Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Single-camera sitcoms, CG-animated movies and the coming global superstorm

The essential animation blog Cartoon Brew points out how many crazy animal computer animated movies are coming out this year. In many ways, it's similar to the late 90s, when Disney's competitors flooded the market with hand-drawn animation, and nothing was ever the same. Indeed, that problem killed the 2-D animation market for the time being (Curious George is doing pretty well, and Disney reportedly has a great project in development that will revive the flagging artform). (If you're interested in 'toons at all, the Brew is a GREAT place to read. Tons of cool info on animation from all over the world.)

And now, we're looking at the same thing happening with the single-camera sitcom. To be completely fair, the single-camera sitcom has been around since the start of TV (would you believe the Andy Griffith Show was essentially a single-camera show?). But it's modern iteration really got started with Scrubs then took off with Arrested Development (Curb Your Enthusiasm factors in here too). In the last year, it has flowered, with The Office, My Name Is Earl and Everybody Hates Chris taking off. Even How I Met Your Mother is technically a single-camera sitcom. Sons and Daughters, coming up, is also a fine, funny show.

(A note: The difference between single-camera sitcoms and three-camera sitcoms is that three-cameras are typically filmed on a soundstage with, surprise, three (or four) cameras turned on to minimize the number of takes necessary. There's a great deal more freedom when you have just one camera -- you can go on location and such -- but you also can't have a studio audience, etc.)

But now, we're at the point where the single-camera sitcom is going to find its own glut of excess. EVERYbody is developing MULTIPLE single-camera sitcoms for next year, and Fox has The Loop and Free Ride coming up, which are remarkably similar and are going to have a hard time breaking out.

And yet, executives say of computer-animated films and single-camera sitcoms, "This is what the people want!" NO THEY DON'T. They want well-told stories with strong characters. Pixar and My Name Is Earl are successful because they put the STORY first.

ESPECIALLY in the case of single-camera sitcoms, the critics don't help. Every one that comes along is hailed as a "fresh show" when very many of them are just ripoffs of other shows. Traditionally filmed sitcoms get a lot of guff nowadays, but that's because they were destroyed by the Friends clones, followed by the Everybody Loves Raymond clones. Get some fresh, funny writing in there and they'll seem completely new. Jamie Weinmann has written about how critics have no idea how to classify sitcoms because they don't really understand the form on a number of occasions. (Go read that post. I'll wait. I swear.)

The clone mentality is what kills Hollywood every time. And yet, they don't get the idea.

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