November 22, 2008
I’ll definitely back up Robin; check out NYTMag’s Screens issue. (Is there no way to permalink whole issues? Blerg.)
My favorite story, though, is Ross Simonini’s “The Sitcom Digresses,” which traces the genealogy of the digression/flashback in TV comedies from The Simpsons to 30 Rock and ultimately to the postmodern novel. So:
Tristram Shandy -> Gravity’s Rainbow -> The Simpsons -> Family Guy -> Scrubs -> Arrested Development -> 30 Rock
This reminded me that while we generally have a pretty good sense of developments in technique and changes in style in movies and literature, TV history is driven almost entirely by content. The sense of form is much looser — I know that Malcolm in the Middle or Bernie Mac are single-camera shows, and look different from Seinfeld or I Love Lucy — but what was the first single-camera sitcom? Who first added a phony laugh track? When did that get discredited?
Who are the great television directors? If we really are becoming people of the screen, we ought to know.