TELEVISION HUMOR: Stereotypes and Innovations in Sitcoms . by Don L. F. Nilsen and Alleen Pace Nilsen. “It’s a jungle out there.” --Adrian Monk. THE ARRIVAL OF TV? . When television first arrived, people had dire predictions: NO ONE WOULD READ BOOKS. NEWSPAPERS WOULD DIE.
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by Don L. F. Nilsen and
Alleen Pace Nilsen
The show was praised as “a complete synthesis” of TV comedy because it had
It was the first sitcom to be filmed in front of a live audience. But, most important was Lucille Ball’s comedic talent and her ambitions in this time when domesticity was being held up as the be-all and end-all.
She was a forerunner to the feminist movement of the next decade when millions of women were too bright and too ambitious to want to “stay in the kitchen.”
Sitcoms were developed first for radio and then moved to television. They replaced the old jokes that were part of vaudeville and travelling shows because:
This meant that producers went looking for variety to go beyond Leave It to Beaverand Father Knows Best. We soon had:
The most controversial—and also the most influential of the family sitcoms—All in the Family—brought attention to middle class prejudices as revealed through Archie Bunker’s actions and statements. However, some thoughtful critics worried that the program was teaching old prejudices to a new generation instead of eradicating them.
There is no end to the careers that could make way for old jokes in new situations as with Mary Tyler Moore’s spinoff from the Dick Van Dyke Show (1970-1977), Tim Allen’s Home Improvement (1991-1999), and Tina Fey’s current 30 Rock.
The Dick Van Dyke Show let the public in on script-writing while Scrubs opened the door to the medical profession. Other popular career shows include:
Viewers like characters who resemble people they might know, but they feel uncomfortable if they think a script writer is making fun of them or of their ethnicity.
This is one of the reasons for sitcom characters to be “distanced” from the viewers.
One way of creating this distance is to make the subjects of the sitcom so extreme that viewers will not feel that the script is about them.
For example, none of us would worry that we were as incompetent as were the characters played by Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor in Green Acres (1965-1971).
When oil was discovered on the Clampett’s Ozark farm, their new wealth allowed them to move to Beverly Hills.
Some viewers were offended, but most just chuckled and felt “superior.”
This is why Family Guy (1999-2012) is allowed to be so vulgar as the stories are told about the dysfunctional Griffins.
Creator Seth MacFarlane “voices” several of the characters.
The long life of Outer SpaceThe Simpsons (since 1989)relates to the smart allusions, the up-to-date plots, the appeal to all ages, and the fact that the “actors” can go on forever.
Critic Leo Charney says that Friends, Sex and the City, and Mad About You are dynamic sitcoms because of their long arcs of character evolution and carefully worked-out resolutions.
He classifies them as a hybrid between the sitcom and the soap opera because of the way the characters age, change, and grow as they would in real life.
The actors in characters to grow and change, i.e. to be “dynamic.” Friends were much older than their audiences believed; nevertheless college students and even teens identified with the life style.
Seinfeldattracted some of the same audience as did Friends—but Seinfeld also had adults in the audience and they did not expect so much growth. In literary terms, the characters were “static.”
The Seinfeld scripts fit into the traditional definition of a sit- com in that the characters are emotionally much the same at the beginning and the end of the shows.
Parks and Recreation
Compare TV Slapstick to Movie Slapstick:
Jackass, The Three Stooges, Shrek, Scary Movie, etc.
Parks and Recreation:
Some people consider “Nothing happens.”NCIS (the most popular show of 2012) to be a career sitcom. But we think of it as a drama whose writers have borrowed techniques from sitcoms, as in these examples:
STEPHEN COLBERT: “THE COLBERT REPORT”:
CHELSEA LATELY (CHELSEA HANDLER):
DAVID LETTERMAN: “Nothing happens.”
JON STEWART: “THE DAILY SHOW”: