These are the guidelines for The Sitcom Mission 2013:
Read The Rules And GuidelinesSo many people don't read them, or they read them and ignore them. Please read them.
Only Send Us Sitcoms That Are 15 Minutes Long
Production companies have specifically requested that we keep individual sitcoms to no longer than 15 minutes. This may not sound like much, but it can be done: US sitcoms are now coming in at 19 minutes.
A 15-minute radio sitcom has to come in at 15 minutes, and so should a stage sitcom. It shouldn't overrun. It's vital, too, not to underwrite. If you submit a script that is only 10 minutes long the script reader will want to know why.
We Want Sitcoms That Have Series Potential
We want sitcoms that could stretch to a minimum of 6 episodes, and preferably a number of series. No-one is going to cast something and then build a lot of expensive sets unless there's some mileage in it. Look at your sitcom. Does it have series potential? Is it really just a sketch or are there at least 6 episodes that you can think of using these characters and these sets?
We Want Sitcoms With Exciting Characters
Sitcoms are about people, and the more bold and exciting the central character the better. Fawlty Towers isn't about a hotel in Torquay, it's about a man who is terrified of his wife and his relationship with her and their staff.
Contemporary sitcoms are all built around a central character or characters – Miranda, Mrs Brown's Boys, Citizen Khan etc. Characters are who we relate to and are the central element to any sitcom.
You've only got 15 minutes. Do you want to give us 10 characters of whom we learn very little, or 4 characters we get to know well? Apropos which, here's Graham Linehan on Black Books and The IT Crowd:
The three people together, especially the thing of two guys and a girl, is a pretty powerful set up. You could possibly transfer everyone from Seinfeld onto the show. I don't know if it's intentional, it's sometimes just the way things turn out. It's the right amount for a sitcom, though. It's a manageable amount of people.
Keep the focus on the characters and the dialogue. Steptoe And Son is about two people in a room. It's about their odd couple relationship, not their surroundings.
You Need A Catalyst
Also known as an 'inciting incident', a catalyst is something that sets the ball rolling for this week's episode. If you don't have a catalyst you probably don't have a plot. If you don't have a plot we don't have a reason for wanting to find out what happens next. Too many entries consist of a group of broadly similar people sitting around aimlessly exchanging jokes. The plot doesn't have to be huge (a meteor on collision course with the earth, for example) it can be fairly trivial, but you'd be well advised to make sure that it's there. It will give your sitcom the drive and momentum that the audience has been trained to expect by all the other sitcoms they've watched.
Of course all this will be self-evident if you...
Too many entries turn up written by people who seem (bizarrely) to have never seen a sitcom. There are plenty of transcribed sitcoms that you can read (for nothing) on the internet. You'll find several at Drew's Script-O-Rama. The whole of Frasier or Will and Grace, can be found online for absolutely nothing. BBC Writersroom has a number of BBC TV comedy scripts to download too, including The Smoking Room (a sitcom which took place in just one room and with minimal props).
Or why not see a sitcom being recorded? That way you'll find out the kind of stuff that is being commissioned right now. You'll see how few sets are used, how many jokes per minute are expected (current thinking is 3 per page) and you'll know not to write something similar. For a list of recordings, see the BCG's Tickets Page
Write A Sitcom That Is Funny
"Well, durr.." you're probably thinking. But you haven't had to wade through hundreds of entries that aren't. You need to be funny from Page 1. Just as important, you need to keep our interest for the next 15 minutes. Why not go through your script with a highlighter pen and mark the bits that you think will get a laugh? Then count them. One episode of Will & Grace got 124 laughs. In 22 minutes. You've got 15 minutes, which means... oh, you do the maths.
One sure way to find out if what you've written actually is funny is to hear it read by actors. See our Workshop Page for further details.