Is comedy dead?
Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis - times change and we change with them as the ancient said, but is it true when it comes to comedy?
For about 20 years now this question pops up from time to time on message boards, TV discussions and media articles. The 1990s are being called the golden era of comedy series (or sitcoms) and since then this branch of entertainment seems to be declining. Of course there are huge differences between American and British market (f.e. in United Kingdom 1970s and 1980s are considered as golden era), but there are symptoms that comedy series are being less and less attractive to the viewers.
I used on purpose the term "less attractive", because it is hard to tell if the level of the series have dropped or just the times have changed and today series simply don’t apply to the viewers that loved the series in the 1990s and earlier. It is significant that the kind of humour represented now on TV is moving into more and more radical direction (f.e. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia which is trying hard to be as repulsive and/or offensive as they can, Sarah Silverman which is trying to break all the political correctness borders, Little Britain which is pushing the gay theme to the maximum) which is far from the taste of an average viewer. But still they gather fans (even devoted fans) which means that there is demand for such humour.
On the other hand the shows for whole family still are being produced, but after over 50 years of using same themes it’s hard for the creators to bring up something that would be fresh and new. The good attempts of last years were British comedy series My Family and American Everybody Hates Chris. But still when you take a look at series like According to Jim, My Wife and Kids, Yes Dear - they are on a little bit lower level and all use pretty much same routines and same kind of humour. Or sometimes they even use the same ideas for the episodes which is horrible (f.e. how many times have you seen episode in which main characters wanted to see big football game or boxing duel on TV and there was always something that distracted them).
Other factor is that creators have stopped to research new themes, most of them concentrates on "I know what people wants to see" rather than "let’s see if people wants to see that", which kills many good ideas because producers are focused more on ratings rather than the freshness and originality. In UK they’ve tried few new ideas for the shows (f.e. IT Crowd, Hardware, Spaced, Green Wing) which worked fine for some viewers. In US, aside from family-based shows, there is only one main theme which is office humour (The Office, 30 Rock, Drew Carey Show, Andy Richter Controls the Universe), which again will work only for part of the audience (the part that isn’t yet sick of the idea). The only good try in last years was Scrubs with plot set in a hospital, but it’s very hard to find anything that would be even slightly as original as this.
In conclusion - comedy definitely isn’t dead. The series today aren’t as widely popular as their predecessors were because the creators have moved into more radical fields (to find a niche on the market) or they are trying to use same routines that we’ve seen dozens of time. In the first case only small part of the audience will be interested, in the second case only small part of the audience won’t be bored.