Multi-camera sitcom.

Does the multi-camera sitcom have a future on TV networks?

David Trotti

Yes. They're relatively inexpensive in their first year. If they fail, the network and studio aren't out too much money. If they succeed, the first three years are also reasonably cheap (most cast contracts are for three years). After that, the show needs to be a hit with good syndication potential because cast and writer/producer fees balloon. What makes them hard to program is you need to pair them with another half-hour program, and the risk is that if either of those programs lose the audience, it can destroy your night for all your shows. Network programming relies on audience retention, so the 8 o'clock hour is incredibly important. You want families at 8-9, Moms and 18-29 from 9-10 and 18-29 with older adults now trying to bring in the male demographic 10-11 to set up the 11 o'clock news for your local affiliates and retain numbers for your late shows. Then hopefully your audience turns off the TV and wakes up on your channel to watch the local morning news, your national network news (where you advertise your nightly line up) and the cycle repeats.
They are also very lucrative for syndication if they make it that far, so yes, sitcoms have a place in the future of TV. Just less so in the streaming world. Half-hour single camera comedies are more desirable there for binge-watching purposes.

Stevan Šerban

Thanks a lot David for your comment.

I have a great story on which I am currently working. I just finished the first draft as a multi-camera sitcom. What do you think, shall I send it as a multi-camera sitcom to PAGE AWARDS contest?

David Trotti

I wouldn't recommend sending a first draft. Grab some actors and do a table read and see how the flow is. See if the laughs are coming in the right places. Then do a rewrite and punch-up session where you hone the jokes and really get into the characters. It'll probably be a couple of drafts before you really feel it firing on all cylinders.

Stevan Šerban

I did not mean to send a first draft. I mean generally to send a multi-camera sitcom rather than a single camera comedy. My dilemma is between these two approach, if you know what I mean.
I read a lot of internet discussions about single camera comedy vs multi-camera sitcom and that confuses me. I am worried for which one producers have more interest.

I certainly thank you on the proposal to check the text at the table read!

David Trotti

I'd say write what you feel is best for the material. That said, selling a traditional multi-camera sitcom is going to be much harder than a single camera comedy. Though neither is easy. The only real buyers for multicamera are networks and a few cable channels. At least a single camera comedy by a new writer, if it's original and interesting, might get someone to take a risk on it. Multi-camera is considered a very specialized beast, particularly for a show-runner, because running the writers room on one is so demanding and requires experience and a very special skill set as well as connections to pull in an experienced writing team. And there's a pretty deep pool of talent to compete with because every staff writer out there has a pilot in his or her back pocket and agents pushing to get them packaged and set up because the fees the agency will collect from the production entities are insanely lucrative.

Dan MaxXx

If you've never written/worked on a tv sitcom, for American television, how do you know how to write for a single or multi-camera, and is there a different approach/format on the script pages?

David Trotti

Here's a link to some pdf copies of scripts for Friends as examples (including the pilot with character descriptions). The later scripts are more standard sitcom format that the pilot.
Single camera TV comedies are generally formatted like traditional dramatic TV series. Multi-cam sitcom scripts are generally like the Friends scripts you'll see at the link above. As with any form of art, the structure of any comedy will vary by taste. But the usual structure of an American network sitcom is a Two Act play with an"A" story line where the comedy is derived by placing characters with extreme faults or viewpoints into a "situation" where comedy ensues, lessons are learned but in the end the characters do not change. The individual scene beats are often set-up, pay off heavy, as are the transitions between scenes. If done well, the opening scene and all subsequent scenes are building set ups to the "pay-off" in the final scene. This is often followed by a Tag scene that relieves the audience's tension by reassuring them that despite the characters' misadventures this week, they didn't learn anything and will be back to where they started next episode. Lather, rinse, repeat for 26 episodes a season. :)

Steve Trautmann

I'm a little late to this thread but to answer Steven's original question, multi-cams seem to be making a comeback. The networks ordered a little more than usual this season. As David mentioned they're relative inexpensive at the beginning and if successful have a long lucrative life in syndication.

Dan, I have a short presentation at that covers the different types of sitcoms.

W Keith Sewell

Yes, multi-cam orders outpaced single cam-comedies this year but most of the offerings came from their own studio production houses.

Steve Trautmann

You're right, Keith. Justin Halpern & Patrick Schumacker have a deal at Warner, and Fox passed on their multi-cam. All of the new Fox multi-cams are in-house.

I interviewed Halpern & Schumacker last year. It was a wild episode:

Ryan McCoy

My the fucking thing yourself! You’ve got a smartphone, right? Go shoot your script to see if it’s any good at all, THEN try and get it funded. Yes, multi-cams are making a comeback, especially with Netflix pumping money into it, but there is no room for new content. They are re-packaging old material and re-branding it for today’s audience. (Rosanne, Full House, etc.) So, before you waste time on trying to get a new piece of material funded and made from a no-name television writer/producer, make it yourself and put it online and find out what people think of it. Wish you the best!

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