The sitcom has been in some kind of creative abyss for some time now, even though we still feel pangs of excitement of it being revived every TV season. When “The Michael J. Fox Show” debuted last year on NBC, everyone thought it was going to be a winning formula that would revive the Thursday night lineup NBC has tried hard to bring back to prominence. Instead, the writing faltered, and so did the audience. Perhaps it’s because the concept just wasn’t substantial enough to be developed into a long-running form.
Now the idea of a sitcom more or less straddles the line of comedy and drama. Shows like “Modern Family” fit the new bill as sitcoms, plus ones that are filmed without studio audiences letting out forced guffaws. And a studio laugh track isn’t going to help today as it did back in an earlier era.
Apparently NBC felt that their creative backs are up against the wall with constant sitcom ideas falling by the wayside. With their new experiment of finding new sitcom talent from talented people on the Internet, will it bring a renaissance back to the sitcom, or will it bring more problems in sustaining concepts that only work in limited form?
Where NBC Will Find Their Talent
Based on reports on where NBC wants to find their prospective talent, they say they want to find all those ubiquitous funny people posting comedy around the Internet. If you look at that within a broad spectrum, it means all those YouTube videos where someone gives a snapshot look at life’s absurdities. Funny or Die is usually the top-notch place, even if the videos there are by professionals and not usually by unknowns.
One thing about comedy being done on the Internet is that it’s done with brevity in mind. We’re truly living in an age where Vine and Instagram videos are making our minds think creatively in shorter terms where we make the greatest statements in half the time. And that could be a detriment to the NBC search considering there’s so much of a snapshot mentality.
In that regard, the snapshot mentality is equivalent to a comedy sketch on “Saturday Night Live.” We all know the disastrous results when sketches are turned into movies. What happens when they’re turned into a series?
That’s one reason why NBC is at least emphasizing each comedy concept be broad enough where it can sustain. Or will NBC have to start thinking about bringing the snapshot mentality to network TV?
Will the Limited Series Become a Standard?
If you’ve been watching regular TV in the last couple of years, you may be noticing that the network and cable miniseries is starting to make a comeback. The reason is because people prefer being entertained or given a jolt in limited formats rather than return to a series week after week. TV audiences have a different frame of mind now in devoting time to a show, especially when it’s clear the format doesn’t demand a 10-year run. Most sitcom ideas today simply don’t have enough details to warrant going on for years.
Perhaps NBC and other networks already understand this and will be looking at more limited run shows not unlike what AMC does. AMC (and HBO) have the true secret formula to creating the best shows on TV. They’ve created the template for making the writing compelling, yet leaving audiences wanting more with shortened seasons or even a limited-time series run.
While this works with drama, sitcoms may also need similar treatment. The generation that labors over making the best comedy on the Internet is perfectly made for this type of format and may help reinvent the sitcom in the process. Rather than complete September to May seasons, why not do three-month series runs not unlike midseason replacements or summer season shows? We already know that midseason replacements are usually hits anyway, despite sometimes sputtering out once they end up doing a full season the following fall.
Will NBC ultimately end up saving the sitcom, or will they find a concept that can stretch out over a long run? When you consider “How I Met Your Mother” was a premise that could have been done in one, five-minute comedy video, perhaps some limited concepts can still survive for years when a talented cast disguises writing limitations.