Writing a Sitcom – Creating Characters

If, for example, you were writing a sitcom, and you were researching your favourite sitcoms to find nuggets of character-creating inspiration, this is the sort of stuff you might find. If you were doing that.

Here’s Dan Harmon on creating characters:

Write your pilot before you know everything about these people. Let the story establish little pieces of them, don’t fill your script with facts about fictional strangers, fill your script with things happening to fictional strangers. Bring the atoms into collision and let your audience get glimpses of their nuclei as they repulse, neutralize and bond with each other. If you are capable of knowing exactly who these people are by the end of your pilot, you are probably writing a bad TV show. The good news being, I predict much success for you.
But if your goal is to create a TV character with depth, it’s the same as if your goal were to create a tree with height: you’ll have to be patient and surrender a lion’s share of your control. God doesn’t make a tree with hammer and nails. He makes a seed. Likewise, actors and audiences and time are the things that are going to give your characters depth, the best you can do as the writer of a pilot is provide the reader with evidence of that potential.

Mitch Hurwitz on the genesis of Arrested Development:

Someone told me once about this paradigm that exists: matriarch, patriarch, craftsman, and clown. It’s this quartet that resonates through history and popular culture, and you can find it as a diagram in everything from The Beatles to ‘Leave It To Beaver’ to ‘Seinfeld’. In The Beatles, you can kind of see it the clearest. You know, Paul is the matriarch, John is the patriarch, the craftsman is George and the clown is Ringo. So I wanted to get that in there, and I thought, “Maybe that will be the four kids. I’ll do a show about four kids.” As it turns out, Michael and Lindsay would be the matriarch and patriarch. The craftsman, to me, is Buster, because he’s a scholar and he’s serious, and the clown is Gob, because he’s a magician, and clowns literally are magicians. [Laughs.] Oh, there are some magical clowns out there. But I don’t want to make this an advertisement for clowns.

There’s an interesting breakdown of archetypal sitcom characters over at TV Tropes.

It is important to note that, unlike the Five-Man Band, it isn’t strictly necessary for each show to have a representative member for each archetype. Keep in mind that, just as in Real Life, the world of Sit Coms is awash in many various and diverse personalities, of which this is hardly an exhaustive list; so there’s no need to shoehorn characters into these categories. Some shows will utilize certain archetypes and leave out others, or may have characters who don’t fit into any of the listed types.

Of course, even when dealing with archetypes, it’s important to remember, as Garry Shandling puts it (when describing a Hank Kingsley character moment)

Everybody’s stupid, everybody’s smart. Everybody’s bumbling, everybody’s intelligent… We’re all different things at different times.

And that’s when your characters become human, I suppose.

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What ITV Want

(…apart from a good kick in the Kyle.)

 What works for ITV in scripted comedy

 

“the focus is on broad appeal – something that viewers could grasp if it was summed up in one line, such as the package holidays of Benidorm or the call centres of Mumbai Calling.

…it is essential that the ITV1 audience already recognises a show’s lead, with ITV2 providing more opportunities to break new faces.”

There’s a current trend whereby if you’re pitching an idea, be it sketch show or sitcom, the producers want you to “cast” it. I find this a bit odd – how am I supposed to know who’s available, who would want to do a sitcom, who’s hot, who’s cheap, etc?

Still, my latest sitcom pitch, “My Two Godfathers”, starring Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro and Fearne Cotton, has attracted some interest. Mind, if Fearne Cotton isn’t available the whole thing is fucked.