What is a Sitcom?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2019
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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.


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Post 9

I'd say some sitcoms morphed into dramedies over time, but I cannot think of any dramedies that turned into sitcoms. "M*A*S*H" started out as a straight sitcom, with cartoonish characters, lighthearted plots and a laugh track. The fact that it was set during the Korean War almost forced it into become something heavier. "All In The Family" was the same way. At first, it was just the stereotypically bigoted Archie Bunker blathering his way through a typical day. But as the issues became more serious, so did the show.

I think a key difference between a sitcom and a dramedy is that most sitcoms try to keep the focus on humor, where dramedies focus more on the dramatic and allow for moments of humor along the way.

Post 6

Does a sitcom revolve around one issue or many?

Post 5

Thank you for sharing this. We recently published an interview with Peter Mehlman. He actually was a writer for Seinfeld and he has some interesting stories.

Post 4

What elements do dramedies share with sitcoms?

Post 3

Yes, the Simpsons would definitely be considered a sitcom, because it follows the exact same formula as live action sitcoms like "Everybody Loves Raymond" or "King of Queens." In fact, some of the best sitcoms on the air today are the animated ones, like "King of the Hill," "Family Guy" and "American Dad." They can usually get away with saying things that would be way too controversial for network sitcoms like "The Big Bang Theory."

Sitcoms like "Seinfeld" worked especially well because they often had more than one storyline in each episode. Trying to figure out how each character is going to dig himself or herself out of a sticky situation is half the fun of a sitcom. A good sitcom often has minor characters who break out with oft-repeated catchphrases, like Fonzie from "Happy Days" or Urkel from "Family Matters."

Post 1

wouldn't the simpsons be considered a sitcom?

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