by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©1996 Resource Books All rights reserved.

sitcom n. Situation comedy, a humorous radio or television series in which the comedy arises from the iterations of a continuing cast of characters.

Back in the sixties, one member of a continuing cast of television characters created a special brand of cumulative humor, simply by declining to use conventional words.
  • Once, while dispensing an arcane medical explanation, wearing white coat and stethoscope, he referred to the hospital as "the sick-people-doctoring place."
  • Wearing a robe and clutching a gavel, the guy pointed into the camera and solemnly lectured the audience about what goes on at "the criminal-judging place."
  • Garbed as a pilot with goggles and scarf, he related an adventure involving "the airplane-taking-off-and-landing place."
Knocked me out.

When something gets referred to a lot, we ought to give it a name.  That's what has happened, of course, with situation comedy.  "Sitcom" serves as a term of distinction, too.  Neither "farce" nor just plain "comedy" will do -- any more than "melodrama" for "soap opera."  "Slapstick comedy" belongs in the circus; "black comedy," somewhere else.

 Films gave us "tear-jerkers," "westerns" (or "oaters") and "action thrillers" (with car-chase, "suspense thrillers," without).
So, you ask, what's wrong with "sitcom," the linguistic gift of the electronic media?  Whatever one's tastes for prime-time fare, certainly the word has proven itself serviceable.  Even the most confirmed media snob ("My set broke years ago; I never got it fixed") might well say something like, "Sitcoms are all alike" (an observation made arduous by a broken set).

On the contrary, if the twentieth century will be remembered for only three things, television is two of them.  The societal impact of the technology is beyond counting.  Not least the sitcom...

Miniature human images cavorted before our eyes inside a glowing bottle week after week.  Beguiling us at first, making us laugh, mirroring us.  Not the real us.  Rather what we might have been, if we got up off the couch and did the cavorting ourselves.  Finally, the images laughed at us.  For we had become the "continuing cast of characters."  We were the sitcom.  Only not so funny.
Mine is not the conventional complaint ("Television has produced a generation of adults called 'couch potatoes,' whose kids graduate from high school thinking that Moscow is in Cuba").  Nor do I expect anybody to notice that I have renounced the word sitcom, unless...

My private fantasy is to appear on a weekly television series not as a cop or a detective, not as a defense lawyer or an emergency-room doctor or a lifeguard on the beach, but as a media junky sprawled on a couch engaged in his favorite pastime: watching the...

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