“Whitney” aims to follow in the footsteps of “Roseanne” and “Ellen”

Before the cast of NBC’s new show Whitney took the stage, NBC Chairman of NBC Entertainment Robert Greenblatt said the show’s creator and star, Whitney Cummings, is poised to be be the new “It girl.” A comedian and writer who has been blowing up in the stand-up world in the last few years, Whitney is aiming to became the new one-named wonder coming to TV.

“I think people still watch re-runs — I do,” Whitney said during the NBC TCA Panel. “I also think [a multi-camera sitcom is] the best format for a stand-up comedian, from Drew Carey and Raymond, Mad About You, Roseanne and Ellen.”

Bringing up those two women at the end can put you in dangerous territory. Both Roseanne Barr and Ellen DeGeneres were (and continue to be) successful anomalies in a world where most television shows focus around pretty white people — or at least pretty white women. (The guys don’t always have to be so pretty.) And that’s probably why they worked so well — they had different stories to tell. But will Whitney?

Whitney follows a happily unmarried couple (Whitney and her boyfriend, played by Chris D’Elia) as they “create a relationship on their own terms.” Showrunner Betsy Thomas said the show is largely based on Whitney’s personality, saying “She has very funny observations on things we take for granted. That’s what we use for stories.”

Like Roseanne and Ellen, much of the material used is cultivated from jokes that have worked for Whitney on stage, and weaved into a narrative. But, unfortunately, the show doesn’t seem to add much to the canon, and will likely not do too well on NBC’s primetime line-up. It’s a shame because Whitney is one of only two female-driven comedies the network has lined up for fall. (The other is the much funnier Up All Night, starring Christina Applegate and Maya Rudolph.) It also had a female showrunner and three women (including Whitney herself) in the writer’s room.

“It’s sort of interesting because I don’t think that female [writers] necessarily write like women,” Whitney said. “I worked on Comedy Central roasts for a while and I always wrote the jokes people assume the men would write. [Women] don’t always write what we expect from women, you know?”

And that’s why we like to see more of them working in the industry. It’s just too bad that it doesn’t seem to work on Whitney. Even if this show doesn’t work for for Whitney, though, she’s also co-writer for Two Broke Girls on CBS, which will probably be much more of a success story. (The show is co-written by Michael Patrick King of Sex and the City fame.)

“I think that we’re in a really amazing time where there are really fantastic actresses and comedians and also there are just a lot of opportunities for women to have powerful roles,” Whitney said. “Or more women are writing TV, so that is probably also part of that trend. Because women tend to maybe write strong women.”

And that’s why it’s disappointing that Whitney followed a woman whose primary worry in the pilot is why she’s not having sex with her boyfriend. It’s like all of the promise in a women-helmed show was wasted on another sitcom about pretty white people.

Whitney premieres on Sept. 22 at 9:30 p.m. on NBC.

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