Its Still The Same Old Story

One of the things you'll notice are recurring themes. Successful shows, like the Bill Cosby Show, spawn copies. The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy begat dozens of shows with bickering married couples, and don't forget that there was a radio show called The Bickersons in the '50s. When Phil Silvers starred as Sergeant Bilko, a dozen comedy service shows soon marched along in step. Hillbillies, cops, show biz, and talking apparitions each went in and out of favor. You can bet on one thing—they'll be back again some day to delight a new generation.

Another thing you'll notice is recurring story lines. Just review TV Guide to identify the crux of each story. By the way, unless you can summarize your plot in one simple sentence, it is probably too complex.

Humor is like magic. A magician still uses tried-and-tested tricks. The excitement comes from the new way he packages it. Well-tracked funny situations must be displayed in novel ways.

The heart of every sitcom is the "What if. .." conflict. The plot fabrication is determined when the main character is placed in a unique, frequently uncomfortable situation. Not all sitcom dialogue is humorous. In fact, over 65 percent of a sitcom's time involves serious situations, which are highlighted by comic relief. Garry Marshall advised, "Trouble? Who doesn't have any? If the experience is painful to you, don't block it out. Save it. Maybe in three days it will be funny."

The following are ten of the most common recurring themes popular with audiences since the beginning of motion picture production—the grandfather of all contemporary sitcoms. Most of these themes are just exaggerations of ordinary situations. They frequently overlap, or two plots are running at the same time.

1. Family aggression

2. Workplace aggression

3. Mistaken assumptions

4. Intrusions

5. Heartbreak

6. Moral and ethical conflicts

7. Sympathy for the disadvantaged

8. Physical mishaps

9. Something of value 10. Failure to cope

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