All in the ... Modern Family: Comedy Roundtable

All in the ... Modern Family

On Friday, the Carsey-Wolf Center and the Film and Media Studies Department at UC Santa Barbara will host a daylong conference focusing on the social and cultural import of scripted half hour comedies and the creative processes that have kept the genre such a permanent fixture on radio, television, and cable. Scholars, entertainment journalists, and people who have worked in comedy, both in front of and behind the cameras, will join us for a series of panels, workshops, and screenings. Each discussion will engage with a particular set of questions—from the cultural role scripted comedies play to the ways jokes develop in the writers room—and offer us an opportunity to critically reflect upon this popular cultural-industrial form.

In that spirit, the Media Industries Project invited some of the participants to start the conversation a little bit early. Given the genre is one of the oldest and most ubiquitous formats on television (and, even earlier, radio), we asked our expert panelists to offer some initial thoughts on why scripted half hour comedies have had such a persistent presence across the media landscape. Take a look at their remarks below. And then join us for more discussions on Friday—we are tweeting the event (#CWCtvComedy) and streaming it live from the Pollock Theater. 

Bambi Haggins

Bambi Haggins, Arizona State University

An enduring genre with its roots in radio, the situation comedy and its offspring are full of teachable moments. While I agree that the prime objective of the sitcom is to be funny—and not all of them succeed—there are always ways in which they are cultural artifacts as well as industrial products and creative projects. Each year I find myself asking students to examine what exactly is making them laugh, tracing the ebbs and flows of the genre (How many times has the sitcom been declared dead?) and what the shows are or are not saying about the era in which they were produced. <More>


David MarcDavid Marc, Syracuse University Magazine

Ambiguity, a highly valued quality in other forms of contemporary drama and art, is generally looked upon as something to be avoided in sitcoms; even the jokes are underlined. The laugh track, whether sweetened or completely artificial, is a continuing iteration of the script in scripted comedy.The most radical quality of the sitcom as a genre is its dependence on the familiar rather than the exotic to attract viewers. <More>


Ethan ThompsonEthan Thompson, Texas A&M University

The persistence of the half hour comedy in television history, not just as an industrial format, but as a much-loved (and sometimes hated) cultural form should remind us that there remain simple and potentially unifying pleasures in “ordinary” TV. Because of its unique and familiar components, in a culture where we have more and more power to seek out and surround ourselves with people who share our tastes and opinions, the half hour comedy might be that place—however else our lives are narrowcasted—that occasionally upsets us and pushes us out of our comfort zones. <More>