A TV Sitcom can be defined as GUM: Great writers, Unforgettable performances and Memorable characters. The target audience tends to be 18-35 year olds but they can appeal to almost any age group. There are a number of defining conventions:
- Theme tunes: often sung and invariably catchy and hummable.
- Locations: identifiable simple locations: a pub lounge; a living room; a kitchen etc. The location often sets the tone of the TV Sitcom. The choice of location rarely changes for the series, although extra sets may be added.
- Situation: not always the location but there is often a sense of being trapped, especially in British TV Sitcoms: Porridge trapped in prison; My Family trapped by the family; Red Dwarf trapped in space, Only Fools and Horses trapped by life in Peckham.
- Characters: there are three main types of character in a TV Sitcom – the main characters, the supporting characters and the transients who appear for perhaps one or maybe two episodes. If there are too many characters the audience may lose the closeness and rapport that develops. The relationships between the characters within a TV Sitcom create the ideal narrative strands eg father/son/daughter, husband/wife, boyfriend/girlfriend, two lads together,
mother/son, old couple, neighbours, boss/secretary etc. The characters can be twodimensional
stereotypes or more complex and complicated but they do not
change. The audience can easily identify the characters even if they do not like
- Dialogue: this is designed to be witty with impeccable timing to get the most laughs, with pauses in the right places. There needs to be a totally symbiotic relationship between the actors and the writers. The essence of good, successful comedy is timing.
- Opening credits: These often give the audience a flavour of the show to come by showing the characters and/or the locations.
- Humour: British humour is unique. Shows that have been tremendously successful in Britain rarely travel to America without a total make-over in all but name. Todays audiences are less inclined to find the slapstick humour of the past as funny especially as they have been brought up on a diet of more obvious.
- American humour: There needs to be a steady flow of humour in action, situation and character. Pathos is used to create bitter-sweet humour in TV Sitcoms like Butterflies and Ever Decreasing Circles. Slapstick humour carries Dads Army and Some Mothers Do Ave Em and farce plays a part in Fawlty Towers. British satirical humour is demonstrated in the double entendres evident in Are You Being
- Actors: There do not need to be established stars in the lead roles but the actors must have a sense of comic timing that marks them as successful TV Sitcom stars. Established TV Sitcom stars include: Richard Briers, Prunella Scales, Robert Lindsay, Ronnie Barker, David Jason etc. Modern TV Sitcoms have made the careers of Caroline Aherne and Ricky Gervais.
- The storylines in TV Sitcoms are rarely on-going and most come to a resolution at the end of the programme. There is usually closure at the end of a series although some successful American TV Sitcoms like Friends do end sometimes on a cliffhanger.
- Class Values: Although many TV Sitcoms appear to be based on very middle class values, there have been just as many successful working class based TV Sitcoms, some of course where the working class hero is trying to better themselves eg Steptoe and Son and Only Fools and Horses.