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What All the Greatest TV Comedies Don't Have in Common with This Year's Cancelled Sitcoms

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | November 13, 2014 |

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | November 13, 2014 |

So far, this season has seen the cancellation of Manhattan Love Story, A to Z (unofficially), and Selfie. There is something that these sitcoms, along with last year’s Mixology, all have in common that the best sitcoms of the last 30 years do not.

They are predicated on gimmicks.

Guess what never works? High concepts in sitcoms. It worked once, people, and the gimmick was what everyone hated about How I Met Your Mother. We don’t want gimmicks. We want to laugh, and to laugh, there needs to be relatable situations that can be exploited for laughter. You can do different kinds of comedy, and you can set the situations in different locations, and you can mix and match the characters, but you cannot rely on a gimmick.

There are three basic sitcom templates. Workplace sitcoms, friend sitcoms, and family sitcoms. Every successful sitcom can be boiled down to a variation of The Office, Friends, and The Cosby Show. That’s it.

Don’t believe me? Here’s some of the best of the last 30 years:

The Wonder YearsThe Cosby Show, set in the 60s.

30 RockThe Office, set behind the scenes of a sketch show.

CommunityFriends, set in a community college.

Will & GraceFriends with two straight and two gay characters.

RoseanneThe Cosby Show, set in the blue collar world.

Growing PainsThe Cosby Show, only white.

Modern FamilyThe Cosby Show, only bigger and more diverse.

The SimpsonsThe Cosby Show, only animated, funnier, and more crude.

ScrubsThe Office and Friends, set in a hospital.

Night CourtThe Office, set in a courtroom.

Family TiesThe Cosby Show, only whiter.

SeinfeldFriends, only older.

It’s Always Sunny in PhiladelphiaFriends, only meaner and more insane.

The Golden GirlsFriends, only geriatric.

Married with … ChildrenThe Cosby Show, with a family that hated each other.

CheersThe Office (and Friends) set in a bar.

New GirlFriends set in Chicago.

Happy EndingsFriends, also set in Chicago.


You know how Selfie might have succeeded? If they’d nixed the title. Thrown away the My Fair Lady premise, and built the story around everyone in their workplace, not just primarily John Cho and Karen Gillan’s character. We still would’ve fallen in love with Cho and Gillan’s characters, but with a little more work and slightly better casting, their co-workers would’ve stolen a helluva lot of scenes.

It’s not about the premise. It’s never about the premise when it comes to sitcoms. It comes down to good writing, great characters, and family, friends, or the workplace, or some combination of the three. There’s no need to hook a sitcom around a gimmick. Don’t even bother with a pilot. We don’t need cute titles. We don’t even need shaggy, bearded best friends. Just keep it simple. In fact, the sooner Marry Me scuttles its engagement premise, the better chances it will survive to a second season.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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