Friday, August 19, 2005

We Want the Funny! Plus a Week of Favorites

We've all heard it before, what happened to the situation comedy? Was Friends the last great one? Is the era of the comedy over? Before we start predicting the end of the situation comedy forever, I think it's worth pointing out that television (like everything else) moves in cycles. In the 80s, it was the night time soap opera. You had Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing, and so on. Viewers couldn't get enough. In the 90s, it shifted to comedies and medical dramas like Friends, Seinfeld, ER, and Chicago Hope. At the end of the 90s and the beginning of the millennium, viewers were consumed by reality shows like Survivor, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?, The Bachelor, and Joe Millionaire. And now in 2005, we are officially attached to our procedurals, but these too will pass. The sitcom isn't dead, it's just waiting patiently for the right moment to pounce. The real question is, why aren't there more funny comedies on the air? Bring on the funny, and the viewers will follow.

There has been a lot of talk about the traditional sitcom (think Friends, Joey, Everybody Loves Raymond) being outdated and replaced by the non-conventional types (think Scrubs, Arrested Development, The Office). The single camera shoots with no studio audience or laugh track are popping up more and more. One of the new season's most critically acclaimed shows My Name Is Earl fits this bill. Critics say it has the quirkyness of Scrubs combined with the off-beat nature of Raising Arizona, and it could prove to be a big hit for NBC, a network that is starving for one. So, what does all of this mean for traditional sitcoms? Scrubs and Arrested Development, although huge critical darlings, are not exactly mega hits for their networks. Arrested won the Emmy last year for best comedy (most likely saving it from cancellation), and it, along with Scrubs, received a few more nominations this year as well, but neither show has achieved the success of the more traditional Friends or Everybody Loves Raymond. Both shows were very funny, but they're very different from one another, proving that it's not so much the concept as it is the amount of laughs you can pack in to the half hour format. If we sit down to watch a comedy, we expect to laugh. It's simple, make us laugh and we'll watch.

Along with the non-conventional sitcoms, there's also a trend toward the hybrid hour long comedy/drama shows that we'll refer to as the "dramedies." They include break out hit Desperate Housewives, Gilmore Girls, and Veronica Mars. They're shows that bring the funny (sometimes better than their half hour counterparts), but also hit us with a big dose of drama. Much has been made about Housewives' 15 Emmy nominations this year because all 15 were in the comedy category where the show was entered. Gilmore Girls also entered itself into the comedy category. So, are these dramedies comedies? Yes and no. They're a blend of comedy and drama and could have entered into either category. But, both had a better shot at collecting nominations in the comedy category because the competition has been weak as of late. The drama categories were overflowing with deserving contenders, so much so that many were overlooked. It stands to reason that showrunners want their shows entered into the category where they have the best shot, and thus, these shows were entered into comedy.

Coming next week!!! It's a week of favorites. I'll be discussing my favorite dramas, comedies, characters, TV actors, and TV actresses. I'll do a category a day starting with my favorite dramas on Monday. After you read my picks, feel free to leave a comment with yours. All next week, don't miss it!


*ABC has scheduled a dance off between Dancing With The Stars' Kelly Monaco and John O'Hurley. The show's inaugural run ended in controversy when the judges gave Monaco and her partner, Alec Mazo, a perfect 10 in the final competition. Monaco went on to win, prompting fans to cry foul. Well, now's the chance to right the wrong. The live dance off will include judges' comments but they will not score the contestants. Instead, viewers will vote over the phone and internet for two days to decide who has the better footwork. The special is set to air September 20th with the results show airing September 22nd.

*Six Feet Under ends its five season run this weekend. The critically acclaimed HBO drama focused on the Fisher family funeral home, which set the stage for its darker storylines including the recent shocking death of Nate. The show takes its last bow Sunday night on HBO.

*And finally, CSI: NY's first season is headed to DVD a little sooner than originally announced. Instead of the October 25th date, look for the title on October 18th. The seven disc set includes all 23 episodes plus the CSI Miami crossover and loads of extras. Visit for the cover art.

That's all for today. Be sure to tune in next week as I run down my favorite dramas, comedies, characters, actors, and actresses. Plus, all the latest television news. Have a great weekend and remember the official kick off to the new TV season is only a month away!!


Eric Berlin said...

I just published a piece that talks quite a bit about the past and future of the sitcom, if anyone's interested:

Sitcom Death and TV Comedy Rebirth: Single-Camera, Multi-Camera, and a Breathtakingly Brief History of Comedy

Instant Ignorance said...

Wow, I was very impressed by this sitcom "essay". I had somewhat noticed this dying sitcom tendency, but not in such detail. I guess it's true, shows are going in and out of style all the time--and most fashion trends DO cycle--but have viewers ever really gone back to discarded shows in the past? As a mass phenomenon, I mean. Not sure, because I haven't watched that much TV, but seems to me like they're looking for new things all the time; they don't go back. I rather like sitcoms, maybe they'll be back someday, though probably not the traditional ones.
Anyway, what I began to say before I derailed was that this entry was great. Worthy of a news article.

Tati said...

I have been noticing this same pattern in the last season. There was a time when I only watched comedies, now I only watch dramas. I don't entirely buy the "dramedy" concept. I watch Gilmore Girls and for me it's a drama. I wonder how long it'll take for the sitcoms to come back or if they'll ever come back the way they were in the 90's. I believe we've come to a point were all kinds of comedy have their "big show" that set a standard and no dares/can make a show on the same style. Family sitcoms will have Everybody Loves Raymond to set themselves after (just one example), sarcastic sitcoms have Seinfeld, single-women sitcoms have Sex and the City, young-adults sitcoms have Friends and so on. It'll be hard for any show to surpass those standards, I think. The fantasy sitcoms of the 60's never came back to TV.
Well, enough for now. This was a very well written piece. Can't wait to see what's coming next. :)