History and Evolution of TV Sitcoms

Just like everything else, TV sitcoms have come a long way and evolved significantly over the years. The initial sitcoms were based on comical programs. These programs are from earlier phases of radio commonly referred to as “the golden days of radio.” However, the transition from radio to television wasn’t as smooth as anticipated. Consequently, this led to the crafting of story rules which are still in use today.

Radio Comedy Programs
Unlike television, radio comedy sitcoms were limited to the listener’s imagination. In some cases, characters would change scenes in seconds. The starring character could be in the countryside one second and the city in the next. This is done with additional sound effects to set the tone. When these radio programs finally became sitcoms, the limitations pinned to the former medium prompted innovative and creative solutions.

To begin with, the cameras in use those days were quite bulky and heavy. Thus, they couldn’t be moved easily. This meant that scenes couldn’t be shot outdoors. It’s because equipment couldn’t be easily transported from location to location. The producers therefore decided to shoot the sitcoms on a single stage using three or more cameras to enable lens changes.

In essence, the Honeymooners sitcom and its writer Jackie Gleason almost single-handedly changed the rules of TV sitcoms. In the program, almost every episode was based at the Kramden’s residence kitchen. This basically meant that the kitchen table was the focus of the show. Following sitcoms such as Desi Arnaz or I Love Lucy opted to focus their story around the living room. Hence, the sofa tradition of TV sitcoms was born.

Elements of TV sitcoms
Television sitcoms have always been comical, even though some storylines might be moral or maybe projecting some heavy message. The fact is that the laughter is always there usually coming from a charismatic character undergoing personality changes. The main idea behind sitcoms is to have the viewer form a special rapport with the characters and return to watch them repeatedly.

Sitcoms however change scenes, characters and events every now and then. This is to prevent the show from becoming too monotonous. Also, the familiar situations and gags used by the producers offer the viewers a sense of familiarity. This is usually enough reason for them to come back and tune in. During their inception, sitcoms would come once every week where they were performed live. This was a great challenge. The technicalities involved needed a week to perfect. The characters had to ensure that they memorise their scripts as well.

With technological advancements such as the film editing and use of special effects, sitcoms in the 60’s were becoming phenomenal. The transition from live recording allowed the producers and characters to perfect their finish. To highlight the jokes, the producers got innovative and entailed laugh tracks to mimic that of a live audience.

The 70’s era was quite revolutionary and great for sitcoms. This era of sitcom saw the change from white suburb dwellers, to racially mixed characters. Examples of these sitcoms are:

• The Jeffersons
• Good Times
• Sanford and Son

The extremely comical characters and themes generally not only provided for good laughs. They also went a long way in tackling the racism issue. The 80’s proved to be legendary in regards to sitcoms. This was when stand-up comedians such as Garry Shandling and Bill Cosby rose to the occasion. They used their unique personas to captivate the audience for half an hour. The 90’s gave birth to cartoon sitcoms such as The Simpsons and Family Guy among others. Lately, sitcoms greatly rely on camera work and editing to enhance the script rather than laugh effects as before.

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