Commentary

One-Camera Set-Up Becoming New Sitcom Standard

TV viewers may just want to look at comedies through one camera at a time.

Increasingly, the format of shows like NBC's "My Name is Earl," "Scrubs" and "The Office," or HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," is becoming the new way to shoot comedies. That is, through a single camera, typically on a location or in a studio, rather than the traditional three-camera set-up in a studio.

The Hollywood Reporter says 25 of the 54 comedy pilots ready to go are in this format, and the reason is viewers have tired of the same sitcom production format, which has been a staple of broadcast TV since the 1950s.

These new laughs--from single-camera shows--also don't come with yuks from a studio audience or from mechanical means, meaning canned laughter. All this is good news. TV writers have to work harder to find real humor and staying power in shows that tend to be more character-driven affairs, such as with "Earl." Some of these comedies offer up more serious elements--similar to one-hour network drama.

Network executives and critics have long complained that TV hasn't come up with the next big sitcom to take the mantle from "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Friends," and "Seinfeld." Now we find out they really haven't been focused on the word "comedy" in situation comedy.

The main intention still remains the same: Getting viewers to laugh out loud.

Still, it's hard to get away from what works. While single-camera comedies are fast becoming the new wave, the networks can't let go of the old format, as 29 comedies will be shot in the familiar three-camera production scheme.

So don't go thinking broadcast TV has become a truly revolutionary medium overnight. It's still driven by the same creative--and financial--forces that have run its genetics for decades.

And then set your limbo bars lower.

When the next big three-camera sitcom does hit, we'll all revere broadcast TV for sticking to what it does best. But that's okay. This isn't a serious documentary, theatrical feature, nor afternoon game show.

It's only your fluffy neighborhood sitcom.

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