Writing TV Comedy To Really Tickle Your Audience’s Funny Bone (And Yours Too)


Television Comedy, generally falls into  a 15 or 30 minute time slot. The former is often seen on Adult Swim either as a single episode or two shorter episodes. It is appropriate for sketch type comedy. Even shorter episodes work online, either as web series or as standalone pieces.

The 30 minute comedy is the most common seen on streaming, cable and network TV.

Comedy makes more money than other genres for TV networks, with perhaps occasional patchy exceptions for reality TV. Seinfeld made NBC $200 million in its heydey. After it was syndicated, it earned in excess of $1 billion for NBC. No TV comedy has come close.

Female standup comics such as Annie Mummolo, Kirsten Wiig , Sarah Silverman, Amy Schumer and Tina Fey. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and others are making a huge impact in TV comedy with shows like the critically and commercially acclaimed 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation.

Even non-traditional comedy actors are making an impact on the TV comedy scene such as Aaron Paul and Will Arnett in Netflix’s bleak comedy Bojack Horseman.

Network TV is still clinging to traditional family and urban-tribe based 30 minute shows. Hello Big Bang Theory and The Millers. CBS has made inroads with the critically acclaimed off-beat, observational ensemble comedy Life In Pieces with its two part per 30 minute slot format.

In a time, long long ago, TV comedy was really situational; such as a millionaire white dad adopting two boys from the ghetto, a newly single parent trying to raise a child and date or an astronaut who rescued a genie called Serena. Actually it was Jeannie. Serena was her twin sister. The characters were quite static and the laughs relied on their wild antics and situations. Hence the term, sitcom.

Modern TV comedy pilots are driven by characters executing a concept, more than the situation or set up. The comedic styles range from crass, uncomfortable, offensive, dark to brutally honest. Comedy writers can really explore the minutiae of modern life without being too polite, safe or worrying if your mom might like it.

The TV comedy landscape is ripe for change. Terrestrial networks are experiencing their most dramatic drops in viewership (around 10% since 2010) and an alarming increase in age demographic. The coveted 18-44 year age group is being seduced by online and cable TV comedy.

The time for safe nuclear family shows is being sidelined in favor of edgier, more daring fare such as Clowns, Wilfred, Archer, Bored To Death, Last Man On Earth and Louis C.K.. However, stick with the three jokes per page rule that has been the mainstay of terrestrial comedy shows. Unless you don’t.

It is acceptable to take some risks with new TV shows. However, give network executives an element of surprise balanced with predictability, familiarity and accessibility. The audience still needs to acclimate to the concept rapidly.

Take some creative risks and write your passion TV comedy projects. TV writers are becoming more inventive in building a fan base. They have sketches, social media and short videos to promote their comedic wares. This is more important to TV executives who often don’t know what might be a hit.

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