"The sitcom is dead."
I hear a good deal of this nowadays. Indeed, I must admit that when I flip through the sitcom-laden channels of an evening, hoping against hope for a laugh, I’m tempted to say, in the same blasé slacker cool that the fedora-wielding dude in Swingers dropped on his friends amidst a crowded hipster bar:
"This place is deaaaad anyway."
Which is an easy thing to say. Drop in on shows like Hope & Faith and My Wife and Kids and According to Jim (and we’re just talking ABC here), and you know exactly what you’re in for: there’s a family living room, a Dad, wacky kids with problems-of-the-week, or single women trying to Figure It Out, commiserating over lost loves, and learning the True Meaning of Friendship, all wrapped up in a tidy 23-minute package.
It’s safe, it's comfortable, it's easy. You can "zone out" to it. You’ll almost never laugh (except if you’re loopy from lack of sleep or have just come back from the pub). You may smile that tight smile of tired recognition every now and again, not because you really find anything funny, but because you’re so used to the rhythms and training of the sitcom that your brain is almost preprogrammed to catch the beats and synapses and syncopations of television comedy.
It’s dead anyway.
But if you look closer, there's a new breed of comedies out there making their mark. It’s difficult to think of them as “sitcoms” because they don’t have that safe (and dead) feel. They actually don’t even really look like traditional sitcoms, as many of this new breed eschews the old fashioned multi-camera show for the edgier, more cinematic flavor of the single-camera comedy.
I became attuned to the single- versus multi-camera aspect of television production while watching Situation: Comedy (Bravo), a reality show competition in the spirit of Project Greenlight that pits aspiring sitcom writers against one another in a bid to push a primetime show past the desks of NBC executives.
Two teams – two men on each as it turns out – are currently in the midst of developing a 15-minute pilot. The audience gets to vote for the one they like best, with the winners sharing a cash prize and a theoretical "shot" at getting their sitcom onto NBC's primetime schedule (fans of Dat Phan, winner of NBC's Last Comic Standing, need not hold their collective breaths).