Roger Wolfson is one of the greatest TV writers of our era and whilst the name may not ring a bell, you will have most certainly seen and heard some of his big hits like Saving Grace, Law and Order which he did some work on, and Fairly Legal, quite the resume you’ll agree. Roger was speaking recently on a webinar which I watched about the key to creating a great law-based program, which of course streaming services and TV channels are full of. This webinar got me thinking about my favorite genre which is comedy, and what exactly it is that goes into the making of a great comedic TV show.
When I was thinking about the shows that have and haven’t worked I was trying to get to the bottom of what it was that went wrong with some, which really looked to be a great premise. Some shows are just terrible and they then fail, that is fine and it happens in every genre. Those which should work but don’t however, they often lack consistency around the comedy which they are creating. Balancing high brow with slap-stick is incredibly difficult to do and many will just tune out if this happens. If you look art the likes of Brooklyn Nine Nine as an example, this is dumb humor which delivers just what you expect, if they started playing around with intelligent humor that loyal fan base would be lost.
One of the most important aspects of any piece of acting or directing for that matter is timing, and silence is one of the greatest weapons which an actor has at their disposal. As simple as it sounds, there are just so many comedies out there which don’t get that timing right and that means that jokes just go missing. The reason why Charlie Sheen was better than Ashton Kutcher in Two and Half Men was this, and Ashton is a great comedy actor, Charlie just got it better than Ashton did.
Something which Rpger was talking about in that webinar which he did was the importance of writing and whilst a great many people may not be aware of it, we are all in tune with the script. What he was saying is that many of us will chalk up a star performance from a certain actor, which may only be half true as in reality we are enamored with the writing, and comedy certainly falls into this category. TV comedy is way beyond the bom-bom-cha joke telling that it once would have been, we expect a bigger set up which keeps us guessing until the punchline and that comes down to writers more so than it comes down to the performers.
The key to great TV comedy is an aligning of the stars, a great writing team, good actors who get slow comedy, and an audience which knows what they can expect.