Entertainment

‘Ghosts’ is one of the most popular TV comedies. How the quirky CBS series became network TV’s bright spot.

During a time when network television is facing diminishing returns, amid declining ratings and an unusually high number of departing broadcast shows in 2024, there has been one bright spot: CBS’s Ghosts, which returns for a shortened 10-episode Season 3 on Feb. 15.

Based on the popular British comedy, the American version follows a young married couple, Sam (Rose McIver) and Jay (Utkarsh Ambadkar), who inherit a run-down country manor in upstate New York with plans to turn it into a bed-and-breakfast. After Sam nearly dies following an inopportune accident, she gains the ability to interact with the eclectic group of ghosts — all of whom died on the property at some point in history and have called the estate home for years. For some, hundreds of years.

The main ghost crew consists of eight distinct personalities: Captain Isaac Higgintoot (Brandon Scott Jones), a closeted Revolutionary War soldier; Alberta (Danielle Pinnock), a Prohibition-era jazz singer; Pete (Richie Moriarty), a cheery but socially awkward troop leader with an arrow through his neck; Trevor (Asher Grodman), a Wall Street bro who died without pants; Flower (Sheila Carrasco), the free-spirited but naive hippie; Thorfinn (Devan Chandler Long), an overly dramatic Viking; Hetty (Rebecca Wisocky), an uptight lady of the manor; and Sasappis (Roman Zaragoza), a cynical Indigenous man who’s often the group’s voice of reason.

A scene from Ghosts. (Photo by Bertrand Calmeau/CBS via Getty Images)

The characters are so different from one another that, on paper, the puzzle pieces shouldn’t fit as seamlessly as they do. But put the ghosts all in a room together — or any combination of them — and it somehow works. Much of the credit goes to impeccable casting and the actors’ undeniable chemistry with each other.

Described as “charming,” “heartfelt” and “wholesome,” Ghosts established a hopeful world where “silly, spirited escapism” soon became its signature, akin to endearing broadcast ensemble comedies of past (NBC’s Superstore) and present (ABC’s Abbott Elementary).

The series had a strong start when it launched in September 2021, quickly ascending to become the No. 2 most-watched broadcast comedy in the 2021-2022 season after CBS’s Young Sheldon. Over the course of Season 2, the series achieved a rare feat for network TV: its audience grew. The show’s sophomore installment averaged 9.15 million weekly viewers, a 15% increase from Season 1, according to CBS.

“In terms of the sincere show or whatever adjectives you want to apply to Ghosts or the comedies that people are watching right now, we just try to write a show that we want to watch,” executive producer and co-showrunner Joe Port tells Yahoo Entertainment. “We like there to be characters that you care about. We want it to be very funny, but we also just want to get invested in the characters and believe that these are real people — as weird as that sounds when we’re talking about dead ghosts. They’re real people with real journeys that they’re going on and we try to treat it as that.”

Their approach to each character — living or dead — has set Ghosts apart and resonated with millions of viewers. While the comedy deals with themes of death, loss and redemption, it does so without trivializing any of the characters’ past experiences and the hardships they may have previously faced.

“We’ve been very fortunate [the reaction has] been very positive. People, in a wonderful way, feel very passionate about the show,” executive producer and co-showrunner Joe Wiseman, who lurks on Reddit to read fan reaction to storylines, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “There’s always posts about, ‘Who’s your favorite [ghost]?’ Then you read the comments and all the ghosts are mentioned. Everyone has someone that they, for some reason, identify with or gel with.”

Another factor playing into Ghosts’ staying power: families coming together to watch the show every Thursday night — even if the series wasn’t originally intended to inspire multigenerational viewing.

“Very often people will tell me, ‘I watched this with my kids. It’s so hard to find a show that I can appreciate as an adult that my kids can also enjoy,’” Wiseman says. “Everything is very fractured now. It’s hard if you want to be able to enjoy things as a family. Our show does that without being necessarily a family show. Adults can still enjoy it on their own level. We don’t dumb anything down or pull punches.”

As Ghosts kicks off a new season, Port acknowledges a sense of responsibility to maintain the level of creative nuance and poignant optimism that has struck a chord with viewers.

“There are a lot of people who are invested. They know [the show] very well and it presents a lot of fun opportunities because we can do continuing stories and jokes that are calling back to things we’ve done previously,” he says. “You can enjoy the show on an episodic level but for superfans who are very familiar with this show, there is definitely stuff designed for them.”

Season 2 left the crew in a spectacular predicament when one of the main ghosts was “sucked off,” or passed on to the afterlife. The identity of the unlucky ghost sparked months of debate and fan theories over the long hiatus.

“When we came up with the cliffhanger, we didn’t know who it was going to be but we definitely had candidates and ideas,” Wiseman explains. “We spent a lot of time talking about, ‘Should it be this person? What would that mean to everyone else?’ We wanted it to be consequential and we wanted it to be substantial. We didn’t want to come back and fake out the audience, that it was a guy in the basement in the back. There were a lot of conversations about who would be best for creating the story.”

The Season 3 premiere will finally provide the answer, and it will “have ramifications throughout the house,” Port teased. Wiseman reminds fans that just because a ghost gets “sucked off” and moves on, they’re not dead. “There are definitely ways of seeing people and continuing people’s stories even after getting ‘sucked off,’” he says.

The upcoming season presented unique challenges for the production, from McIver’s real-life pregnancy not being written in (“that might be too big of a change this early in the series,” Port says) to figuring out clever ways to involve Ambadkar’s Jay — who doesn’t possess the power to see or hear the ghosts like Sam can — even more into ghost-centric stories.

“That’s been both a challenge but also a rewarding, unique part of the series where we can tell stories that no other series does,” Wiseman says.

Once Ghosts lifts the curtain on the finale cliffhanger, there will be plenty of time for Sam and Jay to spend with the remaining ghosts as their backstories are peeled back in Season 3. The shorter episode order due to the dual Hollywood strikes meant the writers were more “particular” about the stories they committed to telling this season, Port says.

That will include the annual Halloween episode, even though it will be airing on March 7.

“We felt Halloween episodes, thematically, are part of the DNA of the show,” Wiseman explains. “We had an important story arc that, on Halloween in our show, there are certain ghost rules that are invoked. That became integral to a story we had.”

Ghosts premieres Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS.




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