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Just four, that's it - no more

By Bert Ehrmann
2005-11-28 — In recent weeks, I've made a startling discovery - something so explosive that it threatens the entire fabric of the entertainment industry. That something? There are really only four types of sitcoms on television. That's it.

These four types of sitcom include; "We Don't Belong Together," "We're all Friends," "We Work Here," and "We're all Family." Most sitcoms, even the good ones, will fit under these umbrellas.

Look at some of the more popular sitcoms over the last few decades. Cheers (1982) is a "We Work Here" sitcom; The Cosby Show (1984) a "We're all Family"; Perfect Strangers (1986) a "We Don't Belong Together"; and Seinfeld (1990) a "We're all Friends" sitcom.

It's that simple. (Almost) every half hour comedy sitcom you've ever seen fits into one of these molds.

Take a look at the current crop of half-hour sitcoms crowding our dial. (Note, currently, I watch very few of the following shows and only list most of them for equal time.)

Some sitcoms on Fox include the new Kitchen Confidential, Arrested Development and That '70s Show. Kitchen Confidential takes place inside the hustle and bustle of a modern New York eating establishment, focusing on the chefs, waiters and staff behind the scenes - "We Work Here." Arrested Development follows the Bluth family, with common sensed Michael Bluth dealing with his money-grubbing kin - "We Don't Belong Together." And That '70s Show is about a group of friends living in Wisconsin - "We're all Friends"

NBC has Scrubs. Scrubs takes place in a hospital and deals with the doctors who work there - "We Work Here." ABC has two "We're all Family" sitcoms in George Lopez and Rodney. While ABC's Freddie is most definitely a "We're all friends" sitcom.

Some sitcoms, like Two and a Half Men on CBS, follow two of the sitcom types. In Two and a Half Men, Charlie (Charlie Sheen) is a "well-to-do bachelor with a house at the beach" who lives with his "tightly wound" brother Alan (John Cryer) and Alan's son Jake. Two and a Half Men is equal parts "We Don't Belong Together" and "We're all Family." Yet even though Two and a Half Men uses two of these sitcom conventions, it still uses exactly the same conventions as almost every other sitcom does.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule as in this season's My Name is Earl. Earl Hickey (Jason Lee) has spent most of his life taking up space and generally making life miserable for others. However, after a revelation, Earl decides that he must right all of the wrongs he's done in his life and sets out to do this one person at a time. How does this show fit under the general sitcom types? Easy answer - it doesn't. I suspect that the real innovations in television come from these deviations from the "norm."

Still, how often do shows deviate from the above four types of sitcoms? When was the last time a sitcom aired that followed a group of homeless people in San Diego or a lone web designer living in the Midwest?

I wonder if there's a statistician somewhere crunching the numbers trying to determine which sitcom type is the most popular? As I think back on the television landscape, I'd have to guess that the "We're all Family" type of sitcoms was/is the most popular. The number shows set inside a home/ mansion/ apartment etc. where a mother and/or father or mother and mother, father and uncle, etc. are raising a set of kids boggles the mind.

Punky Brewster, Family Ties, Growing Pains, Just the Ten of Us, Kate and Allie, Step By Step, Silver Spoons, Valerie, Alf, Diff'rent Strokes, My Two Dads, The Facts of Life, The Simpsons... And these are only shows from the 1980s and beyond that I actually remember watching. I can only guess at the staggering amount of "We're all Family" shows from the family friendly TV days of the 1960s and 1970s. The Brady Bunch anyone?