Traditional western theatre, beginning with the ancient Greeks, was divided into comedy and tragedy. A tragedy typically ended with the death or destruction of a fictional or historical hero, whereas a comedy focused on the lives of middle to lower class characters and ended with their success. The term "drama" was used to describe all the action of a play. Beginning in the 19th century, authors such as Anton Chekhov, George Bernard Shaw and Henrik Ibsen blurred the line between comedy and drama.
The advent of radio drama, cinema, and in particular television created greater pressure in marketing to clearly define a product as either comedy or drama. While in live theatre the difference became less and less significant, in mass media comedy and drama were clearly divided. Comedies, were expected to maintain a consistently light tone and not challenge the viewer by introducing more serious content.
By the early 1960s, television companies commonly presented half-hour long "comedy" series or one hour long "dramas." Half-hour series were mostly restricted to situation comedy or family comedy and were usually aired with either a live or overdubbed laugh track. One-hour dramas included such shows as police and detective series, westerns, science fiction, and later, serialized prime time soap operas.
While sitcoms would occasionally balance their humor with more dramatic and humanistic moments, these remained the exception to the rule as the 1960s progressed. Beginning around 1969 in the US, however, there was a brief spate of half-hour shows that purposely alternated between comedy and drama and aired without a laugh track, as well as some hour-long shows such as CHiPs in the late 70s to early 80s. These were known as "comedy-dramas." Another good example was The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, which aired from 1987-1991.
These early shows also influenced how general TV comedy and later how TV series (especially family themed sitcoms) were developed. They often included brief dramatic interludes and more serious subject matter. An example of a successful comedy-drama series that distinguished this genre in television was the series Moonlighting. It generated an immense amount of critical acclaim as well as being a highly rated series worldwide. Another example of a successful comedy-drama was the television series Eight is Enough. The show was distinct because it was not a comedy-drama in the traditional sense. It was an hour-long series that utilized a laugh track which was very unusual, but is considered a comedy-drama for the fact that it alternated between drama and comedy.
In the United Kingdom, the format first appeared successfully in 1979 with the long-running series Minder (TV series) (ITV/Euston Films/Thames) with other notable comedy-dramas such as Auf Wiedersehen, Pet (ITV/Witzend Productions/Central Independent Television) and Big Deal (BBC).
In addition, comedy-drama series have been associated with the single-camera production format.
Attributes of comedy-dramas on TV sitcoms
- There is often an absence of a pre-recorded laughing track.
- Storylines tend to be more serialized, with events taking place in earlier episodes being referred back to or having an effect in later episodes. This can be compared to more traditional sitcoms which focus on telling one standalone story every week.
- Continuity of character and storylines are more relevant than in traditional sitcoms.
- Can be either half-hour or hour long episodes. However, shows which use a 30-minute format tend to be more comedic with dramatic elements that keep storylines going forward, while shows which use a 60-minute format tend to be more dramatically based with humour used throughout the show as either comic relief or to punctuate certain scenes.
- Characters' backstories tend to have a greater overall effect on story line. Often something a character has done in the past will catch up with him or her, as opposed to more traditional sitcoms where a character's backstory is unlikely to be referenced by the story of the week.
- Black comedy
- List of comedy-drama television series
- List of comedy films
- ^ Dictionary.com Unabridged
- ^ Joel Chaston - Baum, Bakhtin, and Broadway: A Centennial Look at the Carnival of Oz, The Lion and the Unicorn - Volume 25, Number 1, January 2001, pp. 128-149, Joel D. Chaston, 
- ^ The Dark Comedy: The Development of Modern Comic Tragedy, J. L. Styan, 
- ^ David L. Simpson (1998). "Comedy and Tragedy". http://condor.depaul.edu/~dsimpson/tlove/comic-tragic.html. Retrieved 2008-01-26.
- ^ Victor Emeljanow (1997). Anton Chekhov. ISBN 0415159512. http://books.google.com/?id=eyswoptm_e8C&pg=PA118&lpg=PA118&dq=chekhov+comedy+tragedy. Retrieved 2008-01-26.
- ^ Peter Conrad (2006). Cassell's History of English Literature. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc.. ISBN 0304368210. http://books.google.com/?id=eqv6OhazPnsC&pg=PA188&lpg=PA188&dq=shaw+comedy+tragedy. Retrieved 2008-01-26.
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