‘It’s an inherent comfort zone’: why the American sitcom has endured

(The Guardian) — In a new docuseries, the long life and cultural impact of the sitcom is examined from Family Ties to Modern Family

“More than jazz, or musical theater, or morbid obesity, television is the true American art form!” So goes the country wisdom of chipper NBC page Kenneth Ellen Parcell, a young man raised on the Bible and boob tube in equal measure, his religious devotion extended to TV as much as his organized faith. The supporting character from the cult favorite 30 Rock – the series informed by the lineage of small-screen comedy more than any other – would be the ideal viewer for the new CNN docuseries History of the Sitcom, which channels his affection and admiration for the format into a comprehensive survey of its evolution and impact. The eight episodes cover a broad swath of pop culture stretching from postwar prosperity to our scattered streaming present, tracing the national narrative through beloved, 22-minute time capsules.


John Ealer, the executive producer, was finalizing a similar project about late-night talkshows for CNN when the suits asked about any other ideas he might have. Though considering the breadth of the subject raised his blood pressure, the sitcom presented itself as the next logical step. “After the initial period of panic, you start to look at the fabric of the sitcom and what it’s meant,” he tells the Guardian over the phone. “You realize, one, it’s something we can all relate to, but also two, not everyone is going to be familiar with it. So you need to tell a story that draws a line through it all, which we can all identify with. The biggest line is the development of America, told through the sitcom screen. We can track cultural issues, whether that’s the evolution of the family unit or the workplace or race.”


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