In re some of the other shows in the new lineup, I can’t believe how awful the early episodes of Mission: Impossible were. The best part of the pilot was when Rollin actually hit on Cinnamon before putting on his disguise (and she turned down his rather crude advances). It clearly took a while for this series to hit its stride.
Lost in Space is more than dreadful. “Putrid” is not strong enough to describe it. The Robinsons drift from one catastrophic situation to another while they exchange bits of stilted dialogue and theramin music plays in the background. I also realized this afternoon that the character of Montgomery Burns must have been based on Dr Smith (“Excellent!”).
Watching Rhoda is like seeing a kosher chick flick. *** I Love Lucy*** is, well, I Love Lucy. Even Soap is incredibly dated.
I wish Hogan’s Heroes, Barney Miller, and Cheers! were scheduled back to back either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. That way I wouldn’t have to wait for hours watch them all.
One of the best recent comedies, one of the best comedies of all time, had no laugh track. The effort that was made to reach the comic moments made them so much more rewarding, though the humor waned after the fourth season when Sorkin resigned. But I loves me some Alison Janney.
Even though it was wildly parodied for it, I thought Married with Children had the best laugh track since the actual in-studio audience brought their own fun energy to the show. Having Jefferson show-up at the door and hearing a full 10 seconds of audience applause never ceases to make me smile.
I would have guessed that most TV writers break down into either comedy writers or drama. If you’re comedy, then there doesn’t seem to be a lot of options besides sitcoms. (Except maybe writing jokes and sketches for late night talk shows or the likes of SNL.) If so, then how can sitcoms be a “ghetto” if they’re the only game in town? Serious question, I’m confused…
It’s not true that “…TV writers break down into either comedy writers or drama”; any writer worth their salt should be capable of either, e.g. the Coen brothers. The skill of constructing a narrative and developing characters is the same, as is pacing the comedic or dramatic beats of the story, although comedy trends to move at a faster pace and embrace more absurdity. A show like Arrested Development, despite being a comedy and ostensibly a sitcom, is actually constructed more like a murder mystery with complex interlocking narrative threads and clues, with punchlines that pay off a gag that has been running throughout an episode or even across multiple episodes.
The problem with sitcoms is that they have a set formula and the characters are generally immutable, and therefore there is little opportunity for originality. It’s the narrative version of a musician writing advertising jingles. Good writers who want to work in comedy television look for shows like The Simpsons, Community, or Parks & Rec where the characters are allowed to change and stories progressively build, which is an anathema to traditional sitcoms which don’t want the shows that have to be followed and watched in a specific order. This makes it engaging to write versus a story where nothing changes, the plot resolution doesn’t force anyone to re-evaluate their actions or values, and the humor comes from pulling jokes and gag randomly out of a trick bag.
Sketch comedy is its own thing as it generally doesn’t have much narrative structure and is heavily gag-oriented, so sketch comedy writers don’t generally cross with narrative television of film writers (although there are exceptions like Tina Fey), and it’s why attampts to take sketch characters and build a feature film around them generally don’t work, e.g. Coneheads or It’s Pat even though they are successful in their native medium; the rare exception like The Blues Brothers used narrative writers and constructed an actual story instead of just having the characters run through a series of gags.
Stranger, thank you for your detailed explanation. I’m a tech industry work far removed from all of this, but I’m always interested in learning more about how the biz works.
Well, if the Coen brothers are the standard for ‘any writer worth his salt’, then a lot of Hollywood writers must be feeling pretty depressed right about now.
Fascinating. I’d never considered that about something like Arrested Development.
That sounds an awful lot like Seinfeld, which famously had the rule “no learning” for the characters. I don’t think I view *Seinfeld *as a formula sitcom, although it was much closer to that than something like Arrested Development or Community.
Not only did Seinfeld have numerous story arcs, the characters were constantly referring to things that had happened weeks, months, or even years before. You missed a lot of the jokes you weren’t familiar with the series backlog.
Just to be clear, I don’t work in the industry, so what I know of the inner workings is secondhand, although it is directly from production assistants, writers, et cetera who do work in the industry.
Seinfeld was more of a metatextual commentary on the inanities of customs and social norms. It had the trappings of a sitcom—the wacky neighbor, the girlfriend, the ne’er-do-well best friend—but the characters were almost incidential. (There is no way Jerry Seinfeld could actually carry a show or film if he had to do so on the basis of character; he’s about as interesting as paste and frankly a mediocre comedian, and they were fortunate to have Julia Louis-Dreyfess and Jason Alexander who can hit their beats reliably.) I’m personally not a big fan of Seinfeld and consider it a pale reflection of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but the best show in that subgenre is still It’s Garry Shandling’s Show.