British Comedy Guide

Plot / Sub Plot Question Page 3

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glaikit

  • Wednesday 7th January 2009, 8:51pm
  • Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
  • 159 posts
Quote: Timbo @ January 7 2009, 3:27 PM GMT

Interesting discussion. A thought that occurs to me is that older shows were often more linear than most modern sitcoms, with a single central premise being twisted and turned, rather than separate plot lines being intertwined. Galton & Simpson are masters of this, though capable of more complex plotting as well. Clement and La Frenais would sometimes come up with a premise and just riff on it without any plot twists (Bob and Terry trying not to hear the result, Fletcher trying to get some peace and quiet).

Even shows with an ensemble cast such as Dad's Army tended to rely on "Group Plots".

I wonder whether the current emphasis on subplots owes something to the influence of American shows such as Taxi and Friends, where ensemble casting and star egos meant everyone had to have equal screen time.

The influence of farce may also be a factor, earlier writers having come up through music hall and radio, and perhaps being less influenced by the theatre.

Good points, Timbo. Now that I think about it, yeah Dad's Army was pretty much a group plot show. Funny how the idea of a Group Plot is absent from so many how-to books, especially when most the one's I've read make a big deal out of older 'classic' sitcoms being much better than new ones.

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Mav42

  • Thursday 8th January 2009, 12:16am
  • Exeter, England
  • 76 posts

Strangest thing about Friends is the character development.

In the pilot you could almost swap the lines between them - everyone had a witty retort or sharp put-down to say, even Joey. It was like watching Jerry, Elaine and George banter in Seinfeld.

Then they got to grips with it a bit more, and Monica became funny for her neuroses; Chandler, wit; Joey, stupidity; etc, etc. That was a solid foundation for a long time.

By season ten, almost everyone had become an exagerration of themselves. Only Rachel, the one character to really grow out of her 'gimmick' (superficiality), remained somewhat three-dimensional. Chandler became snidey; Joey moronic; Monica and Phoebe were borderline-insane in different ways. Ross was just incredibly loud.

A sitcom that had prided itself on ingenuity in writing and likable, varied characters had over a decade descended into desperate farce.

Friends did so much right and at its peak was superb, but it's amazing how many examples there are within it of what not to do when writing a sitcom.

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Godot Taxis

  • Thursday 8th January 2009, 5:28am
  • England
  • 5,328 posts

Friends is impossible not to laugh at, as the writing is consistently funny - as you would expect from a writing team of twenty chain-smoking chimpanzees chained to typewriters or whatever it is.

It's hard to like however, as it gets tiring hearing exchanges of dialogue that resemble what people would say to each other if they could freeze time and spend hours honing their responses.

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Matthew Stott

  • Thursday 8th January 2009, 1:55pm
  • Yemen
  • 19,296 posts
Quote: Mav42 @ January 7 2009, 7:16 PM GMT

Ross was just incredibly loud.

For me Ross got funnier as things went on. A bit of a nothing character at first, by the end he was my favourite.

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glaikit

  • Thursday 8th January 2009, 2:07pm
  • Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
  • 159 posts
Quote: Mav42 @ January 7 2009, 7:16 PM GMT

Strangest thing about Friends is the character development.

In the pilot you could almost swap the lines between them - everyone had a witty retort or sharp put-down to say, even Joey. It was like watching Jerry, Elaine and George banter in Seinfeld.

Then they got to grips with it a bit more, and Monica became funny for her neuroses; Chandler, wit; Joey, stupidity; etc, etc. That was a solid foundation for a long time.

By season ten, almost everyone had become an exagerration of themselves. Only Rachel, the one character to really grow out of her 'gimmick' (superficiality), remained somewhat three-dimensional. Chandler became snidey; Joey moronic; Monica and Phoebe were borderline-insane in different ways. Ross was just incredibly loud.

A sitcom that had prided itself on ingenuity in writing and likable, varied characters had over a decade descended into desperate farce.

Friends did so much right and at its peak was superb, but it's amazing how many examples there are within it of what not to do when writing a sitcom.

Yeah, I would actually agree with all that. Monica and Phoebe in particular became these monsters (and not in a good, comic monster way) that I didn't really want to be around by the end of the series, whereas they were the funnier characters at the start.

Quote: Matthew Stott @ January 8 2009, 8:55 AM GMT

For me Ross got funnier as things went on. A bit of a nothing character at first, by the end he was my favourite.

And I would also agree with this - when I mentioned excellent comic performances before, I was largely thinking of Ross towards the end of the series, where the writers seemed to love putting his character through the comical wringer (tanning mishaps, various crazy dates, thinking he could play keyboard). His character was one of the better ones by the end of it.

Monica I just wanted to strangle.

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Matthew Stott

  • Thursday 8th January 2009, 2:18pm
  • Yemen
  • 19,296 posts
Quote: glaikit @ January 8 2009, 9:07 AM GMT

And I would also agree with this - when I mentioned excellent comic performances before, I was largely thinking of Ross towards the end of the series, where the writers seemed to love putting his character through the comical wringer (tanning mishaps, various crazy dates, thinking he could play keyboard). His character was one of the better ones by the end of it.

I think he is a great physical comedian; the leather pants one is another good example. For me, Chandler was my favourite to start with, but as soon as he got with Monica, the writers seemed to forget how to write him funny.

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glaikit

  • Friday 9th January 2009, 2:25pm
  • Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
  • 159 posts

Another example of the 'One Group Plot' approach is The Big Bang Theory , a show I reckon is the funniest and best written sitcom to come out of the States in ages. Almost every episode this past season has featured one sole plotline, with the each of the characters either directly involved or acting as sub-characters.

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Matthew Stott

  • Friday 9th January 2009, 2:29pm
  • Yemen
  • 19,296 posts
Quote: glaikit @ January 9 2009, 9:25 AM GMT

Another example of the 'One Group Plot' approach is The Big Bang Theory , a show I reckon is the funniest and best written sitcom to come out of the States in ages.

It's very good, but better than 30 Rock? You crazy blood?

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glaikit

  • Friday 9th January 2009, 2:32pm
  • Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
  • 159 posts
Quote: Matthew Stott @ January 9 2009, 9:29 AM GMT

It's very good, but better than 30 Rock? You crazy blood?

I haven't watched 30 Rock, to be fair and I was ignoring Flight Of The Conchords as well. However, plotting wise, Big Bang is interesting methinks.

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Matthew Stott

  • Friday 9th January 2009, 2:35pm
  • Yemen
  • 19,296 posts
Quote: glaikit @ January 9 2009, 9:32 AM GMT

I haven't watched 30 Rock, to be fair and I was ignoring Flight Of The Conchords as well. However, plotting wise, Big Bang is interesting methinks.

It is very good, though I think rests a little too heavily on the comedic might of Sheldon.

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glaikit

  • Friday 9th January 2009, 3:14pm [Edited]
  • Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
  • 159 posts
Quote: Matthew Stott @ January 9 2009, 9:35 AM GMT

It is very good, though I think rests a little too heavily on the comedic might of Sheldon.

Agreed. But Sheldon is such a well-developed and superbly acted comic creation that I find I don't care.

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glaikit

  • Friday 9th January 2009, 3:40pm
  • Newcastle Upon Tyne, England
  • 159 posts

To get back to the point in hand, I wonder if the kind of 'Gang Shows' that the Americans used to do in the 70s and 80s (such as Taxi and Cheers) are noticeably different in plot structure than 'traditionally' plotted sitcoms with A, B and C plots?

From what I can recall in Cheers it would be perfectly acceptable to have a plot that only involved one or two of the characters (usually Sam and Diane) and the rest of the cast are just there to sound off against them and crack jokes.

However, if I were to write a script now that took the same approach I reckon I'd get criticisms of 'superfluous characters' and the like.

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Lee

  • Friday 9th January 2009, 8:06pm
  • Lincolnshire, United Kingdom
  • 36,350 posts

I'm currently writing a sitcom pilot and I'm finding the most beautiful thing, withuot any planning, a plot and sub plot is falling into place, it is being layed down as I write. I can almost just sit back and watch it.

This has never happened to me before.

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Tursiops

  • Friday 9th January 2009, 8:07pm [Edited]
  • Welwyn Garden City, England
  • 9,788 posts

To be fair I think Cheers and Taxi always had subplots centred-round the minor characters, though admittedly not everyone got a sub-plot every week. What I do not recall is much in the way of sub-plots in the David Croft ensemble shows. Taking the Brief Encounter episode, each member of the platoon brings along a ladyfriend and a joke is had out of each of them, but the only plot that develops out of this initial scenario is Mainwaring's romance with Carmen Silvera.

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Mike Greybloke

  • Saturday 10th January 2009, 4:58am [Edited]
  • England
  • 225 posts
Quote: Leevil @ January 9 2009, 3:06 PM GMT

I'm currently writing a sitcom pilot and I'm finding the most beautiful thing, withuot any planning, a plot and sub plot is falling into place, it is being layed down as I write. I can almost just sit back and watch it.

I've got that going on in the script I'm writing. It is a beautiful thing.