Quick. Somebody call out the comedy medics.

We've got a sitcom plague of massive proportions, one that, if left untreated, could wipe out the genre as we know it. Sitcoms already are slowly but surely disappearing from the prime-time universe, but sometimes it seems that those who love sitcoms are their own worst enemy.

There's no question the reality show craze is helping crowd comedies off the air, along with everything else in its slimy but ratings-friendly path. This season, only one measly sitcom, ABC's 'Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter,' can be considered a reasonable success. It's the only sitcom launched this past fall that has gotten an order for next year. That's the kind of record reserved for variety shows and Tony Danza.

Unlikely to reverse the trend is the latest Fox comedy, 'Oliver Beene.'

This 'Malcolm in the Middle' wannabe, which premieres at 8:30 p.m. Sunday on KPTV (12), is as entertaining as the latest state budget forecast. Clearly, Fox figured that if one cute kid and his (clearly noncute) family could score big ratings, there'd be room for another entry.

Clearly, Fox figured wrong.

While 'Malcolm' and its characters are endearing and funny, this sorry group has the uncanny ability to keep you from cracking a single smile. That could be because even though 'Oliver Beene' is set in the '60s, it's a blatant rip-off of 'Malcolm.' Or maybe it's because the characters can't figure out whether they want to be loud and obnoxious or loud and unlikable.

The biggest shock while watching the premiere episode is the transformation of Grant Shaud, who plays the father of 11-year-old Oliver Beene. Remember Shaud? He was the little, skinny Miles Silverberg on 'Murphy Brown.' Now, he's carrying around what appears to be an extra 65 pounds. And, in what could qualify for an entry in 'Guinness World Records,' the guy looks like he's grown 4 or 5 inches. Can that possibly be?

The title character is played by Grant Rosenmeyer, who, in 'Wonder Years' style, provides narration about his sorry state, his bigger brother, Ted (Andrew Lawrence), and his mother, Charlotte (Wendy Makkena).

And there's still more copycatting: Overbearing fantasy moments (mirroring a technique made famous by 'Ally McBeal') are inserted occasionally into the story line, at least attempting to give us a break from the tedium disguised as the script.

Judging from the first several episodes, the writers don't seem to know whom to focus on: the parents or the kids.

How about neither? We'd all be better off.

Pete Schulberg is the host of 'Portland's Morning News' on KPAM (860 AM). Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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