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A Thing You Never Told When Watching A Sitcom – Op-Ed Piece


 

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Introduction

Hey readers,

Here is a piece about a part of a sitcom that you may not have noticed before. Also we are going to include small factoids at the end of each piece, that we think you may find interesting.

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Writing Prompt





Write about a lesson you learned the hard way.









 
 

Writing Tip

Withhold information from your readers.


When writing fiction, only give readers the information they need to know in the moment. Ernest Hemingway famously did this with many of his short stories. His iceberg theory in writing is to show your readers just the tip of the iceberg. This theory is one of the reasons Hemingway is held in such regard today. The supporting details—like backstory—should remain unseen, just like the mass of an iceberg under the water’s surface. Many times his short stories would be only dialogue, allowing the reader to understand the unspoken words on their own. This method of writing prevents readers from getting overwhelmed with information and lets them use their imagination to fill in the blanks. If you don't like this tip, then you can at least read a few stories by Hemingway, since this approach was perfected by him, and is worth knowing of, if you are a writer.

 
 

A Thing You Never Told When Watching A Sitcom – Op-Ed Piece


Sitcoms are a cornerstone of American culture and one of the main reasons that television, which seems to be evolving each year, has become a staple in the American household. Americans don’t agree on much, but we do agree that we love to eat, shoot guns and watch TV. (Sometimes we watch people shooting guns on our TV as we eat)


The feeling of laughter that a sitcom gives you is so profound that there is a whole industry of a product built on giving you that very laughter. The stage or theater can’t compete with the distribution and the presence of a TV. They are everywhere. Many times when you go into someone’s house, you ask, “Where is the TV?” You may not be watching the TV tonight. There is nothing that is even on. You are going out to a restaurant. But you ask anyway because you just never know. Can it ever hurt to know where the TV is? I rest my case and change the channel.


Some of the most impactful Americans are people who we all find funny on TV. Comedians who make their living telling jokes to empty rooms are often known, not for their standup but for their appearance on TV shows. You have to look no further than Seinfeld for this. He is more known as a TV star than a standup comedian. It’s not that he isn’t funny. It’s just we really like our TVs.


There is much to talk about and view when you bring up TV.

  • The possible overconsumption we have with the screen – Are we watching too much TV? Is that even a thing? Can watching too much TV really rot your brain?

  • Our favorite shows that we can’t get enough of – Have you seen all of Game of Thrones yet? What about The Sopranos? What do you think of Breaking Bad? What is your favorite sitcom? Go to a party, and the question of “Have you watched anything good lately?” is bound to pop up.

  • The change over the years – Remember when there were no remotes? What is a firestick anyway? How come the TVs are getting bigger and bigger each year? Is it still considered a TV show if I am watching it on my computer?


For now, I want to talk about a minor part of the sitcom, a part that is so small that you wouldn’t notice it unless you view it from the writing perspective, like me.


This addition to the show is not there because of any plot development or anything significant to the main overarching story that is being told. If you take away this part, the main storyline doesn’t change.

The main character you have come to love over the course of a season or two, or three, for some reason at the beginning of an episode, goes to visit someone who has not been referenced to at all during the show’s run to that point. This new character could be a doctor with an office or a friend at the supermarket, but the point here is that the novel character is not vital to the main story and is not found in any other story until then.


The very episode could be about the main character, the star of the show, and the reason you are watching, dealing with this new character.


Most sitcoms are fairly simple in structure. This simplicity helps with their popularity since there appears to be an organic growth and attachment the audience receives from sitcom characters.


Sitcoms have a few set pieces, a few actors, and a normal-sized staff. All and all, a sitcom is really based on whether the people you see on the screen can make you laugh. Most take place in a certain “spot,” Like someone’s home or someone’s apartment, where the characters all get together and discuss their problems. This is where the audience grows to love the characters of the show since, over time, the characters of a sitcom talk of mundane relatable topics. As compared to a drama, which has to have the characters speak of important topics that push the story along. All the way back to The Honeymooners, sitcoms don’t need a large variety in their sets. Most audiences watch a sitcom for the funny actors and dialogue. Not necessarily, because the visual is worth seeing.


The thing about this simple planned design is that sitcoms know this. They are well aware that their charm is that they are basically plays on screen, which is why most don’t change where the characters talk to one another. It is actually why sitcoms are usually prone to deviate from any plot in their story. A sitcom moves slower than a drama simply because it can. How many episodes of a show have you seen where a few characters are trying to do something, say, go out to eat, and yet, for some reason, get sidetracked and never get anything done. All they do is talk and talk and talk, and by the end of the episode, what was supposed to happen, never comes to fruition. This digression is part of why people like sitcoms since we feel like they are acting like us.


A sitcom going off the rails and going nowhere can be very entertaining since the audience is there for laughs, more than any actual story. You want to see the family get along—the group of friends dealing with one another. A drama designed in that fashion, where the characters don’t get to their original goal, appears to be poorly written.


I want to present a situation to you. Imagine this as an episode to a sitcom.


Two characters plan to go to dinner. The one has no dinner clothes, so the two spend several minutes discussing what to wear and then where to go. A third character comes by and chimes in on the current conversation, adding that they are disappointed they were not invited to dinner. The episode ends with the three characters deciding on a place to eat, only to learn that it is completely packed, so they order in.


In a sitcom, the audience doesn’t care if the three characters get to dinner. If my hypothetical episode is like any other, the two main characters are funny enough that the audience is comfortable with them going back and forth. The audience feels okay with the characters not getting dinner, since the episode, in a sitcom is never about the plot but the interaction of the characters.


Now, play that same situation, but as a drama,


Two characters plan to go to dinner. The one has no dinner clothes, so the two spend several minutes discussing what to wear and then where to go. A third character comes by and chimes in on the current conversation, adding that they are disappointed they were not invited to dinner. The episode ends with the three characters deciding on a place to eat, only to learn that it is completely packed, so they order in.


As a drama, that episode is perceived very differently. We are very disappointed because we never got to experience what we were promised when the episode began; the two characters are going to dinner. The audience doesn’t care if the characters like the dinner or hate the dinner, but in a drama, they have to go. In a sitcom, the characters have to prolong the inevitable as long as possible. In a drama, the audience wants to see the characters experience the inevitable.

Let’s get back to my original point in writing this, though; that new character that was added to the show who worked in a specific location. That character is played by a guest actor too. Even in billing, the actor is viewed as an add-on. So why do sitcoms even do this? Why leave the house? Why have the characters leave the apartment? Because they can. The show is making money, so some of that can be put towards another set-piece, one that the main characters are never in.


The show doesn’t ever speak of this, though. You are never told that the main characters are heading to a certain place with a brand new character because the show can afford to expand a little. You are presented as if the whole thing is natural.


The new character is designed to show off the new set-piece. So you will not find that actor in other places in the show. The character won’t go to the “spot” that the main characters of the sitcom always chat about. That is not the purpose of the character. Their function is to be funny in the limited space they are in. They are not close to the main character or even go to their house. The sitcom does this on purpose. If the new character is not funny or bad, then they can get rid of the character. No harm done, since now all that has to happen is the main character can never go to see that new character ever again. And if they are funny, then the sitcom has an extra tool to use for the show.


Next time you watch a sitcom, try to notice this minor part of the show. The new character and set piece were added to it. You will never hear anyone say anything about it, but there is more thought put into the show than you originally imagined.

 
 

Did You Know?

Over 106 million people tuned into the finale of M*A*S*H in 1983, making it the most-watched episode in television history.

 
 

Ending

Hey readers,

We hope you enjoyed this piece and that you start to see there is more thought to writing than just putting down a few witty lines.

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About The Blogger

Greg Luti is an editor and blogger on pensandwords.com. His favorite writers are Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski. He enjoys reading up on history, watching comedies, and playing video games, when he is not writing down a few notes for his next piece. He started this blog out of his love for literature and hopes that the reader shares that same passion.

 

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