Is the modern TV sketch show lazy in its writing?

Avatar

Blenkinsop

  • Saturday 5th February 2011, 11:46pm [Edited]
  • England
  • 2,013 posts

I posted more or less this view on the deterioration thread but it was probaly the wrong place, so I'm making it a thread on its own.

I wouldn't say that the sketch show of today is any worse or indeed any better than previous incarnations; each having its own merits, however in the matter of the writing of both I would contend this.

The work-rate of the writer / writers in today's version is, by virtue of modern formats, a hell of a lot less, and therefore the contemporary version is a lot easier to write; and here's why I say so.

In the old days you had shows like Not The Nine O'Clock News, for example, that had perhaps ten or more sketches throughout the half hour. All of them different in character, subject matter, and crucially, punchline. Then, and I know this is hard to believe but stay with me here, the writers had to write another ten plus totally different sketches for each of the subsequent shows, in some cases for another nine or twelve weeks. Just imagine that, mental wasn't it?

If only they'd have been aware of modern requirements they'd have had a much more stress-free time. Today's writers or writing teams seem to see it like this.

"What, write 120 different sketches for a series? Eff that for a game of soldiers"

Never mind that the job has already been made half as demanding because a modern run is only typically six weeks; making that only sixty-ish they'd have to come up with for the entire series if they worked like-for-like. But oh no, why write even sixty when you can get away with a total of only SIX for the whole bloody thing? That's a lot less work isn't it?

So in the event what we get is the entire six week duration padded out, by and large, with the same six effing jokes week after effing week. They don't even have to bother their arses writing 10-12 for the first episode because they're allowed to get away with doubling up the six they have already written.

I guess this must say something about us as modern audiences too. It seems that we are happy to watch minor variations on the same six jokes week after week or else how else do they get away with it?

Writers today? 'appen they don't know they're born some of them. Aye lad.

AvatarBCG Supporter

Tursiops

  • Saturday 5th February 2011, 11:52pm
  • Welwyn Garden City, England
  • 9,788 posts

I do find with Armstrong & Miller in particular that you might as well watch a repeat of the first episode of a series as watch the second. Do you reckon they do it because it is cheaper to film if you can record half a dozen sketches at once?

Avatar

T.W.

  • Saturday 5th February 2011, 11:54pm [Edited]
  • England
  • 15,786 posts

I agree with much of what you say. To be fair, the decision to move towards sketch shows with serialised, regular sketch characters/situations, has been mainly budgetary. Filming a total of 3 hours (6 x 30m) sketch comedy with different characters, locations, styles, etc. is more expensive than shooting 6 installments of 8-10 set-ups. The show can also be produced in a shorter timeframe - again saving money.

I too miss the days when the sketch show had far more "stand alone" sketches too. The last sketch shows that really did this were Big Train and The Armando Iannucci Shows.

EDIT: Timbo got there just before me. Annoyed

Avatar

Blenkinsop

  • Sunday 6th February 2011, 12:00am [Edited]
  • England
  • 2,013 posts

Not sure what the driver behind this trend is really. But as you both suggest, deep down like most things, there's a money consideration, and so the 'glory days' of writers, performers and producers being given free rein to do the best show possible have been banjaxed by the suits.

Avatar

Matthew Stott

  • Sunday 6th February 2011, 12:04am
  • Yemen
  • 19,296 posts

I imagine another reason, beyond it probably being cheaper, is that they assume having characters that appear every week appeals more to viewers and will make them come back every week to see their favourites.

Avatar

T.W.

  • Sunday 6th February 2011, 12:05am
  • England
  • 15,786 posts
Quote: Matthew Stott @ February 6 2011, 12:04 AM GMT

I imagine another reason, beyond it probably being cheaper, is that they assume having characters that appear every week appeals more to viewers and will make them come back every week to see their favourites.

The word "assume" here is awfullly well chosen.

Avatar

Blenkinsop

  • Sunday 6th February 2011, 12:10am
  • England
  • 2,013 posts
Quote: Matthew Stott @ February 6 2011, 12:04 AM GMT

I imagine another reason, beyond it probably being cheaper, is that they assume having characters that appear every week appeals more to viewers and will make them come back every week to see their favourites.

I expect that you're right Matthew and I agree with Tim that the word 'assume' is apposite.

However how do they justify that for the most part the joke, sketch and punchline remain almost the bleedin same each time? They must also assume that we're all brain-dead pillocks.

Avatar

His Own Devices

  • Sunday 6th February 2011, 12:55am [Edited]
  • England
  • 126 posts

Finally, someone else feels the same as I do. I completely agree that many of the sketch shows that are on today are far too dumbed down and repetitive. Back in the 1980s they did shows that were both funny and clever. Also, I don't know if this is relevant, but they also liked to satirise, or just simply make jokes about things and people from around the time, like the Tory Government. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but modern sketch shows don't seem to make any references to be doing that, not that I've seen anyway. In fact the only decent sketch show on now that I can think of is Horrible Histories. P.S. Do they still do ensemble casts anymore?

Avatar

Tim Azure

  • Sunday 6th February 2011, 10:28am [Edited]
  • Kent, England
  • 2,037 posts
Quote: His Own Devices @ February 6 2011, 12:55 AM GMT

Finally, someone else feels the same as I do. I completely agree that many of the sketch shows that are on today are far too dumbed down and repetitive. Back in the 1980s they did shows that were both funny and clever. Also, I don't know if this is relevant, but they also liked to satirise, or just simply make jokes about things and people from around the time, like the Tory Government. Now correct me if I'm wrong, but modern sketch shows don't seem to make any references to be doing that, not that I've seen anyway. In fact the only decent sketch show on now that I can think of is Horrible Histories. P.S. Do they still do ensemble casts anymore?

I think most sketch shows have ensemble casts-it lowers the costs doesn't it? I agree with you that they're repetitive, but shows like Dick Emery were also like this. Rory Bremner's show is probably the best at satire at the moment, but even that does have a number of repeated sketches-if not exactly catchphrased comedy.

AvatarBCG Supporter

Ben

  • Sunday 6th February 2011, 11:35am
  • England
  • 18,345 posts

I'm just as happy watching funny, recurring characters as I am watching funny, one off sketches.

I also find it odd that people on here who have never written for a sketch show are able to declare so firmly what is and isn't lazy in sketch writing.

Avatar

bob4apples

  • Sunday 6th February 2011, 11:54am [Edited]
  • England
  • 135 posts
Quote: Ben @ February 6 2011, 11:35 AM GMT

I'm just as happy watching funny, recurring characters as I am watching funny, one off sketches.

I also find it odd that people on here who have never written for a sketch show are able to declare so firmly what is and isn't lazy in sketch writing.

Then you must also find it odd that a critic who has never wrote or directed anything can criticise someone else's film. Or so-called screenwriting 'gurus' who write books but have never written a screenplay either.

As for formats etc..I think that a lot of times this is out of the writer's hands and the producers decide what type of sketch show they will make.

Avatar

Blenkinsop

  • Sunday 6th February 2011, 12:04pm
  • England
  • 2,013 posts
Quote: Ben @ February 6 2011, 11:35 AM GMT

I also find it odd that people on here who have never written for a sketch show are able to declare so firmly what is and isn't lazy in sketch writing.

Name the guilty men, Ben. ;)

As I kicked this off my views were pretty firm in my declaration of what I found to be lazy in this context. But at the end of the day it's only an opinion and as the thread is presented it asks the question rather than states the fact.

My views, as indeed are those of others who have commented thus far, are leaning towards the idea that perhaps modern formats and cost constraints encourage, shall we say, a less industrious approach to the art of the TV sketch show.

I think that your comment virtually excludes most of the membership here from having a view about most things they comment on. Most opinion on here is formed as the result of being a consumer of the particular product and or service.

One's view on a subject does not have to be formed from a personal experience of having participated in what one is commentating on surely? There a millions of others who comment on, for example, the Premiership every week without ever having taken part in a Premiership game themselves. By your terms of reference then should their views be disallowed?

Avatar

zooo

  • Sunday 6th February 2011, 12:14pm [Edited]
  • United Kingdom
  • 69,178 posts
Quote: bob4apples @ February 6 2011, 11:54 AM GMT

Or so-called screenwriting 'gurus' who write books but have never written a screenplay either.

Are there any that do that? Who the hell would buy that book?

Avatar

bob4apples

  • Sunday 6th February 2011, 12:28pm [Edited]
  • England
  • 135 posts
Quote: zooo @ February 6 2011, 12:14 PM GMT

Are there any that do that? Who the hell would buy that book?

Quite a lot actually. Many who write screenwriting books haven't had a screenplay made into a film.

Syd Field has probably sold the most books on the subject and he hasn't, though he has consulted on one or two film projects. Some have been readers for studios like Robert McKee. Only Blake Snyder (who wrote one of Stallone's film 'Stop or My Mom will shoot') has actually done both with some success. They are three of the most well known authors of these books.

Avatar

zooo

  • Sunday 6th February 2011, 12:37pm
  • United Kingdom
  • 69,178 posts

I wouldn't read a how-to book by someone who hadn't proved they knew how-to themselves.

Unless it was a how-to con people into buying useless books book.