TALK SHOW AND SITCOM
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by Mila Petkova

Nowadays the mixing of genres and forms, especially in TV events, is becoming more and more common. Particularly interesting is the combination between two specific TV genres - the sitcom and the talk show, so I have decided to make a comparison linking the two.
Sitcom means a situation comedy. Using the theater and the cinema for a comparison between the sitcom and the talk show, the TV talk show uses elements from both the cinema and the theater. However, these same elements are much more pronounced in the sitcom. The cinema and the theater have maintained their nature as artistic forms from their beginning until now, even though they were subject to changes throughout their development, which is of course normal. I pay close attention to the sitcom, because I think that both the talk show and the sitcom as specific TV genres are extremely close to each other. The talk show stands out with specificity with respect to the style and form of the journalistic genres. The sitcom also brings certain specificity to the artistic television forms. The talk show uses evenly the means of "talking" and making "a show", which is determined by the function of this genre. Whereas in the sitcom the element of "talking" is not journalistic, but instead artistic, and making "a show" here is perceived as creating entertainment and fun. As specific TV genres both have common ground in regard to their tactics and strategy. Their scenario schemes follow certain regularities characteristic of these types of TV genres. The parallel between the sitcom and the talk show is the dramaturgic structure of these two forms, as well as their difference with respect to other TV genres.
The sitcom is a phenomenon, which floods the TV screen for years now and continues to attract the interest of the viewers. Although it emerges as a product for mass consumption well after the talk show, the sitcom draws the attention of TV journalists and presenters with respect to the means of attracting the audiences and variegating the story without decreasing its values and significance. The sitcom poses questions about the change of approach and tactics, about the appropriate way for scrutinizing problems and events from our lives, about the artistic presentation of facts and not just the "dry" and academic staging of our reality.
It is interesting to note that in the USA, where the sitcoms first emerged, many of them even now are referred to as "talk show". Some of the most popular ones are Cheers, Total Strangers, Friends, ALF, Raymond, Fiery Grace etc. In the beginning of the genre (the 50s and 60s of the 20th century) these talk show series were performed live in front of an audience in the recording studio. Only in recent years the laughter that we hear is being prerecorded. The reactions then were natural and spontaneous and the audience participated with unprompted remarks to create an impulsive dialogue with the actors. (In Cheers, for example, a voice behind the frame informed the audience that the series are recorded live). These were comedy serials posing very serious problems - universal, social, even political - which deeply concerned the viewers. Each series script was written exclusively for the particular episode. Later on these sitcoms were filmed without live audiences, but with prerecorded laughter. Still, such a genre with its topicality involves the audience and arouses their empathy.
When the sitcom established itself on the TV screen several types of journalistic broadcasts that included games and quizzes were already present. The approach, the style, the building of the story - literally the whole structure of the sitcom - gradually proved successful and became universal for the creation of talk show programs. As already noted, in the very beginning these broadcasts were funny, entertaining, commenting upon problems of the present and including games and quizzes. Progressively this approach established itself and was adopted even by serious programs, which dealt with social and political issues. Apart from the fact that the sitcoms were called talk shows, many readers could wonder what connects these two genres. First, I will mention the differences that determine the specificity of these two forms.

SITKOM SERIES

TALK SHOWS


1. The sitcom is an artistic genre.

1. The talk show is a journalistic genre.

2. The sitcom series are a comedy.

2. The talk show is not (although there exists one type of talk show that is funny and entertaining).

3. The sitcom series are fictitious and funny stories, even though they use topics from real life and build their plots on reality. In the theater and the cinema the authors can incorporate much more fiction and fantasy, whereas the goal of the sitcom as a TV genre oriented toward the general public is to deal in the light of laughter with life situations and everyday problems. No matter the extent of reality in the story, the plot of the sitcom is always fictitious.

3. Talk shows reflect and comment upon the contemporary scene. In principle, the authors of talk shows also construct the dramaturgy and the plot in advance. However, the fact that they reflect the reality in such a precise manner makes the development of the plot very responsible. It is important to present the information in an interesting way, so as to emphasize its significance.

4. The sitcom characters are entirely fictitious.

4. The talk show guests are real people, who do not follow already written remarks, but instead participate with their narrative in the general story.

5. The sitcom has a plot that is being presented in front of the viewers.

5. Talk shows present stories, topics, and problems. They are built upon discussions, interviews, debates, and documentaries.

6. In the sitcom series the main character (characters) is the key participant.

6. In the talk show the host is the "narrator" introducing the guests and the topics and leading the development of the events.

7. In the sitcom there are no actively participating viewers. Since the laughter behind frame is pseudo-participation, we could say that the participation of the audience is only only. (Although there are quite a few talk shows that use the audience in the studio in this exact way).

7. In the talk show the live participation of the audience is natural and necessary, since this input is part of the show. The sitcom series are being prerecorded.

8. The sitcoms are broadcasted with prerecorded audience reactions.

8. The talk show is broadcasted live. Changes in the plot happen all the time and the host determines the direction of the dialogue.

The typical specificity of each of these genres emphasizes their individuality and uniqueness. Their common specificity with regard to other TV genres determines their similarities. These similarities are based on the scenario scheme and the dramaturgic construction of both the sitcom and the talk show. In the talk shows the role of the scenario and the development of the story are quite important. It is significant to find the center, the accent, the measure for entertainment in relation to the real events and problems, which are to be reproduced. The borders between fiction (if parts of the story are fictitious) and reality have to be determined. The talk show is similar to the sitcom because there is a thematic connection between several broadcasts.

SITKOM SERIES

TALK SHOWS


1. Each sitcom series takes place in a certain environment.

1. Each talk show, depending on its type and genre, maintains its environment throughout the broadcasts.

2. Thematic, genre and style uniformity.

2. The talk shows are thematically oriented. There is uniformity in the style and genre.

3. Each episode deals with a different topic upon which the story is built.

3. Each talk show broadcast deals with a particular topic.

4. Each new episode sets certain conflict upon which the whole story is built.

4. Each broadcast scrutinizes, comments upon and solves a specific conflict.

5. The story in an episode is built upon a particular event, which shapes the plot.

5. The plot is structured upon a particular occasion, problem or event, which are being discussed or even ridiculed.

6. The sitcom series have one or several main characters, which introduce the new characters and the new episode.

6. The talk show has a host who leads the dialogue and presents the story.

7. The plot determines who will be the new characters that will be connected to the particular story.

7. The plot determines who the guests in the talk show would be.

8. The characters are divided into "positive" and "negative" ones.

8. The host invites participants that are either "for" or "against" when the current topic is concerned.

9.The series consist of episodes.

9.The talk show is divided into thematic rubrics. When there is no such division, the stories of the guests form "mini-episodes" arranged according to the logic and the accents of the plot.

10.The episode is built upon a dialogue and action.

10.The main means of presenting during the talk show is the dialogue, which links the story to the action.

Each sitcom series and talk show is built upon a particular scheme, which is never being changed. The sitcoms are abiding strictly to this scheme and are filling it with content. The talk show follows this frame, but according to its type, subjects, style and purpose, the scriptwriters can deviate from the frame and build an own dramaturgic construction, which is still quite similar to the one of the sitcoms. The developed frame of the series could therefore be adapted to suit the scriptwriters of a talk show. The scheme is divided into ten episodes, each one with a particular task. This is the scheme that scriptwriters of sitcoms use.

SITKOM SERIES

TALK SHOWS


1. Episode: the topic of the series is being determined.

1. The topic of the broadcast is being determined.

2 Episode: Credit titles.

2. The guests, their positions and "roles" are being introduced.

3. Episode: the specific problem is being explicated.

3. The specific problem is being explicated and the host explains the reasons for discussing the topic.

4 and 5 Episode: Inception of the action. The conflict is being announced. The new characters, who actively participate and lead the conflict to ...

4,5. Inception of the action; the guests tell their stories and points of view. The conflict is being announced. In cases when there is no conflict /purely entertaining talk shows or broadcasts that present celebrities/ the story continues until reaching its ...

6. Episode: Culmination.

6. Culmination. The climax point in the argument or moment of surprise presented by either the host or the guest

7,8, 9. Episode: Denouement. Solution of the conflict.

7,8,9. Denouement. Final commentaries.

10. Episode: Final.

10. Final.

As an example I will portray the dramaturgic construction of one talk show on Bulgarian TV - Clash. As evident from the name of the talk show this is a broadcast that deals with specific conflicts and arguments of public nature. There are two hosts who take symbolically one of the sides in the fracas. I will now describe a particular broadcast aired on the national television bTV on January 1st, 2002.
1. Episode: the topic "Should we hate the rich?" is being presented. Each participant in the first part of the broadcast shares his viewpoint and introduces the audience to the main topic. In this broadcast the first guest is Anastasia Moser.
2. Episode: the participants in the second part of the program are being introduced.
3. Episode: the hosts bring up the questions: "What is the attitude of the poor people in Bulgaria toward the rich? Should we blame them or not? How do you get rich in Bulgaria? Is it fair to be rich or is it a fraud?" These questions are followed by short comments by the hosts.
4. and 5. Episode: Inception of the action. The main participants in the clash share their viewpoints with the audience and the hosts. In round one the manager of Radio Darik Radosvet Radev argues his beliefs against the writer Valentin Plamenov. The hosts attach to these positions a couple of reportages and interviews, which add to the strength of the action and the development of the plot. The participants in the second round, the publisher of the newspaper Monitor Petyo Bluskov /siding with Radosvet Radev/ against the journalists from the newspaper Standard Vassil Petev, add to the increasing tension between the guests.
6. Episode: Culmination. The clash heats up. The development of the plot switches entirely to the guests. The guests participate in a direct clash almost entirely excluding the hosts.
7., 8. and 9. Episode: Denouement. The clash continues with both sides clarifying and defending their positions. The hosts again include reports and interviews, as well as questions from the audience. The goal of the two journalists is to lead each participant to a summary of their opinion.
10. Episode: the guests have played their "roles" and have shared their positions, so it is up to the viewers to decide which standpoint is right and which is wrong. The hosts then summarize the viewpoints and announce the end of the talk show.
In some talk show this scheme is not strictly adhered to. This usually happens in broadcasts that consist of thematically different parts or deal with several different topics. These different parts lead all in one direction, however, each component has its own mini-topic, which depicts a particular story, imparts a fact, present a problem, reports about an event, ridicules etc. The aforementioned scheme relates to an entire conception for a broadcast. The different parts of the program are arranged in such an order so as to create the moment of inception of the action, the moment of culmination, and the moment of conclusion. Some talk shows, for example, create the moment of culmination when their guests appear on the screen. In most cases such guests are celebrities awaited by the general public with great interest. The story and the topics in each part of the broadcast should adhere to the classical scheme. Both the sitcom and the talk show authors arrange the broadcast according to the order of events. They follow the logic and in the case of the talk show - the authors organize it according to the importance and significance of the components. After the clarification of the main structure, the authors create the main idea and determine the goal and the accents of the broadcast. When watching series the viewer is expecting to witness a fictitious story that albeit close to the reality was created by the scriptwriters. Everything was written and staged well in advance, the characters are developed and the story is completed. In the talk show the stories can be discussed from many different standpoints. These stories not only resemble or ridicule reality; they are reality that has to be recounted. It is necessary to discover the right approach to the topic while taking into consideration all participants and their opinions. When a broadcast is not dependent on the appearance of one person only, we can call dramaturgy even the choice of guests, which in turn will affect the development of the story and the viewpoint of the discussion. The realness of the guests puts in jeopardy the hosts, because their reactions cannot be foreseen. Therefore, we can conclude that one significant difference between the sitcom and the talk show is caused by the preliminary drafted plot of the situation comedy. The authors of the talk show can only outline the development of the plot and endeavor to anticipate the possible answers of the guests. Hence the story develops in the process of introducing and talking to the talk show participants. The task of the host as "main character" is extremely important. The host can determine HOW the story will develop itself and what the dialogue with the guests would look like. Whereas in the prerecorded sitcom nothing can go wrong, the host of a talk show should be prepared for unexpected changes and be able to get out verbally from a difficult or unpleasant situation. In order to appreciate the difficult task of a talk show host we have to keep in mind that every guest comes with his own story, viewpoint and comments, while the remarks of the sitcom characters are written in advance and prerecorded. It takes a lot of skill from the host to "insert" organically in the story the demeanor and the image of the "character", who is invited to the talk show. Many hosts fall quite often into difficulties when communicating with the guests due to their inexperience and lack of professionalism.
I think that these schemes for the broadcast play a significant role during the creation of each sitcom series or talk show. In many aspects, the form of the sitcom series contributes to the production of quality talk shows. It is very important that the main character (the host) manages to narrate the story in such a way that the viewer would fancy watching the next episode as well.