The next big thing: silliness

BBC boss predicts return of the traditional sitcom

Silliness will be the next big thing in TV sitcoms, a senior BBC comedy executive has predicted.

Kenton Allen says viewers are tiring of dry, single-camera sitcoms in the vein of The Office and are yearning for a return to over-the-top comedies packed with jokes and visual gags, shot in front of a studio audience.

‘Falling over is back,’ he told a conference at the Just For Laughs comedy festival in Montreal, discussing claims that the traditional sitcom is dead.

‘People have a huge desire to laugh out loud again – especially on the cusp of a recession. Big and loud and funny will be back.’

Allen, the BBC’s creative head of talent and head of Comedy North until he leaves the corporation next month, added that larger-than-life slapstick comedy wasn’t fashionable, but that it could be made so in the right hands.

He cited sketch troupe We Are Klang, pictured, who are currently developing their own show, as something that might reverse the trend.

‘It’s very funny. It’s very “slap-in-the-face”,’ he said. ‘It can be cool.’

Allen said that there was no such thing as an ‘instant hit’ in TV comedy, but added: ‘The things that you don’t understand but still make you laugh are going to be the big hits. We should pursue that, rather than trying to look at what made the last thing successful.

‘This job is all about trying to pick the right talent and not fuck them up.’

Suzanna Makkos of America’s Fox network also agreed that the unfashionable studio-based sitcom could be making a return, saying: ‘I truly believe that we can have another hit with a multi-camera sitcom.

‘People sometimes complain about the laugh tracks on these sorts of shows, but if you’re laughing, you can’t hear the laugh track. It’s not the laugh track that’s the problem, it’s that the show isn’t funny enough.

‘It is very hard to do a multi-camera sitcom that doesn’t feel retro, with its setup-joke structure. Today, they have to have a specific voice that makes them unique. Mediocrity in this medium is over.’

And she said single-camera sitcoms ‘can be very flat’ if they don’t have the quality of writing of something like 30 Rock.

The BBC has been returning to studio sitcoms lately, with Lee Mack’s Not Going Out and Chris Addison’s Lab Rats.

Published: 17 Jul 2008

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