LOS ANGELES (AP) — In 2006, TV critics swooned over "30 Rock," part of a new breed of comedy that dared to fly without a laugh track and whose ranks included "Arrested Development," ''The Office" and "Everybody Hates Chris."
Then a misfit nerd crashed the party. "The Big Bang Theory" was crafted in the style of 1950s groundbreaker "I Love Lucy," with the requisite studio-audience tapings and recorded guffaws intact. Even some of those making the CBS comedy that debuted in 2007 questioned its chances, said Jim Parsons, who stars as Sheldon Cooper, one of the show's brilliant and socially inept scientists.
"'We're making the last great buggy wagon in the age of the Model T, but the Model T is here. So how long does this go?'" was how one writer framed the contrast between old-school and 21st-century TV comedies, Parsons recalled in a recent interview.
As the enduringly popular series prepares to bow out Thursday with an hour-long finale, the question is raised anew: Will viewers, awash in such creatively bold and sophisticated players as "Atlanta" and "Veep," accept another traditional sitcom? Discounting the resurrection of "Will & Grace" and "Roseanne"-turned "The Connors," can the old-school formula score the new hits it needs to survive?
Who better to ask than Chuck Lorre, who created "The Big Bang Theory" with Bill Prady and whose mastery of the genre has produced winners including "Two and a Half Men" and "Mom," but also makes Netflix's contemporary-style "The Kominsky Method." The Hollywood veteran hedges his reply — "I've been around long enough to know that a prognosis is a really wonderful way to carve into stone how stupid you are. Or arrogant" — then admits to faith in the format known as a "multi-cam," for the multiple cameras used in tapings.
"I still believe that shooting a show in front of an audience is a wonderful way to tell a story," Lorre said. "I don't think the audience watches ('The Big Bang Theory') and counts cameras. They watch the show because they love the characters and it delivers on the comedy."
There's support for Lorre's optimism, said Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor of TV and popular culture.
"Many people talk about the studio audience sitcom being something right out of Colonial Williamsburg, as way past its prime," Thompson said. "Whenever anybody would make that argument, the first thing I would say is 'The Big Bang Theory' has been sitting at top or near the top of the ratings," even against the strengthening headwinds of streaming platforms including YouTube and Netflix.