that because he used to work for Bekins."

Which Miller-Boyett shows and characters are represented here? No matter. All you need to know is: Miller-Boyett. Where the customary is always right.

To sum up, then, a Miller-Boyett series is really about ... nothing at all. That is, nothing but itself.

What masquerades as normal, everyday life twists and turns in on itself like a Mobius strip. The characters behave like people behave in other sitcoms - and nowhere else. Miller-Boyett may pump family values, but inbreeding is the preferred way of life.

To paraphrase George Santayana, "Those who cannot remember the past will be condemned to come up with fresh ideas for TV shows."

Not bloody likely with Miller-Boyett, which recently resorted to the same parental "good cop, bad cop" piece of business on two of its sitcoms ("Family Matters" and "Getting By") the very same night.

Currently setting the standard for just-bad-enough, Miller-Boyett takes on all sitcomers with its reassuring absence of the unexpected.

Every week, Miller-Boyett knows you like what you know.