Television comedy had a presence from the earliest days of broadcasting. Among the earliest BBCtelevision programmes in the 1930s was Starlight, which offered a series of guests from the music hall era, which often included singers and comedians. Similarly, many early United States television programs were variety shows including the Texaco Star Theater featuring Milton Berle; comedy acts often taken from vaudeville were staples of such shows.
The range of television comedy is extremely broad to the extent that anything under the heading comedy can be put before an audience through the medium of television. However, it is true to say that certain genres of comedy transfer to the small screen more successfully than others.
Main article: Sitcom
The situation comedy, or sitcom, has been the most common, successful and culturally significant type of television comedy. As the name suggests, these programs feature recurring characters placed in humorous situations. The first television sitcom was Pinwright's Progress, ten episodes being broadcast on the BBC between 1946 - 1947. Since the early 1950s with Hancock's Half Hour in the UK, (derived from a radio show) and I Love Lucy and spin-offs The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy in the United States, sitcoms have always had a special place in the hearts of viewers and gathered highly devoted followers, as the familiar characters often become beloved. Often performed before a live audience (or, in some cases, a simulated live audience in the form of a laugh track), usually filmed or taped with a multiple-camera setup, and almost always a half-hour in length, sitcoms are seldom presented as realistic depictions of life but often generate honest humor through the relationships between and ongoing development of characters. Since the debut of I Love Lucy television has never been without sitcoms and they have often been the most popular and lucrative of all program types. Even in the early 2000s, the cast of the NBC sitcom Friends were among television's highest paid performers.
Main article: Comedy-drama
A comedy-drama, is a program that combines humor with more serious dramatic elements, aiming for a considerably more realistic tone than conventional sitcoms. These programs are shot with a single-camera setup and presented without a laugh track, and typically run an hour in length. This can refer to a genre of television or radio drama series. There are several notable comedy-dramas, varying in different subgenres. This includes comedy-dramas like Desperate Housewives, Parenthood and Ugly Betty, medical comedy-dramas like M*A*S*H and Grey's Anatomy, legal comedy-dramas like Ally McBeal and Boston Legal, and - probably the first musical comedy-dramaGlee.
Main article: Sketch comedy
Sketch comedy programs differ from sitcoms in that they do not basically feature recurring characters (though some characters and scenarios may be repeated) and often draw upon current events and emphasize satire over character development. Sketch comedy was pioneered by Sid Caesar, whose Your Show of Shows debuted in 1950 and established many conventions of the genre. American sketch comedy reached a later peak in the mid-1970s with the debut han Saturday Night Live, originally a variety program but soon devoted mostly to sketches. In the UK, two of the more successful examples are Monty Python's Flying Circus and Little Britain.
Main article: Stand-up comedy
Stand-up comedy has been fairly well represented on television. Stand-up comedians have long been a staple of variety and late-night talk shows; indeed, talk-variety shows such as The Tonight Show traditionally open with a comedy monologue performed by the program host. Television stand-up reached a peak of popularity on British schedules with the immensely popular ITV programme The Comedians. Their style of comedy was swept away almost entirely in the Britain of the early 1980s when a new generation of stand-ups challenged what they saw as racist and sexist humour and revolutionised the form under the banner alternative comedy. In the US, stand-up comedy programs became popular on many cable television channels beginning in the mid-1980s, as such "brick wall" shows (nicknamed for the stereotypical use of a fake brick wall as a backdrop) were cheap to produce and air. Stand-up humour later had mixed fortunes on the small screen, often shunted away to the small hours or as part of a larger entertainment extravaganza.
Main article: Improvisational comedy
Improvisational comedy has recently been popular with television audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, most notably with both British and American versions of the program Whose Line is it Anyway?.
There are many UK comedies in which the format is that of a gameshow, and may give the guests a chance to perform stand up comedy to win a round. Examples of this genre include Have I Got News For You, 8 Out of 10 Cats, Mock the Week, and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. In the USA this is a less common genre, Oblivious being one of the few examples. In Japan and South Korea, these comedy gameshows, often with subtitles and word bubbles, are extremely popular.
News comedy often involving news parody and satirical editorials has been a component of programs such as Saturday Night Live (weekend update) and This hour has 22 minutes, however it became a genre in its own right with Jon Stewart and the Daily Show.
Main article: Animated cartoon
Animated cartoons have long been a source of comedy on television. Early children's programming often recycled theatrical cartoons; later, low-budget animation produced especially for television dominated Saturday-morning network programming in the US. A few prime-time animated comedies, notably The Flintstones, The Jetsons, Top Cat, successfully mixed attributes of traditional cartoons and sitcoms.
In addition to broad comedy program types, comedy often appears on television in much more subtle forms. Comedy is often a necessary part of other programming, particularly drama. Attempts at mixing comedy and drama with action and adventure in various combinations have been attempted over time.
- Rannow, Jerry (2000). Writing Television Comedy.
Television Program Categories
Category 1 News
Newscasts, newsbreaks, and headlines. Programs reporting on local, regional, national, and international events. Such programs may include weather reports, sportscasts, community news, and other related features or segments contained within "News Programs."
Category 2a) Analysis and Interpretation
Programs on various topics that include analysis or discussion, for example, talk or panel shows, consumer affairs or reviews, newsmagazines and documentaries that do not fall under category 2b). This category excludes programs presenting information primarily for entertainment value.
The Commission notes that "Docutainment" programs, gossip or entertainment talk shows fall more appropriately under category 11. Lifestyle magazine shows generally fall under category 5b.
Category 2 b) Long-form documentary
Original works of non-fiction, primarily designed to inform but may also educate and entertain, providing an in-depth critical analysis of a specific subject or point of view over the course of at least 22 minutes. These programs shall not be used as commercial vehicles. Further, programs that fall under the category 11(b) Reality television do not qualify as 2(b) programming.
Category 3 Reporting & Actualities
Programs focusing on the coverage of conferences, political conventions, opening/closing of events (including awards dinners) and political debates, as well as programs of a non-entertainment nature intended to raise funds.
Category 4 Religion
Programs dealing primarily with (i.e. more that 50%) religion and religious teachings, as well as discussions of the human spiritual condition.
Category 5a) Formal Education & Pre-school
Programs presenting detailed information related to a wide variety of topics and used by the viewer primarily to acquire knowledge. The programs can be related to established curricula. All programs targeted at pre-schoolers (ages 2-5) except those that are primarily comprised of drama.
Category 5b) Informal Education/Recreation & Leisure
Programs presenting information on recreation, hobby and skill development, recreational sports and outdoor activities, travel and leisure, employment opportunities, and talk shows of an informative ("how-to") nature.
Category 6 Sports
Programs of live or live-to-tape sports events and competitions including coverage of professional and amateur tournaments. The category also includes programs reviewing and analysing professional or amateur competitive sports events/teams (i.e. pre- and post-game shows, magazine shows, scripted sports, call-in and talk shows, etc.). This category includes the following sub-categories:
Category 6(a) Professional sports
Category 6(b) Amateur sports
Documentaries on sports-related topics fall under category 2. Programs on leisure and recreational sports fall under category 5b).
Music and Entertainment
Category 7 Drama and Comedy
Entertainment productions of a fictional nature, including dramatisations of real events. They must be comprised primarily of (i.e. more than 50%) dramatic performances. Category 7 includes the following subcategories:
a) On-going dramatic series
b) On-going comedy series (sitcoms);
c) Specials, mini-series, and made-for-TV feature films;
d) Theatrical feature films aired on television;
e) Animated television programs and films (excludes computer graphic productions without story lines);
f) Programs of comedy sketches, improvisations, unscripted works, stand-up comedy; and
g) Other drama, including, but not limited to, readings, narratives, improvisations, tapes/films of live theatre not developed specifically for television, experimental shorts, video clips, continuous action animation (e.g. puppet shows).
Category 8a) Music and dance
Programs comprised primarily (i.e. more than 50%) of live or pre-recorded performances of music and/or dance, including opera, operetta, ballet, and musicals. The performance portion excludes videoclips, voice-overs or musical performances used as background.
Category 8b) Music video clips
Short film or videotape productions or concert excerpts (clips) not produced primarily for the particular program in which they are presented, which normally contain one musical selection with visual material.
Category 8c) Music video programs
Programs consisting primarily (i.e. more than 50%) of music videos and in some cases including a host and other programming elements.
Category 9 Variety
Programs containing primarily (i.e. more than 50%) performances of mixed character (e.g. not exclusively music or comedy performances) consisting of a number of individual acts such as singing, dancing, acrobatic exhibitions, comedy sketches, monologues, magic, etc.
Category 10 Game shows
Programs featuring games of skill and chance as well as quizzes.
Category 11(a) General entertainment and human interest
Programs primarily about the world of entertainment and its people. These programs include celebrity profiles that may use promotional footage, talk or interview shows, award shows, galas and tributes. They also include entertainment-oriented magazine shows; fund-raising shows which include entertainers (i.e. telethons); human interest programs consisting of live or live-to-tape footage without significant portions devoted to in-depth analysis or interpretation; and coverage of community events such as carnivals, festivals, parades and fashion shows.
Programs consisting primarily (i.e. more than 50%) of performances fall under categories 7, 8 or 9.
Category 11(b) Reality television
Programs that present unscripted dramatic or humorous situations, document actual events and typically feature ordinary people instead of professional actors. This type of programming involves passively following individuals as they go about their daily personal and professional activities.
Though unscripted, this programming may be directed and may resemble a soap opera – hence the popular references to “docusoaps” and “docudramas.”
Though this type of programming may be factual, it lacks or has very minimal amounts of in-depth critical analysis of a specific subject or point of view that is the key defining element of category 2(b) Long-form documentary programming.
Category 12 Interstitials
Programs with a running time of less than 5 minutes, exclusive of advertising and other interstitial material, consisting of material that can be described under categories 2 to 11.
Category 13 Public service announcements
Messages of less than 5 minutes duration intended to educate the audience about issues of public concern, encourage public support and awareness of a worthy cause, or promote the work of a non-profit group or organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life in local communities or in society or the world at large. These include community billboards. These messages are not intended to sell or promote goods or commercial services. No payment is exchanged between broadcasters and producers for the broadcast of these messages.
When public service announcements are logged, the start and end times must be entered, the program class must be "PSA" and two components of the key figure must be recorded: "Origin" and "Category" (130). No other components should be entered.
Category 14 Infomercials, promotional and corporate videos
Programming exceeding 12 minutes in length that combines information and/or entertainment with the sale or promotion of goods or services into a virtually indistinguishable whole. This category includes videos and films of any length produced by individuals, groups and businesses for public relations, recruitment, etc.
When this material is logged, the start and end times must be entered, the program class must be "PGI", and the category 140. No other components of the key figure should be entered.
Category 15 Filler programming
Programming, in no case longer than 30 minutes in duration, the purpose of which is to fill in the time between the presentation of the major programs broadcast by the licensed pay services and those specialty services authorized to distribute filler programming, and includes material that promotes the programs or services provided by the licensee.
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