One of the most successful shows of the summer is Hot in Cleveland, the first original sitcom produced by TV Land, which has just been renewed for 20 more episodes. Apart from cashing in on Betty White Mania, the show's high viewership (on TV Land and CTV in Canada) demonstrates the migration of the Disney Channel formula to older-skewing channels.
After getting rid of shows involving classic Disney characters, the Disney Channel has worked to fill the gap left by the collapse of "family-friendly" programming on the networks. Shows like Hannah Montana and The Suite Life mimic the rhythms and appearance of '90s shows like Family Matters and Full House; they're written by many of the same people, who fled to Disney when broadcast no longer wanted viewers under 18.
Hot In Cleveland applies this idea to another group of viewers who, like the Disney audience, tend to be outside the beloved 18-49 demographic. According to Josef Adalian, the show was conceived after Estelle Getty's death when Suzanne Martin, a former Frasier writer, wondered why there were no more Golden Girls-style sitcoms about older women. It’s a cheaper version of Golden Girls, just as Hannah Montana borrows from the sitcoms of Miller-Boyett. And Hot In Cleveland is staffed by former Frasier writers, driven to cable just as family sitcom writers were driven to Disney. The show has even signed up Disney's Joe Jonas as a guest, suggesting that it wants to appeal to under-18s as well as over-49s.
Like its Disney counterparts, Hot In Cleveland is cornier than we would expect from modern network sitcoms. In part this is a reflection of lower cable budgets, which don't allow for a massive staff of punch-up specialists. But it's also a reflection of a different view of cable's role than that of HBO. The aim is not to deal in material that is too edgy for the networks to accept, but the kind that they now reject as not edgy enough.
Whether this new strategy can produce a first-rate show in this vein is another question. The precedent of Disney, where most sitcoms tend to hover around a level of middling quality, is not encouraging. The test for TV Land is whether they can do genuinely good middlebrow work.