Comedy-drama, occasionally known as dramedy (portmanteau of words drama and comedy), is a subgenre in contemporary forms of tragicomedy, especially in television, that combines elements of comedy and drama.
The advent of radio drama, cinema, and in particular television created greater pressure in marketing to clearly define a product as either comedy or drama. While in live theatre the difference became less and less significant, in mass media comedy and drama were clearly divided. Comedies were expected to keep a consistently light tone and not challenge the viewer by introducing more serious content.
By the early 1960s, television companies commonly presented half-hour-long "comedy" series or hour-long "dramas". Half-hour series were mostly restricted to situation comedy (sitcoms) or family comedy and were usually aired with either a live or overdubbed laugh track. One-hour dramas included such shows as police and detective series, westerns, science fiction, and serialized prime time soap operas.
Arguably, one of the first American television shows to successfully blend elements of comedy and drama together was Jackie Cooper's military themed series Hennesey. Although the show featured a laugh track, it also contains many elements of character drama that occurred amongst the re-occurring characters and the guest stars. The laugh track wasn't excessively used in each episode; by the third season, it was eliminated completely from the series.
While sitcoms would occasionally balance their humor with more dramatic and humanistic moments, these remained the exception to the rule as the 1960s progressed. Beginning around 1969 in the US, there was a brief spate of half-hour shows that purposely alternated between comedy and drama and aired without a laugh track, as well as some hour-long shows such as CHiPs in the late 1970s to early 1980s. These were known as "comedy-dramas".
A notable early (1969-1974) example of this genre was the award-winning Room 222, one of the first fully racially integrated television series. The episodes blended comedy with weighty subjects such as race relations, integrity, student smoking and mortality as well as topical issues such as the Vietnam War and the plight of returning war veterans.
The sitcom formula pioneered by Norman Lear in the 1970s in which a half-hour multi-camera situation comedy addressed serious issues in a dramatic format on videotape before a live studio audience is considered another type of comedy-drama hybrid. Examples of this genre include All in the Family and One Day at a Time.
Another example was The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, which aired from 1987 to 1991. In fact, the term "dramedy" was coined to describe the late 1980s wave of shows, including Hooperman, Frank's Place, and Doogie Howser, M.D.
These early shows influenced how general TV comedies and series (especially family themed sitcoms) were developed. They often included brief dramatic interludes and more serious subject matter. An example of a successful comedy-drama series that distinguished this genre in television was the series Moonlighting. It generated critical acclaim and was a highly rated series worldwide. Another example of a successful comedy-drama was the television series Eight Is Enough. The show was distinct, because it was not a comedy-drama in the traditional sense. It was an hour-long series that used a laugh track, which was very unusual, but is considered a comedy-drama for the fact that it alternated between drama and comedy.
In the United Kingdom, the format first appeared successfully in 1979 with the long-running series Minder, along with other notable comedy-dramas such as Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and Big Deal.
In addition, comedy-drama series have been associated with the single-camera production format.
Attributes of comedy-dramas on TV sitcoms
In a comedy-drama, there is often an absence of a pre-recorded laughing track. Episodes can be either half an hour or an hour long. However, shows that use a 30-minute format tend to be more comedic with dramatic elements that keep storylines going forward, while shows that use a 60-minute format tend to be more dramatically based with humour used throughout the show either as comic relief or to punctuate certain scenes.
Storylines tend to be more serialized in comedy-dramas, with events taking place in earlier episodes being referred to or having an effect in later episodes. This can be compared to more traditional sitcoms, which focus on telling one standalone story every week. The continuity of character development and storyline are more relevant in comedy-dramas than in traditional sitcoms. Characters' backstories tend to have a greater overall effect on storyline. Something a character has done in the past will often catch up with him or her, as opposed to more traditional sitcoms, where a character's backstory is unlikely to be referenced by the story of the week.