The Sitcom

The Sitcom

The Sitcom

The Sitcom

Synopsis

The Sitcom explores the production, viewership, and script of this popular genre, drawing on a range of examples and case studies in order to map its characteristics, social significance, and guilty pleasures. Brett Mills takes a global approach, examining international examples as well as British and American broadcasts, isolating the relationships between sitcom, nation, and identity.

Excerpt

There’s something inherently small-time about sitcoms.
(Simon Nye 2005)

The quote above comes from Simon Nye, the writer of the sitcoms Men Behaving Badly (ITV/BBC1, 1992–9), Is It Legal? (ITV/C4, 1995–8), How Do You Want Me? (BBC2, 1998–9), The Savages (BBC1, 2001), Wild West (BBC1, 2002–4), Hardware (ITV, 2003) and Carrie and Barry (BBC1, 2004–5), among others. Indeed, with Men Behaving Badly, Nye created and wrote perhaps the defining British sitcom of the 1990s, which fed into debates about social changes as it was seen to promote the lewd and childish antics of the ‘new lad’ (McEachern 1999). Many of his series have been broadcast all over the world, and the scripts and formats have been bought by other countries so their own versions could be made; the American version of Men Behaving Badly (NBC, 1996–7) ran for two years. All in all, Nye is someone who has been highly successful in the sitcom industry and who might, therefore, be expected to sing the genre’s praises from the skies, arguing for its cultural worth and insisting that it is taken seriously. So why does he refer to it as ‘small-time’?

The term ‘small-time’ can be understood in a number of ways. Firstly, it could refer to the nature of the industry which produces it. Perhaps Nye is arguing that it’s a cottage industry, made by small groups of people and without the investment and returns seen in other areas of television, such as drama. Secondly, this phrase could imply the kinds of events and stories that sitcom deals with, whose ‘small’ness might be something to with its domestic and ‘recognisable, stock social situations’ (Lovell 1982: 22), meaning it rarely covers ‘big’ issues that are the staple diet of high-budget drama, documentaries and news. Thirdly, sitcom’s social value might be seen as ‘small-time’; as entertainment intended as ‘an alternative to work, education, seriousness’ (Curtis 1982: 11), its social role is more difficult to delineate . . .

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