The sitcom ( suitcase word for sit uation com edy "situation comedy", see also: Comedy ) is an entertainment program that goes back to the US radio comedy shows of the 1930s and 1940s ( Amos 'n' Andy , The Goldbergs ). Television adapted the genre , whereby - as in the past on radio - it is mostly broadcast as a series .
Features and characteristics
Situation comedy describes the humorous examination of a current situation by a participant. A characteristic of the sitcom is therefore the constant, rapid sequence of gags, punch lines and comical moments, but in the context of a dramatic plot, which distinguishes the sitcom from comedy shows in which skits are only strung together. Rarely does the series get a consciously dramatic element like in Roseanne .
A typical external characteristic of the classic sitcom is the recording in the studio: the actors act on a peep-show stage , for the plot the result is a restriction of the scenes to a few, constantly recurring locations. Often, outdoor scenes such as street corners or gardens are recreated as backdrops in the studio - aesthetically similar to the soap opera . The stage effect can be enhanced by the actors playing on the stage ramp and the laughter of the studio audience audible to the television audience, the so-called " laugh track ".
In the German broadcasting American series are accompanied by mostly rehearsed laugh (so-called " laugh track " or in English " canned laughter "), because the sequences are recorded before an audience, and whose laughter can no longer be used for synchronization.
Since the audience should immediately find their way around each episode, the basic principle of the series must never change unless actors (and thus their roles) drop out or join them. In general, the events follow a "circular dramaturgy" - the characters are as smart as before at the end of the episode. As a result, sitcoms generally tend to be conservative. Series characters are therefore not allowed to die or experience serious or tragic events (rape, "dirty divorce", murder, suicide, abortion). Since the early 2000s, series have increasingly deviated from this principle. In the sitcom King of Queens the pregnant main character Carrie loses her child, in How I Met Your Mother the father of the main character Marshall dies, in Mom the two main characters fight against their former addiction problems. The role of Charlie Harper dies in the sitcom Two and a Half Men after its actor Charlie Sheen left the series due to a dispute with his producer Chuck Lorre . After actor John Ritter died unexpectedly, his role as family man Paul Hennessy in My Wild Daughters and as father of the main character JD in Scrubs also died , so that the processing of sudden death by the family was discussed in each case.
Sitcoms are usually set up as a half-hour television format ; the net running time of an episode (i.e. the running time without commercial breaks ) is between 20 and 24 minutes. The typical structure of a sitcom episode is as follows:
- Prologue ( teaser ): A relatively short scene that ends with a gag. Here the topic of the respective episode is usually already touched upon, but sometimes only a small independent story is shown.
- Opening credits : The main characters of the series are introduced, accompanied by the signature music of the respective sitcom, with the names of the respective actors being faded in. Especially with family sitcoms , the appearance of the opening credits is regularly revised in order to present the grown child actors with a current appearance; however, the music remains mostly the same as it used to be, as it is highly recognizable.
- Action: The problem of the week is presented as described above.
- End credits : In the end credits, the music from the opening credits is often played again and in addition to the credits , outtakes or a still image from the episode are occasionally shown in the background. TV channels financed by advertising usually do not show the credits, but replace them with a first advertising block.
- Nachklapp ( Tag ): In some sitcoms a Nachklapp is used, that is a short scene that runs during the credits and which takes up a situation or just a hint of the follow-up action and sets a final gag. This fold-up has nothing to do with the end of the storyline.
Sitcoms reached their peak in the mid to late 1990s with series such as Hör mal, who hammers there , Friends or the very successful Seinfeld and Frasier in the USA . Most sitcoms are recorded in front of a live audience in the USA (rarely in Germany). This is usually done in the multi-camera process with three to five cameras because it saves time. The cameras are mounted on so-called pump stands ("pumps") that are customary in studio operation . These tripods are equipped with rollers and allow a quick height adjustment of the cameras with the help of a built-in pump in the center column. This allows the cameras to be moved quickly and freely around the entire set, which is crucial for the production flow.
Origins in the USA
I Love Lucy by and with the American actress and comedian Lucille Ball is considered to be the first sitcom that shaped and virtually invented the genre . In 1948 she appeared on a radio show as a slightly crazy wife and was successful. CBS then asked her to develop a television show. Because Lucille Ball and her husband Desi Arnaz , a Cuban band leader, wanted to work together, they conceived a plot about a slightly crazy wife and her husband, a band leader. This encroachment of reality into television fiction became a typical feature of American sitcoms ( see also: Cybill Shepherd ).
In order to be able to broadcast the program in the different time zones of the USA at prime airtime, it was recorded on film (TV programs at that time were usually recorded using the kinescope method, i.e. filmed from a screen). With this qualitative improvement, I Love Lucy paved the way for content syndication , marketing through repetition on local television stations.
In order for Lucille Ball to show off her comic talent, the program was recorded in front of an audience so that Ball could react to the laughter and moods of the audience. The audience's laughter was audible to the television viewer; it gave the feeling of attending a live event. This setting - recording on film in front of a studio audience - was retained in particular by three-camera sitcom productions. Otherwise, since the late 1990s, the trend in the USA has also been towards single-camera sitcoms, which are shot like normal series and films, mostly without a live audience, as in 30 Rock or Malcolm in the middle . In rare cases, the sitcom is shot using a multicamera method, but without a live audience, and the finished episodes are then played to an audience whose laughs are recorded, as in How I Met Your Mother . These methods are mainly used when there are many flashbacks in the series and the many scenes make recording in front of an audience too time-consuming.
The third innovation attributed to Desi Arnaz was the three-camera setup: three cameras are simultaneously in a trench between the audience and the stage. One camera takes a long shot, the other two concentrate on the acting and reacting figures. The program will later be cut from the three film strips that recorded the same event from three different perspectives. This technology has also remained a standard to this day.
The trend of giving cinema actors the leading roles in series is also increasingly true for sitcoms. Examples are Geena Davis , James Belushi, and Charlie Sheen . Conversely, many well-known film actors made their breakthrough precisely because of the sitcom, for example Robin Williams ( Mork vom Ork ); Danny DeVito ( taxi ), Michael J. Fox ( family ties ) or Will Smith ( The Prince of Bel Air ).
The development in the German-speaking countries
Some American sitcoms (e.g .: Charming Jeannie , Mini Max , Gilligan's Island ) were shown in the early evening programs of ARD and ZDF . Since the German television landscape did not actually know the formatting of genres until the beginning of private television , one cannot say that there was a “German sitcom”. Nevertheless, there were programs that were made in the American production method. The best-known show is Ein Herz und eine Seele by Wolfgang Quantity , which, like its American version All in the Family (1971–1979), is an adaptation of the British BBC sitcom Till Death Us Do Part (1965–1975).
- The first tries
With the liberalization of the television market, the private commercial television stations in particular tried to produce American sitcoms in German. These attempts include, for example, A job for life and help, my family is crazy (both RTL, 1993) or The Viersteins from ProSieben (1995). However, these programs were not very successful with television audiences, which was probably also due to the fact that some of them were just simple adaptations of the original series, which in turn were often shown simultaneously in German dubbing.
With Salto Postale (with Wolfgang Stumph , 1993), its successor Salto Kommunale (1997) and Lukas (with Dirk Bach , 1996), ZDF produced classic sitcoms in front of an audience, which enjoyed great popularity until 2001.
- Comedian as the main character
RTL began producing half-hour fictional series with an emphasis on comedy and comic acts in the mid-1990s. These series were not necessarily shot in the studio or in front of an audience; usually also in the one-camera process. In contrast to the US sitcom, RTL calls these productions comedy series.
The main characters of these series were cast with well-known comedians whose show character or one of the typical roles was the basis for the series. One of the best-known examples is caretaker Krause - order must be (with Tom Gerhardt , 1999) from Sat.1 .
- More complex adaptations
With Stromberg (with Christoph Maria Herbst , 2004 ProSieben ) and Pastewka (with Bastian Pastewka, 2005 SAT.1 ) adaptations of the series The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm were made . Both series have in common that the basic character of the respective original series is taken over, but the German peculiarities blur the boundaries of the adaptation a little.
In 2013, ZDF broadcast a new sitcom with Lerchenberg (with Sascha Hehn ). This is considered an adaptation mix of 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm . Unlike the American originals, Sascha Hehn is not a typical comedy actor who plays the leading role.
Examples can be found in the list of sitcom series .
- David Grote: The End of Comedy. The Sit-com and the Comedic Tradition. Archon Books, Hamden CT 1983, ISBN 0-208-01991-X .
- Jürgen Wolff: SitCom. A handbook for authors. Tricks, tips and techniques in the comedy genre. Emons, Cologne 1997, ISBN 3-924491-98-4 .
- Daniela Holzer: The German sitcom. Format - conception - script - implementation (= Bastei-Lübbe-Taschenbuch 94001 book & media ). Bastei-Verlag Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach 1999, ISBN 3-404-94001-6 .
- Mary M. Dalton, Laura R. Linder (Eds.): The Sitcom Reader. America viewed and scewed. State University of New York Press, Albany NY 2005, ISBN 0-7914-6569-1 .
- Brett Mills: Television Sitcom. BFI, London 2005, ISBN 1-84457-087-8 .
- Brett Mills: The Sitcom. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh 2009, ISBN 978-0-7486-3752-2 .
- Daniela Holzer: The German sitcom. Bergisch Gladbach 1999, p. 66 f.