A situation comedy or sitcom is a comedic performance which focuses on creating humorous situations which the characters must resolve. This format started out on the radio, and made its jump to the television in the late 1940s, making it one of the first modes of entertainment to move to the television screen. The switch to TV turned out to be a good move for sitcoms, with most networks airing several popular sitcoms at any given time.
Several features distinguish a sitcom. The first is the use of a recurring cast of characters which tends to remain static, so that people can tune it at any point and still follow the action. Many sitcoms also feature a limited number of sets, sometimes having only one set where all of the on-screen action takes place. The comedy focuses heavily on physical pratfalls and misunderstandings, and it often draws on real-life experiences so that the audience can connect with the action. Classically, a sitcom also airs with a laugh track, or it is filmed in front of a live studio audience which provides the laughs.
Any given sitcom has at least four primary characters. The hero is the character around whom the show revolves, such as the head of a family, or the bartender at the corner bar. The love interest serves as a foil for the hero, with the two falling in and out of love over the course of the series, while the buddy provides advice and support to the hero without taking over the show. The anti-hero provides a note of villainy.
The characters in early sitcoms were usually members of a family or a pair of families. Over time, networks began including sitcoms about groups of friends, coworkers, or other people thrown together in a situation, like medical interns. Often, the characters seem oddly mismatched, creating a note of conflict which keeps the show dynamic and interesting. Some shows have long story arcs which unfold over the course of seasons, allowing characters to evolve and change, while others keep the characters static, which can get dull for viewers.
Classically, sitcoms last for 30 minutes, and they include a major or “A” plot and a minor or “B” plot. The A plot requires an entire episode to resolve, while the B plot provides some variation and dramatic tension. Other subplots may be added as well, along with dramatic hooks and twists to keep viewers riveted to the screen. Some well-known examples of sitcoms include: Seinfeld, Frasier, The Office, Fawlty Towers, The Honeymooners, Cheers, Gilligan's Island, Arrested Development, and, of course, I Love Lucy.