The ’80s May Be Finally Over

ABC announced earlier this week that THE GOLDBERGS, its longest-running situation comedy, will end this spring, news that honestly didn’t take me much by surprise.  Its ratings this year have been modest and flatlined (essentially a 0.4 key demo rating and rarely the level of its lead-in THE CONNERS or its lead-out ABBOTT ELEMENTARY, not that anyone cares about schedules anymore), and more than a year ago parent company Sony announced it was exiting the business of producing broadcast comedies since the economics of today’s streaming-centric and global-appeal marketplace don’t really translate favorably to a business model that, like the show’s source material, was more popular the 1980s.

THE GOLDBERGS was a period piece, set in the 80s (exactly which year wavered from episode to episode, each one began by referencing the air date with the year 1980-something) and revolving around the childhood of its creator, Adam F. Goldberg.  Goldberg, who added his middle initial to avoid confusion with the actor and comedian known for his roles in movies like SAViNG PRIVATE RYAN, grew up in the Philadelphia suburb of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, and is as true to his hometown as he is to the decade he came of age in it.  To have seen Goldberg’s office was to walk into a true tzatchke palace.  His bookshelves were cluttered with toys and memorabilia from the era, much of which was featured in the show’s episodes.  Need a talking E.T.?  A Wacky Packages sticker?  A talking Mr. Game Show?  Adam’s office was practically an E-Bay warehouse.

After struggling with a one-season flop on FOX called BREAKING IN, with the help of his business partner Doug Robinson and a couple of really strong comic minds, the Chanukah-loving Adam Sandler and producer/director Seth Gordon, he developed and passionately defended the story of his youth, a show originally called HOW THE F–K AM I NORMAL?   Goldberg had plenty of source material–he was an early lover of the camcorder (the best were made by Sony, natch) and often videotaped his family and friends just being themselves, or the many events his effusive “smother” Beverly would inflitrate herself into.  Dad Murray was much more a homebody, ever frustrated by his favorite team, the typically awful Philadephia Iggles, all the more cantakerous when they’d lose.  His big brother Barry, on his way to becoming a doctor, was a typically jerky older brother, but one that would protect his younger sibling.  There was another older brother, Eric, but to give the show some gender balance he was reimagined as Erica.  Throw in his maternal grandfather, an equally odd duck to young Adam but someone he revered, and you had something solid enough to land on ABC’s Tuesday night lineup in 2013 (back when scheduling DID matter).

THE GOLDBERGS was a solid, but never breakout performer.  But launched with the backdrop of nostalgia, aimed squarely at a target audience that screamed the 18-49 demo, and with a wonderfully talented cast that included Wendi McLendon-Covey as matriach Beverly, the familarity of Jeff Garlin as dad Murray and the hard-working George Segal as “Pops”. it was strong enough to earn renewal after renewal.  The younger actors who played the Goldberg kids, especially Sean Giambrone as Adam himself, were exceptionally talented.  Hayley Orrantia, who played Erica, was an AMERICAN IDOL contestant whose musical talents were incorporated into her unique character development.  The other actors were obligated to portray the real-life members of Goldberg’s family and friends, and there was no margin for error.  Often, their real-life inspirations were cast in cameos and featured in the original videos which Adam still possessed and had shepherded the transfer to a more digital-friendly format.

While the show did not have a studio audience, it was typically a looser set.   Many of the scenes set in the high school the Goldbergs attended (the Irving Thalberg Building on the Sony lot served as its front) and the college the older ones later went to were shot directly in front of my office.  The movie theatre they’d go to was smack in the middle of the main drag that would connect the movie and TV portions of the Sony lot, and was often the site of many of our presentations and larger meetings.  The cast and crew were accessible and friendly.  Robinson and Goldberg proved to be fans of research and so long as one respected Adam’s intense devotion to the honesty of telling HIS story, you were seen as a friend.

But Goldberg eventually left Sony, and when he did the show’s honesty began to devolve.  More liberties were taken with the show’s evolution versus how Goldberg’s childhood played out.  Some were by unfortunate necessities.   Both Garlin and co-star Bryan Callen were #metood out in separate incidents in 2020.  George Segal’s death in 2021 was especially difficult for the remaining cast, all of whom were inspired by his professionalism and kindness; I personally saw Segal at age 85 more prompt and engaged than was Garlin, who despite his likability as a performer and his love of fantasy sports was sadly a pompous and rude ass to almost everyone who attempted to engage with him.  The show ultimately killed off Garlin’s character, which was the ultimate slap in the face to Adam’s life, as his real-life dad passed away in 2008.

In the 1980s, the success of THE COSBY SHOW reignited the sitcom rerun business.  Getting to 100 episodes wasn’t difficult, and those that did could sell their reruns profitably to local stations and, eventually, to cable networks.  But by the time THE GOLDBERGS were ready for such a sale, the appetite from those stations was marginal.  Anything that wasn’t THE BIG BANG THEORY was considered an afterthought.   And while THE GOLDBERGS did sell, it rarely rated strongly.  It soldiered on with original episodes for six seasons after its off-network release, mostly on the strength of its performances and the support of both ABC and Sony management.  But those people have also moved on.  And since nostalgia tends to peak in the 20-30 year range, as we head deeper into the 2020s it’s now the 90s that is the sweet spot.  Those who grew up in the 1980-somethings are aging out of the target demo.   So, after ten seasons and over 220 original episodes, THE GOLDBERGS will end this May.

THE GOLDBERGS was not the first of its kind; indeed, a historically signifcant comedy with the same name, produced and starring one of the first female showrunners in Gertrude Berg, was produced for first-run syndication in the 1950s.  Plenty of other sitcoms produced in the 2010s, especially BIG BANG as well as MODERN FAMILY, have been much more successful.  But given the way both network and local television, let alone streaming, has evolved, the chance that any show, especially a sitcom, will ever see 10 seasons and 220-something episodes ever again are remote.  For as successful as ABBOTT ELEMENTARY is now, it will be surprising if it goes well beyond 100 episodes.  The appetite isn’t there and, even when it is, the payoff isn’t.   And, honestly, can anyone see GHOSTS running that long?

It may not have been the first of its kind, but THE GOLDBERGS could very well be the last 200-episode broadcast TV sitcom to see the light of day.  That accomplishment alone should warrant an Adam F. Goldberg bobblehead, if not a plaque at the Television Academy.  And I’m pretty sure we know where that bobblehead will be displayed.  Right next to Mr. Game Show is my educated guess.

Until next time…

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