British comedy series vs American comedy series comedy article

British comedy series vs American comedy series

The eternal fight between good and evil... I mean British and American sitcoms, both sides think their concept is superior, so let's take a hard look at the details without (much) prejudice...

by Comedy Series

If you've seen any American and any British comedy series you must have noticed that there are basic differences between the series format. For example - in Britain season of series usually consists 6 (sometimes up to 8-12) episodes that are 25-30 minutes long. In America the usual format of season is about 24 episodes that last 22-25 minutes (to save more time for commercial breaks). Of course this changes pretty much everything about the production process.

British comedy series are considered to be more powerful and more successful in a long run (f.e. many of the 1970 British comedy series still are considered as classics, Fawlty Towers, Dad's Army, Are You Being Served? to name just few, while 1970 production from United States are even hard to recall) and series format is one of the key factors to that situation. Most British programs are written by just one or two people, who often are creators of the series as well and sometimes even takes part as actors. Due to small number of episodes the creators have much more time to fully develop the plot as well as the script.

British sitcom

On the other hand in American way of making the comedy series very rarely creators are writing the episodes themselves, for that purpose professional writers are hired and creators only supervise the process. Unfortunately when the writers are changing the level of episodes is changing which often leads to a little bit of chaos within the plot or characters. Also the format of about 24 episodes per season puts extra pressure on writers that have to come up with a lot of stories for single season and sometimes the pressure is too high or characters aren't colourful enough to generate high number of non-repetitive plots.

British sitcom

Since American comedy series are purely commercial venture (opposite to f.e. BBC which is national television) the ratings are leaving huge mark on the plot. In many cases the producers are deciding when the series should be cancelled and often they tend to wait for much too long (which causes the drop of level) or cut the production midway because of the low ratings.

I'm personally fan of British comedy series (at least the older ones), but they sometimes take the rule "always leave them hungry" too strict and f.e. Fawlty Towers, The Thin Blue Line or Blackadder could have gone a little bit longer. Also there are American comedy series that only due to ratings didn't have enough chance to improve (f.e. Caroline in the City, Dweebs, Whoopi). And on both sides there are series that ran much too long ('Allo 'Allo!, Drew Carey Show, Wings, MASH), which leads to conclusion that format is vital factor in comedy series, but even more important in comedy is timing.

American sitcom

The other vital factor is of course the plot and characters. British are said to have a unique sense of humour and that's why the American remakes of classic British comedies were unsuccessful. After watching many of the British series I can say that there is a some truth in it - British humour often is little bit bitter than American. British writers often uses unhappy or frustrated characters and present them in sympathetic way, while in America creators tend to use more of the family relations and successful people as the basic for the plot. To name just few examples The Detectives in Britain (two incompetent detectives) versus Frasier in USA (rich family of psychiatrists), Fawlty Towers in Britain (frustrated and rude hotel owner) versus Cheers in USA (successful bar owner). Of course there are opposite examples (like Married with Children in USA and 2point4 Children in Britain), but most of the times the bitter underlining is present in British comedy series.

British sitcom

And at last, but not at least - the actors. The British theatre and radio tradition have created many good actors for comedy series because of their background - since they were performing in theatre few times a week that experience was improving their skills and their self-confidence, while in USA theatre performances are usually linked with musicals, not dramas. Often for American series non-professionals are taken from castings or stand-up comedians (Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement, Seinfeld) which hardly ever works as well as with professional actors. The best example is Ray Romano from Everybody Loves Raymond, who isn't an actor and messed between professional actors he really sticks out with very limited skills. In Britain many times actors from series are going into tours with the show and perform live on the stage, which never happens in USA (f.e. Dad's Army, 'Allo 'Allo!, Fast Show - all had tours of live shows).

American sitcom

I hope this article put a little light on the matter British comedy series vs American comedy series. They are completely two different approaches to the same product and it shows in their quality and content. Of course both sides has good arguments and lucky for us both sides still gonna produce comedy series that we can enjoy.

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