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June 19th, 2011

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09:52 am - Theatricality and comedy
I was thinking about theatricality in television, and of course the area where theatrical style has survived on British telly is the sitcom. This is true in America as well ('filmed in front of a live studio audience'). The presentation is attempting to make you feel as if you are at a live staging. I don't know if it's the case in other countries, but in Britain stand-up and comedy quiz shows are also presented in this way, and you can apply to be in the audience. Perhaps the smaller population is an asset, making it relatively easy to get a free ticket.

Some of the finest comedies on British television were very stagey - Dad's Army, Fawlty Towers, Porridge, early Red Dwarf, Father Ted, Blackadder. I think it's still a functioning model. There are other comedy models of course - pseudo-realist (like The Office) and horror-drama (like Psychoville or Misfits).

Successful comic film works very differently from successful TV sitcom: in the funniest films (of the TV era) everything falls completely apart, and the world of the film is exploded. I'm thinking Blazing Saddles, The Holy Grail, Airplane, Galaxy Quest, even (more gently) Spinal Tap. Perhaps TV sitcoms don't transfer well to film, and on telly have not become film-like, because the film model is about destruction, while the sitcom is about continuation. It's interesting that only Monty Python has transferred successfully from BBC to film, because it was one of the few TV shows that destroyed itself every week, usually several times in each episode.

(6 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:June 19th, 2011 09:32 am (UTC)
The theatrical format in TV sitcoms is so you get a genuine laugh track. (as opposed to canned laughter)

You don't need that with cinema as the cinema audience provide the same effect live.

I wonder if the increase in DVD over cinema will affect this in any way?
[User Picture]
Date:June 19th, 2011 09:43 am (UTC)
Yes, that's right, I think that it's interesting that comedy almost requires this feeling of participation in performance, while drama does not.
[User Picture]
Date:June 19th, 2011 02:24 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure I agree about comedy and not drama requiring participation. I've never forgotten seeing "Rear Window" in a movie theater when the film had been out of circulation for many years, so most of the audience had never seen it. And when Raymond Burr started going into his apartment when Grace Kelly was there gumshoeing and James Stewart could only watch from across the way, the audience gave an immense collective GASP that proved to me that Collective Scariness is Scarier just as Collective Funniness is Funnier.
[User Picture]
Date:June 19th, 2011 07:49 pm (UTC)
I don't think drama requires participation because telly doesn't go out of the way to simulate it. It's the biggest loss to television in the past 15 years or so.

But I agree it's great when it happens. My two best experiences of cinema group participation were Some Like It Hot in Toronto, and The Full Monty. But yes, horror films can be great too.
[User Picture]
Date:June 19th, 2011 09:11 pm (UTC)
> The presentation is attempting to make you feel as if you are at a live staging.

There's also the budget aspect: single camera (or two), and a single primary set (hence the name), so they're trying to make a virtue of a constraint.

It's definitely still a functioning model. In the US, I'd cite How I Met Your Mother. For UK sitcoms, I'm less up to date. Black Books definitely falls into that category, but I forget what I've seen that's more recent.
[User Picture]
Date:June 20th, 2011 07:30 am (UTC)
The post here is a follow-on from a previous post where I was saying that we ought to make space for a lower budget form of telly, which is intellectually respectable, because that would free up TV studios to be more imaginative and take more risks. At the moment it seems that only American telly can afford to produce serious drama because it requires a big budget.

There was some discussion about whether modern audiences would stand a theatre-like telly experience, ao my argument here is 'sure they will, because sitcoms already use that model'.

So, long story short, I agree, it will enable low budget production, and that (could be) a feature not a bug.

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