Half Hour Sitcom vs. Hour Long Drama

Originally posted: May 22, 2012

Earlier this semester my roommate pointed out to me that my favorite shows are half-hour comedies and that I haven’t spent nearly as much time with dramas. Which is interesting because we both agree that my pilot script is much more dramatic than it is comedic. However, he is right; other than (The first 4 seasons of) The West Wing, which I love, I haven’t spent much time with hour-long dramas. So I’m trying to! 

Before I continue, let me clear something up. There is a difference between ‘Preference’ and ‘Quality.’ I should know; I gave a 5-minute speech on it a few semesters back and got an A. So I’m probably an expert on the topic. Anyways, there’s a difference. For example, District 9 is a well-made piece of film but I didn’t enjoy it. It’s not “My kind” of movie but I can still appreciate the quality of its storytelling.

Mad Men and Firefly are good shows with wit, humor and compelling drama, however it’s always been significantly harder for me to get into these shows. I think its because I believe its harder and more impressive to pull off a great half-hour comedy. Now I’m talking about great television, not most of the junk we have currently. I’m talking The Office (US) Season 2, 30 Rock Season 1, Parks and Recreation Season 2, Friends Season 2, Scrubs Season 1-2 & 8, Community Seasons 1-3 and classics like Seinfeld, Cheers, MASH, Family Ties, and I Love Lucy.

Half-hour comedy means you have less of a runtime. You have to be lean. There’s no room for excess story, plot and drama just for the sake of drama. Good sitcoms are daring and ambitious because the format itself should be daring and ambitious. It’s the oldest format of the medium. Therefore, the challenge becomes, "How do I make this new and fresh, while still respecting this classic format?" It’s hard! Not many shows really pull it off. It’s a balancing act. Every laugh needs a tear, something to please you now and something to keep you caring and watching. Its tough and that’s why I love it when it gets pulled off. 

The easiest way to tell a serial show is to take your time and be dramatic (i.e., The Hour-Long Drama) the hardest way to tell a serial show is through the half-hour comedy, which by definition is episodic and comedic. I guess that’s why I’ve always been more drawn to them; it’s harder to tell great stories. 

I can’t wait to tackle that challenge someday. 

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