‘The Class’ Was More Ambitious Than Your Average Sitcom

The short-lived sitcom came from reputable creators and featured a star-studded cast, but the format was too experimental for CBS at the time.
The Class Sitcom

Welcome to Petition Worthy, a biweekly column that revisits canceled TV shows that we wish had a longer lifespan. In some cases, we’ll also make a plea for them to be given another chance. This time, we consider The Class.

Have you ever wondered what your old classmates are currently doing with their lives? More importantly, are they happy? Those questions ran through the minds of David Crane and Jeffrey Klarik when they conceived The Class in the mid-2000s.

The idea for the short-lived sitcom was sparked after the pair found a box of Crane’s third-grade photographs while they were cleaning out his basement. According to Klarik, they wondered what kind of adults those kids had become. Then the duo came up with a show that revolved around old classmates reconnecting once they’d grown up.

Sitcoms usually center around five or six main characters. The Class’s roster, meanwhile, featured eight leads and several recurring players. It was an ambitious idea for a show of this ilk at the time, but the networks were happy to support Crane and Klarik’s vision due to their reputations — Crane was hot off the success of Friends, and Klarik had produced Mad About You — and several parties were interested in the show. In the end, CBS won the bidding war.

Crane and Klarik then set about casting (then) unknown actors in the central roles. The show helped launch the careers of Lizzy Caplan, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Jon Bernthal, Andrea Anders, Jason Ritter, and Sean Maguire. Some of those actors went on to bigger and better things after The Class, but who knows where they’d be without the forgotten sitcom.

Ritter had the role of Ethan, the character who sets the wheels for the series in motion. In the first episode, he invites his third-grade class to a party to watch him propose to his girlfriend. She turns him down. Caplan played Kat, a sarcastic and cynical soul who gradually develops feelings for Ethan. And vice versa.

Ferguson was Richie, a depressed guy whose invitation to the planned engagement party saves him from suicide. Throughout the course of the series, romance blossoms between him and Kat’s sister (Heather Goldenhersh), and he gets pulled back from the brink. Most of the characters are unfulfilled to some degree, but The Class is still an optimistic sitcom at heart.

Those are just a couple of examples of the characters and relationships that encompass what is a very sprawling series. Furthermore, the show doesn’t rush to make them cross paths again. The Class is more fascinated with loose connections and finding interesting ways to bring the old school buddies into contact with each other. The ambitious format was inspired by Lost, but that eventually freaked out network executives.

CBS and viewers were under the illusion that this would be the second coming of Friends. Crane and Klarik made a conscious effort to make something that felt entirely different. “We deliberately went out of our way to not do a Friends-type show,” Klarik told Vanity Fair. “We wanted a show where you started off with people who didn’t know each other. They had a distant connection but they weren’t, well, friends.”

The Class isn’t too dissimilar to Crane’s hit sitcom, though. The problems and experiences of the main characters are reminiscent of Ross, Phoebe, Monica, Rachel, Joey, and Chandler at times. It’s another show about twenty-somethings trying to navigate life, love, and careers. The main difference is that The Class lets the people involved be separate individuals. Such is the nature of life.

Sitcoms are supposed to be comfort food, and experimentation rarely lasts. It was only a matter of time before network executives began interfering with the creative process here. They pressured Crane and Klarik to turn it into a more traditional sitcom. The mixed reviews and unimpressive ratings suggested that people didn’t understand the show’s ambitions.

CBS also positioned the show as their next big mega-hit. It was given a Monday night, 8pm timeslot and anointed as must-watch television. Crane and Klarik weren’t happy about this. They felt the show needed time to find an organic audience and grow from there. It was then given an 8:30pm slot, and the episode budget was cut. That demotion ultimately made the show look like a failure in the network’s eyes.

The financial cutbacks meant that writers and actors were fired. Lucy Punch, who played Holly in the show, was let go during the first season. Some optimism was restored when CBS eventually ordered six more episodes, but they proved to be the final ones.

Canceling The Class wasn’t the end of the world for anyone involved, at least. CBS replaced it with The Big Bang Theory, which went on to become one of the most popular shows in the network’s history. Crane and Klarik eventually developed Episodes, and most of the cast became household names.

At the same time, The Class came to an end as it was starting to find its groove. The story had long-term potential, but it needed time to breathe. However, there would have been opportunities to bring the characters together in interesting ways and create more interconnected arcs. And just like Friends, it’s a funny show with enough everyday human qualities to make it resonate with an average person.

Calling The Class ahead of its time is a stretch. But the show was more ambitious than your typical sitcom, and that’s commendable. Crane and Klarik could have tried to replicate their past successes, but they tried something different. The Class wasn’t a commercial success, but it was a creative one. It’s just a shame that the series has become a forgotten ghost of sitcom’s past.

Kieran Fisher: Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.