By contributing writer Charlie Hatton
America is a country of sitcom watchers. We all like a nice chuckle now and again, but unfortunately the good shows are outnumbered, outgunned, overwhelmed, and often obliterated by the bad.
In an effort to stem the tide of inane, sugary pap gushing down our satellite feeds, here are a dozen ways to improve the average—and significantly below-average; I'm looking at you, Yes, Dear—situational comedy. Call it my, “Twelve Simple Rules for Sucking Less Than Eight Simple Rules” script.
they're a hoot.
script.1. Do NOT include a laugh track. If I can't figure out where the funny parts are on my own, then you're not doing your job. If I want yuks in a can, then I'll buy a tin of cocktail weenies. I hear
2. Do NOT air an episode, ever, concerning a mixup of identical twins, and the shenanigans that ensue. As a matter of fact, forget twins altogether. Creepy little buggers, what with the “we know something you don't know” nonsense. Save
it for the Doublemint ads, Junior.
3. Do NOT use your show as a vehicle to tug on our heart strings, or to teach us a “life lesson.” If I want drama, I'll watch Masterpiece Theatre. If I want to learn, I'll tune into Nova. Or, I would, if I could
understand any of it. But you get the point.
4. Do NOT set your sitcom in the '70s, or the '80s, or any other time besides the present. No one wants to see That 1770s Show, Battlestar Hilaria, or How I Met Your Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandmother. If a guy walks onto your set wearing bellbottom pants, I will personally fly to the studio and kick him in the crotch.
5. Do NOT include a crusty-but-sympathetic “tough” character on the show, whose gruff exterior belies a tender, fluffy heart of gold. That's nonsense. I've been around long enough to know: a gruff exterior is simply evidence of a gruff interior. A gruff, shriveled, impotent, crusty interior. Put it away.
6. Do NOT give the show a title with more than three words.
After that, it's too hard for anyone to remember—or bother to watch. Observe: Seinfeld, fine. Friends, very popular show. Life According to That Other Belushi, Who's Really Let Himself Go But Inexplicably Has a Smoking Hot Wife in This Show? Not so much.
7. Do NOT include a random elderly character, like a grandparent or senile old neighbor, just to pique the interest of the aging general population. Honestly, if the old folks can't relate to a “regular”
show, let them go back to their Matlock and Walker, Texas Ranger. I hear Murder, She Wrote is nice and inoffensive this time of year, grandma. Move it
8. Do NOT employ any sort of ridiculous gimmick like dream sequences, flashbacks, or other fantasy bizarro world shenanigans. If I see wavy shimmer lines on my screen at any time, I will personally fly to the
studio and kick your effects guy in the crotch. Twice. I'm not kidding.
9. Do NOT cast a bubbly hot young actress who can't act on the show. If she's got nice boobs and huge tracts of comedic talent, that's just peachy. Otherwise, leave the eye candy to the girlie mags, please. Brainless
bimbo dialogue does not a fine comedy make.
10. Do NOT include the same tired, obvious stereotypes that have been used on every show since All in the Caveman Family. If you have a gay male character, let him do more than wear all pink all the time and chitter about show
tunes. If there's a girl from the South, don't have her twang it up, drive a pickup, and line dance her way to NASCAR races. Yes, I know that parts of the South are really like that—but I don't need to see it in my living room. I eat in there sometimes, for god's sake.
11. Do NOT include product endorsements during the show. I see you, sneaking in a can of Sprite, or an iPod, or a box of jumbo-wing Tampax pads “accidentally” left in the camera shot, labels perfectly
angled toward us. Shameless. Save the shilling for between the plot lines. Otherwise, how will I know when to slip out to use the can?
12. Finally, do NOT let the series linger on any longer than it has to. This isn't soap opera—you're not obligated to pair up every possible couple combo, shoot “onsite” episodes in every major city in the world, or have the characters face every financial and personal crisis known to mankind. Just let it go. If you're writing in a new baby, a retirement fund fiasco, or a Tim Conway cameo, then it's too late. You've jumped the shark, backed up, and run over it again. Game over.
I hope you sitcom writers and producers out there can use these suggestions to create a few new shows that don't make me want to give my television thirty lashes with a rabbit-ear antenna. Because if you don't, I will personally fly to your studio. And I think you know what's coming next.