A situation comedy, or sitcom, is a genre of comedy centered on a fixed set of characters who carry over from episode to episode. Sitcoms can be contrasted with sketch comedy, where a troupe may use new characters in each sketch, and stand-up comedy, where a comedian tells jokes and stories to an audience. Sitcoms originated in radio, but today are found mostly on television as one of its dominant narrative forms. This form can also include mockumentaries.
- New Zealand
- United States
- Sitcoms on US radio
- Sitcoms on US television
- Definition of Sitcom in the 21st century
A situation comedy television program may be recorded in front of a studio audience, depending on the program's production format. The effect of a live studio audience can be imitated or enhanced by the use of a laugh track.
The terms "situational comedy" or "sitcom" weren't commonly used until the 1950s. There were prior examples on radio, but the first television sitcom is said to be Pinwright's Progress, ten episodes being broadcast on the BBC in the United Kingdom between 1946 and 1947. In the United States, director and producer William Asher has been credited with being the "man who invented the sitcom", having directed over two dozen of the leading sitcoms, including I Love Lucy, from the 1950s through the 1970s.
There have been few long-running Australian-made sitcoms, but many U.S. and UK sitcoms have been successful there. UK sitcoms are a staple of government broadcaster Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC); in the 1970s and 1980s many UK sitcoms also screened on the Seven Network. By 1986, UK comedies Bless This House and Are You Being Served? had been repeated by ABC Television several times, and were then acquired and screened by the Seven Network, in prime time.
In 1981, Daily at Dawn was the first Australian comedy series to feature a regular gay character (Terry Bader as journalist Leslie).
In 1987, Mother and Son was winner of the Television Drama Award presented by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
In 2007, Kath & Kim The first episode of series four attracted an Australian audience of 2.521 million nationally, the highest rating ever for a first episode in the history of Australian television, until the series premiere of Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities in 2009 with 2.58m viewers.
In 2013, Please Like Me was praised by the critics, receiving an invitation to screen at the Series Mania Television Festival in Paris. and has garnered three awards and numerous nominations. Also in 2013, At Home With Julia was criticised by several social commentators as inappropriately disrespectful to the office of Prime Minister, the show nevertheless proved very popular both with television audiences — becoming the most watched Australian scripted comedy series of 2011 — and with television critics. Nominated to the 2012 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards for Best Television Comedy Series.
Although there have been a number of notable exceptions, Canadian television networks have generally fared poorly with their sitcom offerings, with relatively few Canadian sitcoms attaining notable success in Canada or internationally. According to television critic Bill Brioux, there are a number of structural reasons for this: the shorter seasons typical of Canadian television production make it harder for audiences to connect with a program before its season has concluded, and put even successful shows at risk of losing their audience between seasons because of the longer waiting time before a show returns with new episodes; the more limited marketing budgets available to Canadian television networks mean that audiences are less likely to be aware that the show exists in the first place; and the shows tend to resemble American sitcoms, in the hope of securing a lucrative sale to an American television network, even though by and large the Canadian sitcoms that have been successful have been ones, such as Corner Gas or King of Kensington, that had a more distinctively Canadian flavour. Conversely, however, Canadian television has had much greater success with sketch comedy and dramedy series.
The popular show King of Kensington, aired from 1975 to 1980, prior to the start of the fourth season drew 1.5 to 1.8 million viewers weekly.
Corner Gas, which ran for six seasons from 2004 to 2009, became an instant hit, averaging a million viewers per episode. It has been the recipient of six Gemini Awards, and has been nominated almost 70 times for various awards.
Between 2007 and 2012, the Little Mosque on the Prairie premiere drew an audience of 2.1 million, but declined in its fourth season drawing 420,000 viewers a week, or twenty percent of its original audience.
Other noteworthy recent sitcoms have included Call Me Fitz and Schitt's Creek (both recent winners of the Canadian Screen Award for Best Comedy Series), Letterkenny and Kim's Convenience.
Sitcoms started appearing on Indian television in the 1980s, with serials like Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi (1984) and Wagle Ki Duniya (1988) on the state-run Doordarshan channel. Gradually, as private channels were allowed, many more sitcoms followed in the 1990s, such as Zabaan Sambhalke (1993), Shrimaan Shrimati (1995), Office Office (2001), Khichdi (2002), Sarabhai vs Sarabhai (2005) to F.I.R. (2006- 2015) ,Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah, (2008–present) & "Uppum Mulakum" (2015–Present).
El Chavo del Ocho, which ran from 1971 to 1980, was the most watched show in the Mexican television and had a Latin American audience of 350 million viewers per episode at its peak of popularity during the mid-1970s. The show continues to be popular in Hispanic America as well as in Brazil, Spain, United States and other countries, with syndicated episodes averaging 91 million daily viewers in all of the markets where it is distributed in the Americas. Since it ceased production in 1992, the show has earned an estimated billion in syndication fees alone for Televisa.
Gliding On, a popular sit-com in New Zealand in the early 1980s, won multiple awards over the course of its run, including Best Comedy, Best Drama and Best Direction at the Feltex Awards.
The first Russian sitcom series was "Strawberry" (resembled "Duty Pharmacy" in Spanish format), which was aired in 1996-1997 on the RTR channel. However, the "boom" of Russian sitcoms began only in the 2000s - when in 2004 the STS started very successful sitcom "My Fair Nanny" (an adaptation of the American sitcom "The Nanny"). Since that time sitcoms in Russia were produced by the two largest entertainment channels of the country - STS and TNT. In 2007 the STS released the first original domestic sitcom - "Daddy's Daughters" (there were only adaptation before), and in 2010 TNT released "Interns (sitcom)" - the first sitcom, filmed as a comedy (unlike dominated "conveyor" sitcoms).
Most American sitcoms generally include episodes of 20 to 30 minutes in length, where the story is written to run a total of 22 minutes in length, leaving eight minutes for commercials.
Some popular British shows have been successfully adapted for the U.S.
Sitcoms on U.S. radio
The sitcom format was born in January 1926 with the initial broadcast of Sam 'n' Henry on WGN radio in Chicago, Illinois. The 15-minute daily program was revamped in 1928, moved to another station, renamed Amos 'n' Andy, and became one of the most successful sitcoms of the period. It was also one of the earliest examples of radio syndication. Like many radio programs of the time, the two programs continued the American entertainment traditions of vaudeville and the minstrel show.
The Jack Benny Program, a radio-TV comedy series that ran for more than three decades, is generally regarded as a high-water mark in 20th-century American comedy.
Sitcoms on U.S. television
Mary Kay and Johnny, aired from 1947 to 1950, was the first sitcom broadcast on a network television in the United States and was the first program to show a couple sharing a bed, and the first series to show a woman's pregnancy on television.
I Love Lucy, which originally ran from 1951 to 1957 on CBS, was the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons, and was the first to end its run at the top of the Nielsen ratings (an accomplishment later matched only by The Andy Griffith Show in 1968 and Seinfeld in 1998) . The show is still syndicated in dozens of languages across the world, and remains popular, with an American audience of 40 million each year. A colorized version of its Christmas episode attracted more than eight million viewers when CBS aired it in prime time in 2013 – 62 years after the show premiered. A second colorized special, featuring the "L.A. At Last!" and "Lucy and Superman" episodes, aired on May 17, 2015, attracting 6.4 million viewers. It is often regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms in history. In 2012, it was voted the 'Best TV Show of All Time' in a survey conducted by ABC News and People Magazine.
The Honeymooners debuted as a half-hour series on 1955 and was originally aired on the DuMont network's Cavalcade of Stars and subsequently on the CBS network's The Jackie Gleason Show, which was filmed in front of a live audience. Although initially a ratings success—becoming the #2 show in the United States during its first season—it faced stiff competition from The Perry Como Show, and eventually dropped to #19, ending its production after only 39 episodes (now referred to as the "Classic 39"). The final episode of The Honeymooners aired on September 22, 1956. Creator/producer Jackie Gleason revived The Honeymooners sporadically until 1978. The Honeymooners was one of the first U.S. television shows to portray working-class married couples in a gritty, non-idyllic manner (the show is set mostly in the Kramdens' kitchen, in a neglected Brooklyn apartment building). Steven Sheehan explains the popularity of The Honeymooners as the embodiment of working-class masculinity in the character of Ralph Kramden, and postwar ideals in American society regarding work, housing, consumerism, and consumer satisfaction. The series demonstrated visually the burdens of material obligations and participation in consumer culture, as well as the common use of threats of domestic violence in working class households. Art Carney won five Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Ed Norton — two for the original Jackie Gleason Show, one for The Honeymooners, and two for the final version of The Jackie Gleason Show. He was nominated for another two (1957, 1966) but lost. Gleason and Audrey Meadows were both nominated in 1956 for their work on The Honeymooners. Meadows was also nominated for Emmys for her portrayal of Alice Kramden in 1954 and 1957. In 1997, the episodes "The $99,000 Answer" and "TV or Not TV" were respectively ranked #6 and #26 on "TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time" and in 1999, TV Guide published a list titled "TV's 100 Greatest Characters Ever!" Ed Norton was #20, and Ralph Kramden was #2. In 2002, The Honeymooners was listed at #3 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time and #13 on their list of the "60 Greatest Shows of All Time" in 2013.
The Andy Griffith Show, first televised on CBS between 1960 and 1968, was consistently placed in the top ten during its run. The show is one of only three shows to have its final season be the number one ranked show on television, the other two being I Love Lucy and Seinfeld. In 1998, more than 5 million people a day watched the show's re-runs on 120 stations.
The Dick Van Dyke Show, initially aired on CBS from 1961 to 1966, won 15 Emmy Awards. In 1997, the episodes "Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth" and "It May Look Like a Walnut" were ranked at 8 and 15 respectively on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. In 2002, it was ranked at 13 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time and in 2013, it was ranked at 20 on their list of the 60 Best Series.
The series M*A*S*H, aired in the U.S. from 1972 to 1983, was honored with a Peabody Award in 1976 and was ranked number 25 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time in 2002. In 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked it as the fifth-best written TV series ever and TV Guide ranked it as the eighth-greatest show of all time. The episodes "Abyssinia, Henry" and "The Interview" were ranked number 20 and number 80, respectively, on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time in 1997. And the finale, "Goodbye, Farewell and Amen", became the most-watched and highest-rated single television episode in the U.S. television history at the time, with a record-breaking of 125 million viewers (60.2 rating and 77 share), according to The New York Times.
Sanford and Son, who ran from 1972 to 1977, was included on the Time magazine's list of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time" in 2007.
Seinfeld, which originally ran for nine seasons on NBC from 1989 to 1998, led the Nielsen ratings in seasons six and nine, and finished among the top two (with NBC's ER) every year from 1994 to 1998. A In 2002, TV Guide named Seinfeld the greatest television program of all time. In 1997, the episodes "The Boyfriend" and "The Parking Garage" were respectively ranked numbers 4 and 33 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time, and in 2009, "The Contest" was ranked #1 on the same magazine's list of TV's Top 100 Episodes of All Time. E! named it the "number 1 reason the '90s ruled." In 2013, the Writers Guild of America named Seinfeld the No. 2 Best Written TV Series of All Time (second to The Sopranos). That same year, Entertainment Weekly named it the No. 3 best TV series of all time and TV Guide ranked it at No. 2.
The Nanny, aired on CBS from 1993 to 1999, earned a Rose d'Or and one Emmy Award, out of a total of twelve nominations. The sitcom was the first new show delivered to CBS for the 1993 season and the highest-tested pilot at the network in years. The series was also hugely successful internationally, especially in Australia.
Friends, which originally aired on NBC from 1994 to 2004, received acclaim throughout its run, becoming one of the most popular television shows of all time. The series was nominated for 62 Primetime Emmy Awards, winning the Outstanding Comedy Series award in 2002 for its eighth season. The show ranked no. 21 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time and no. 7 on Empire magazine's The 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time. In 1997, the episode "The One with the Prom Video" was ranked no. 100 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All-Time. In 2013, Friends ranked no. 24 on the Writers Guild of America's 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time and no. 28 on TV Guide's 60 Best TV Series of All Time. In 2014, the series was ranked by Mundo Estranho the Best TV Series of All Time.
With five wins in its first five seasons, Frasier set the record for most consecutive Emmy awards for Outstanding Comedy Series, a record that has since been matched by Modern Family. The series holds the record for most total Emmy wins, 37, shattering the record of 29 which had been set by The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Frasier is considered the most successful spin-off series in television history, beginning its run one the season after Cheers went off the air, where the character of Frasier Crane had been appearing for nine years. Frasier ran from 1993-2004.
2000s and 2010s
How I Met Your Mother was a sitcom which aired from 2005 to 2014 on CBS, lasting 9 seasons. The show won 9 Emmy awards and 18 awards in general, while being nominated for 72 awards. It became successful in many places across the world. It focuses on Ted Mosby, a character who is struggling to find "the one" and his group of friends in Manhattan and him re-telling the story of how he met his children's mother in the year 2030.
The Big Bang Theory is a sitcom named after the scientific theory. It began airing in 2007 on CBS and is currently on season 10. The show is set in Pasadena, California and focuses on five main characters (later on others get promoted to starring roles), Leonard Hofstadter (experimental physicist) and Sheldon Cooper (theoretical physicist) who live across the hall from aspiring actress Penny. Leonard and Sheldon are friends with Howard Wolowitz (aerospace engineer) and Rajesh "Raj" Koothrappali (astrophysicist). Later additions include Bernadette Rostenkowski (microbiologist), Amy Farrah Fowler (neurobiologist), Stuart Bloom (comic-book store owner) and Emily Sweeney (dermatologist). Season 7 had 19.96 million viewers, the highest rated and watched season to date.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine is a police sitcom set in the fictional 99th precinct in Brooklyn which premiered in 2013 on Fox. It is on season 4 as of September 2016 and the show and its cast has altogether won 8 awards. The show follows Jake Peralta, a childish yet talented detective and his new strict captain, Captain Ray Holt. Others in the precinct include Amy Santiago, smart, by-the-book detective, Charles Boyle, Jake's quirky and hard-working best friend who is also a detective, Rosa Diaz, strong, mysterious and intimidating detective, Terry Jeffords, muscular family man who was originally scared of going back on the streets after a near-death experience who is a detective sergeant and Gina Linetti, sarcastic and narcissistic civilian administrator and dancer.
Definition of Sitcom in the 21st century
Modern critics have disagreed over the utility of the term "sitcom" in classifying shows that have come into existence since the turn of the century. Many contemporary American sitcoms use the single-camera setup and do not feature a laugh track, thus often resembling the dramedy shows of the 1980s and 1990s rather than the traditional sitcom. Other topics of debate have included whether or not cartoons, such as The Simpsons or Family Guy, can be classified as sitcoms.