Late Friday afternoon, NBC announced that it has declined to pick up John Mulaney’s sitcom, Mulaney. It was a surprising move, given that the highly anticipated and already buzzy show had Lorne Michaels as a producer and an incredible cast. Having seen a version of the script, and based on Brad’s on-the-scene reporting, I can say that it was a good pilot and that the series had enormous potential. It’s a shame that it won’t be on NBC’s schedule this fall. But in the long run, what NBC will really regret is not just picking up the show Mulaney, but adding John Mulaney to its primetime ranks.
There are no surefire bets in comedy or television, but I stand by this as a truism: Lorne Michaels picks winners. Regardless of the near-constant din about the quality of Saturday Night Live‘s writing that has lingered for decades, it’s impossible to dispute his eye for talent. The list of major stars who got their first exposure from Michaels is thoroughly impressive, with everyone from Bill Murray to Kristen Wiig owing huge debts of success to their SNL breaks. The most amazing rags-to-riches (or awkward-to-megastar) story will always be Conan O’Brien — not many people saw what Michaels did in the early of years of Late Night with Conan O’Brien (as the ratings proved). Now it’s impossible to imagine the modern day comedy scene without Conan’s influence. And remember the reaction when Jimmy Fallon was announced as his late night successor? That guy? Who wants to watch him giggle for an hour every night? And yet, it was the now-68-year-old Michaels who saw Fallon’s potential to build a light-hearted late night show that appeals to the young audience rapidly deserting the format.