Most of the writers and many of the actors on American sitcoms are Jewish. Thus it has been said that the American sense of humour (or humor) is really the JEWISH sense of humour.
Perhaps this is what Mel Gibson was talking about – but he could have PUT it better.
Anyhoo, the history of American sitcoms is a lot like the history of Pop Music (was) – it goes up and down in approximately ten-year cycles.
It began after WW2, as US TV itself began to emerge. Most Fifties sitcoms were shot In Front Of A Live Studio Audience (as were most shows in those days) and are thus only viewable today on tatty kinescopes.
However, some were shot on 35mm film and survive in transmittable condition. So today, we can still enjoy Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners, Phil Silvers’ Bilko Show and the various incarnations of Lucille Ball’s Lucy Shows.
Plus Burns And Allen and Jack Benny – particularly the episodes where the guest star wound Jack up by going off-script (as did Bob Hope and the afore-mentioned George Burns).
And then came a lull.
But eventually the Sixties took off with shows like Bewitched, The Munsters, The Addams Family, F Troop, Hogan’s Heroes and Get Smart. However, these broke tradition by being filmed cold, in a film studio – with canned laughter.
But in the Seventies, live audiences returned.
The last major show of that period to use canned laughter was M*A*S*H – although it played in Britain WITHOUT it – a fact which only came to light when a careless BBC technician forgot to turn the laugh-track OFF.
(A number of other series – like The Addams Family – can also play without the laugh-track. And they are MUCH better without it. Indeed, the producers of M*A*S*H wanted their opus to play in The States without the inane racket – but were overridden by the TV execs. These days, sitcoms without laugh-tracks are common – but sadly, many would not GET laughs if an audience was present).
Anyhay, the likes of Taxi, Barney Miller, Soap, Happy Days and its spinoffs – with their live audiences – ruled the decade.
But then came another lull.
The Eighties was Pop’s last hurrah – but its kitsch style did NOT suit the sitcom format. Only Cheers rose above it – although even that show had a rocky start, ratings wise.
But rise it DID, spawning one of the greatest US sitcoms of all time – Frasier.
And as the Nineties progressed, it turned into another Golden Age for the American sitcom. The year after Frasier began, it was joined by Friends and the two series bestrode the decade like a Colossus.
And they were not alone. The paranoid Seinfeld, outrageous Roseanne and quirky 3rd Rock From The Sun all conspired to make the Nineties the best decade for US sitcoms since the Fifties.
But now we are back in another lull.
At the end of the Nineties, Will & Grace kept people tuned in – but its producers’ next venture, S#*! My Dad Says, got cancelled after just 18 eps. This despite the talents of 80-year-old (playing a man of 72) Bill Shatner. Its pilot was even directed by the veteran James Burrows.
And whilst successful, the spiritual replacement for Friends – How I Met Your Mother – has failed to reach its predecessor’s lofty heights.
This has been the story of the Naughties (?) New shows start off with high hopes – then crash and burn.
The only success story today has been a MAN, rather than a series: Chuck Lorre. He has bestrode America’s sitcom industry like a Colossus, for the last TWO decades.
He began as a writer on Roseanne – then went on to create the semi-successes (they only ran for FIVE years) Grace Under Fire, Cybill and Dharma & Greg – finally hitting gold with Two And A Half Men.
And thanks to that show’s lead actor’s off-stage antics, it will be getting a revamp next year – that COULD enable it to become the most successful sitcom of ALL TIME.
What is more, Chuck has other strings to his bow – The Big Bang Theory is class A and has now been running for four seasons, with consistently high ratings.
And as if that is not enough, the man has a NEW show – Molly & Mike – of which so far ALL episodes have been directed by Burrows.
Again, the ratings have been consistently high, dropping only slightly for the last few episodes (but then TV ratings always drop as Summer approaches and people venture outside).
Either way, it has been picked up for a second season.
So unless America wants TV sitcoms to DIE – it had better hope nothing bad happens to Chuck Lorre. Who is Jewish. Which is where we came in…