Sunday, December 02, 2012

How to recognize a bad sitcom

Charlie Hauck is a terrific comedy writer (FRASIER, MAUDE, etc.) and a hilarious author. His comic novel about a writing team launching a sitcom starring the diva from hell is both hilarious and all-too-real. The book is called ARTISTIC DIFFERENCES and well worth reading.

On one page he explains how you can tell a bad sitcom. Simple rules, worth repeating here.

1. Any show in which any character at any time during the life of the series says the words “Ta da!” is a bad sitcom.

2. Any show in which one character says to another, “What are friends for?” is a bad sitcom.

3. Any show in which a character says “Bingo!” in the sense of “Eureka!” is a bad sitcom.

4. Any show in which an actor or actress under the age of seven says cute things in close-up is a bad sitcom.

5. Any show in which an actor or actress over the age of seventy-five says vulgar things in close-up is a bad sitcom.

6. Any show that resorts to the use of Dr. Zarkov dialogue (named for the villain in the FLASH GORGON series, where one character tells another character something they both already know, for the benefit of the audience) is a bad sitcom.

7. Any show in which a character, in the closing minutes, says, “I guess we’ve all learned a lesson,” and then goes on to explain what that lesson is, is a bad sitcom.

And if I may add a few of my own:

8. Any show where the studio audience says “Awwwwww” and the producers leave it in is a bad sitcom.

9. Any show that makes a Kim Kardashian joke is a bad sitcom.

10. Any show with Fran Drescher is a bad sitcom.

60 comments:

Rinaldo said...

Any show in which a failed resolution (someone stomped off in anger or tears) is followed by one of the remaining characters remarking brightly, "Well, that went well!" is a bad sitcom.

Ray Barrington said...

7. Any show in which a character, in the closing minutes, says, “I guess we’ve all learned a lesson,” and then goes on to explain what that lesson is, is a bad sitcom.

The exception that proves the rule: South Park.

Oh, and any show where the character names have a theme - say, pitchers on the 1969 Mets - is a bad sitcom.

unkystan said...

Any show that constantly uses vulgar body parts ('vagina') for shock value as a punchline and the lead characters own a ridiculous pet (a horse in a Brooklyn apartment?) is a bad sit-com. Sound familiar?

Robin Raven said...

As someone who grew up adoring "Full House" before I discovered "Cheers," I recognize a lot of episodes of "Full House" in those rules. I still love both shows, though. :)

briank said...

Dr. Zarkov was one of the good guys in "Flash Gordon"; Ming The Merciless was the bad guy. But Zarkov was definitely "Dr. Expository Dialogue"

Andy Ihnatko said...

If a sitcom features an elderly character with a vocal and active sex life, it's a bad sitcom.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Andy Ihnatko: You say bad sitcom, some of us say role model...

wg

Adam said...

Hi Ken,

I think something's happened to the blog that messed with the RSS feed. It's only posting the first part and hiding the bulk of it all.

DarthDevious said...

Any sitcom where the speech is paced like a knock knock joke and you KNOW the big laugh is supposed to come... HERE. Is a bad sitcom. And all of them these days are like that. Nothing looks, sounds, or feels natural anymore.

basura said...

I remember Kelly, in a Married With Children episode, used "urethra!" rather than Eureka. I still chuckle at the memory

Anonymous said...

I think Full House covers every single one of these rules.

cdonald said...

Hey, I liked "The Nanny". Daniel Davis alone made it worth watching.

Anonymous said...

I think The Golden Girls deserves a pass from the naughty talk from a character over seventy five rule.

PhilAbrams said...

Now I want to write a sitcom that uses all these phrases and ideas.

Jim S said...

I guess that makes my life a bad sitcom, because I say bingo when finding something that I was looking for.

Anonymous said...

Arrested Development would violate #7 on nearly every episode, but I thought it worked.

Anonymous said...

GOB on Arrested Development also said "Ta Da" after his "escape" from prison and it's one of the funniest moments.

Elf said...

There is nothing wrong with any Fran Drescher sitcom, as long as your mute button works. If only she'd used her mouth for other professional uses instead of talking...

Anonymous said...

Elf: Don't be misogynist. It's disrespectful and you make life more difficult for the rest of us. Ken, don't you moderate comments?

bill said...

Any show where the main characters are young, broke, and yet live in luxury New York apartments that only the 1% could afford, is a bad sitcom

Cap'n Bob said...

Any sitcom where a character makes a big, toothy smile after an allegedly funny remark, thereby cueing the audience to laugh, is a bad sitcom.

Jim said...

So my loathing for Little Miss Sunshine had a perfectly logical foundation? I'm glad that it wasn't just because I'm a grumpy bastard.

D. McEwan said...

A Mute Button only makes a Fran Drescher show boring instead of a violation of the Geneva Conventions; it doesn't make the crap she turns out good. Think how much better Daniel Davis could have been had he spent those years on a GOOD sit-com.

Craig L. said...

Any sitcom that has a character saying the "I'd never be caught dead doing that" line, followed by a quick cutaway to the character doing it, is in danger of being a bad sitcom... doing it in every episode or TWICE in a single episode makes it one of the worst.

Any sitcom that ends with the assembled cast laughing at the last line being said (maybe once is passable, but please don't make it a habit).

I was going to say something about having a character who always gets applause when making an entrance (think Urkel, or the Fonz), but then I realized that Norm on Cheers also did that, so nevermind. I guess there are exceptions to almost every rule.

RCP said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
RCP said...

RCP said...
Wendy M. Grossman said...

"Andy Ihnatko: You say bad sitcom, some of us say role model..."

Hear, hear.

In reality, "elderly" people continue to have active sex lives - they're just not accompanied by a condescending "Awwwwwww" by a studio audience.

Any sitcom that brings in a cute kid or "colorful" relative to spice things up once the show has run too long.

Mac said...

Any show that relies on awkward pauses instead of jokes (see "Life's Too Short" for details), is a bad sitcom.

brian t said...

I'd also stand up for The Nanny. It knew what it was - thin on the "sit", thick on the "com".

The Big Bang Theory breaks at least five of those "rules". Not only did Sheldon say "ta-da!" in one episode, he then goes on to tell us what it's short for ... and then there's the repeated use of "Bazinga!" Is TBBT a bad sitcom?

Wayne said...

Any show with Chevy Chase is a bad sitcom eventually.

Eureka Franklin said...

[i]Is TBBT a bad sitcom?[/i]

It ain't a good one. It's a great character surrounded by a formula.

Dave Bittner said...

The "Awwwwwww" from the studio audience/laugh track is my only real nitpick with The Big Bang Theory. Way overused on that show.

Birdie said...

Ouch at rule #10.

I agree The Golden Girls deserves a pass from the over 75 rule. Hot in Cleveland, however, does not.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

Pretty much every good sitcom will break some of those rules (and THE NANNY was a very good sitcom with funny characters and a fantastic theme song, so even the Fran Drescher rule is broken). It's a bit like George Orwell set down a bunch of rules for good writing, and then admitted that he's probably already broken some of those rules in the course of that very essay.

Jaime J. Weinman said...

I don't really have a problem with "awww," but characters getting applause for merely walking into the room is a terrible thing and often a sign of a sitcom that is either bad or on its way to badness. Fortunately that seems to have died out (Larry David put the nail in its coffin by banning the audience from applauding for Kramer).

Mathias DeRider said...

I liked "The Nanny". It wasn't a work of genius, but it was good or great work far, far more often than not.

Chris said...

Any show where a character uses the line: "Too little, too late" as a punchline is a horrible sitcom. (They somehow saved Two and a Half Men, but that whole joke in the pilot made me cringe).

Any show where someone says: "Really?" as a punchline is an even worse show.

Any show where they hijack the episode into a teary cryfest without even trying to save it with a joke just makes the world a worse place. You also wanted to write drama but Bochco and Milch didn't even read your specs. Don't take it out on me. (Like on Whitney, where it kinda sorta had a chance to be remotely average before they turned the end of the season into a soap opera/lifetime drama).

-bee said...

One of my big pet peeves is 'gay panic' jokes - y'know, two 'straight' people of the same sex in a room, one drops something and they both get into some sort of contortion to pick it up - a third person walks into the room and thinks they are engaging in sexual activity of some sort.

Reliance on these kind of gags first came to my attention with "Friends" but one sees it all the time now - and on many shows that get great ratings so dunno if most would take it as an indication of a 'bad' sitcom.

Chip Keyes said...

Uh... What if you broke a few of these rules but the sitcom was created by Charlie Hauck?

Powerhouse Salter said...

A show in which a cast member plays dual roles as a visiting relative is a bad sitcom.

luciuspaisley said...

A sitcom that makes fun of a bad sitcom is a great sitcom...

http://youtu.be/L_3UnARrfWU

luciuspaisley said...

Powerhouse Salter: Are you sure about that?

http://youtu.be/RAax9nJPEb8

Anonymous said...

I guess I just don't get humour like this...? Or maybe it's being presented far too seriously.

For example, Daphne says to Niles "What are friends for?" at the end of an emotional conversation in the episode "First Date". (Season 5, Episode 20)

In M*A*S*H, Hotlips says to Winchester "Well, Charles, what are friends for?" in "Friends and Enemies". (Season 11, Episode 13)

In the second episode of Coupling, Jane says, "Ta da! I'm bi-sexual!".

I bet there's a load more examples of great sitcoms breaking this rule. It just seems like a very random list.

Mike Barer said...

Word is the fact that as a second grader, my favorite show was "My Mother The Car" disqualifies me from picking a bad sitcom.

Chicoruiz said...

Any sitcom in which a newborn is found on a doorstep is a bad sitcom.

Any sitcom in which the jokes would be equally funny (or unfunny)no matter what cast member was delivering them is a bad sitcom.

Kirk said...

So if it comes from a studio audience, should the "awwwww" be edited out?

Beef Supreme said...

I could totally see Diane Chambers say "Ta-da!" in a situation without ruining the entire series.

David Nieporent said...

7. Any show in which a character, in the closing minutes, says, “I guess we’ve all learned a lesson,” and then goes on to explain what that lesson is, is a bad sitcom.

"Maybe there is no moral, mom; maybe it's just a bunch of stuff that happened."

Rebecca in Seattle said...

RSS Reader - I dont' get it Ken, you don't have ads on your site, why truncate the RSS feed?

Johnny Walker said...

*throws spec sitcom entitled "What Are Friends For?" about the unlikely pairing of a cute seven year old and her foul mouthed 75 year old guardian -- with their respective catchphrases "Ta da!" and "Bingo!", into the trash*

Thanks for nothing, Ken!

Parrish said...

Any blog post which tries to formulate nice, neat rules for what you should and shouldn't do on a sitcom is a bad blog post.

Seriously, there are no hard and fast rules, people. You can find every one of these "rules" broken by good sitcoms throughout television history.

Regarding Fran Drescher, if you ever had occasion to work for the Daughter of Satan...I mean, Ms. Drescher, or are friends with someone who did, it will forever color your opinion of the lady and her video output.

Chris said...

I will also defend The Nanny; it was a broad sitcom that produced some good laughs. Sure it was uneven, and it went on too long. And Fran's character would have worn better over the long haul if they had kept her as street-smart (as she was during season 1) rather than a ditz. But it produced some solid laughs over the years. Daniel Davis, Lauren Lane, and Renee Taylor were especially good.

Johnny Walker said...

Hmm. I can't help but feel that this is a humorous list that Ken has made sound like they're actual rules. I guess it's more what these rules imply: Over sentimentality, easy jokes, unrealistic dialogue, etc.

At least, I think that's what's going on here.

Werner von Wallenrod said...

Zarkov was no villain! He was Flash's scientist buddy.

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking Becker covers plenty of these.

Joseph Scarbrough said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph Scarbrough said...

Fran Drescher aside, what's the thinking behind all those other reasons being signs of a bad sitcom? To me, signs of a bad sitcom are:

1. Any time you happen to flip onto the show, see the characters in bed with each other, is a bad sitcom (The Big Bang Theory)
2. If the promos show nothing but the main character engaging in selfish and reckless sexual activities with random people, it's a bad sitcom (Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23)
3. If the series is basically trying to be the next Seinfeld, it's a bad sitcom (and HOW did Whitney get picked up for another season? I haven't heard a single positive review about that show).
4. If the show follows the unnecessarary mockumentary trend, it's a bad sitcom (The Office, Modern Family, The Middle, practically every current sitcom right now)
5. If the writers put more energy into going for cheap laughs with raunchy and vulgar humor, instead of the actual storyline, it's a bad sitcom (practically all sitcoms these days)
6. If there's no sounds of laughter, live or simulated, it's a bad sitcom (seriously, that's a handicap, just ask Si Rose)
7. If the cast is composed of big-named, attractive celebrities who really can't act, or a bunch of has-been comedy actors (ala all of TV Land's crapcoms), it's a bad sitcom.

Just my opinion.

cadavra said...

Joseph: I was going to post about the mockumentary format, but was afraid I'd get roasted alive. Thanks for having bigger balls than I do.

Kenneth Nielsen said...

"6. If there's no sounds of laughter, live or simulated, it's a bad sitcom (seriously, that's a handicap, just ask Si Rose"

Funny, I was about to post the opposite.

There are notable exceptions like Cheers or Seinfeld, but 80% of sitcoms with a laugh track or studio audience is a bad sitcom.

Diane L. said...

@ unkystan

FYI - My vagina is not vulgar.

Jill Pinnella Corso said...

Low blow on Miss Fein!