An update from the Comedy Script Room readers
We're just about to start the full read stage of the latest Comedy Script Room, and there's one key thing we've noticed in terms of which scripts make it this far.
Sitcom relies on character more than anything else. A brilliant story, fantastic set-up, cultural and socioeconomic significance or a finger on the zeitgeist mean nothing without great watchable characters. You don't necessarily have to like them, in fact some of the best sitcom characters are the ones you'd avoid like the plague in real life, but you do have to want to watch them.
The scripts we've enjoyed the most have characters that really do feel alive on the page and are distinct from each other. That doesn't necessarily mean wacky for the sake of it. We've had some brilliant high concept scripts that might pair a time travelling demon with a 17 year old girl scout, but also a home where mum, dad and all the rest of the family have such individual takes on the world and their own odd quirks and foibles, that we've wanted to read more. Detectorists is just about a group of people who like metal detecting. It doesn't sound like the most exciting set up for a sitcom – in fact it's purposefully unglamorous, but the characters are all so weird and wonderful in their own way, incredibly different but bound by a common hobby they all love, that it is one of the best British sitcoms of the last few years.
But it's not just a case of having a great character or characters in a sitcom, there needs to be a dynamic that has huge comic potential. A lot of the scripts that don't get very far have characters that all sort of exist in the same place in the pecking order. A group of friends where everyone has equal status, an office where even the boss is spoken to like one of the co-workers. Great sitcom understands that what we love is a battle for status, a boss made to look stupid, an underling who gets punished before coming out on top for one brief moment. In It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Dennis Reynolds is higher status than Charlie and Mac. But Mac wants to be the same status as Dennis and isn't, while Charlie is happy doing Charlie work. It wouldn't work if all three friends held the same social status, had the same income and were equally successful with women (or men... spoilers).
Whether ensemble or a vehicle for one central comedic titan, played huge to a live audience or subtle performances to a single camera, what all great sitcoms have at heart is big characters.