Comedy-drama is a genre
Genre , Greek: genos, γένος) is the term for any category of literature or other forms of art or culture, e.g. music, and in general, any type of discourse, whether written or spoken, audial or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria. Genres are formed by conventions that change over time...

 of theatre, film and television program
Television program
A television program , also called television show, is a segment of content which is intended to be broadcast on television. It may be a one-time production or part of a periodically recurring series...

s which combines humorous and serious
Seriousness is an attiude of gravity, solemnity, persistence, and earnestness toward something considered to be of importance....



Traditional western theatre
Theatre is a collaborative form of fine art that uses live performers to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music or dance...

, beginning with the ancient Greeks, was divided into comedy
Comedy , as a popular meaning, is any humorous discourse or work generally intended to amuse by creating laughter, especially in television, film, and stand-up comedy. This must be carefully distinguished from its academic definition, namely the comic theatre, whose Western origins are found in...

 and tragedy
Tragedy is a form of art based on human suffering that offers its audience pleasure. While most cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, tragedy refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of...

. A tragedy typically ended with the death or destruction of a fictional or historical hero, whereas a comedy focused on the lives of middle to lower class characters and ended with their success. The term "drama" was used to describe all the action of a play. Beginning in the 19th century, authors such as Anton Chekhov
Anton Chekhov
Anton Pavlovich Chekhov was a Russian physician, dramatist and author who is considered to be among the greatest writers of short stories in history. His career as a dramatist produced four classics and his best short stories are held in high esteem by writers and critics...

, George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw
George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright and a co-founder of the London School of Economics. Although his first profitable writing was music and literary criticism, in which capacity he wrote many highly articulate pieces of journalism, his main talent was for drama, and he wrote more than 60...

 and Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as "the father of prose drama" and is one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre...

 blurred the line between comedy and drama.

Early television

The advent of radio drama
Radio drama
Radio drama is a dramatized, purely acoustic performance, broadcast on radio or published on audio media, such as tape or CD. With no visual component, radio drama depends on dialogue, music and sound effects to help the listener imagine the characters and story...

, cinema, and in particular television created greater pressure in marketing
Marketing is the process used to determine what products or services may be of interest to customers, and the strategy to use in sales, communications and business development. It generates the strategy that underlies sales techniques, business communication, and business developments...

 to clearly define a product as either comedy or drama. While in live theatre the difference became less and less significant, in mass media
Mass media
Mass media refers collectively to all media technologies which are intended to reach a large audience via mass communication. Broadcast media transmit their information electronically and comprise of television, film and radio, movies, CDs, DVDs and some other gadgets like cameras or video consoles...

 comedy and drama were clearly divided. Comedies, were expected to maintain a consistently light tone and not challenge the viewer by introducing more serious content.

By the early 1960s, television companies commonly presented half-hour long "comedy" series or one hour long "dramas." Half-hour series were mostly restricted to situation comedy
Situation comedy
A situation comedy, often shortened to sitcom, is a genre of comedy that features characters sharing the same common environment, such as a home or workplace, accompanied with jokes as part of the dialogue...

 or family comedy and were usually aired with either a live or overdubbed
Overdubbing is a technique used by recording studios to add a supplementary recorded sound to a previously recorded performance....

 laugh track
Laugh track
A laugh track is a separate soundtrack invented by Charles "Charley" Douglass, with the artificial sound of audience laughter, made to be inserted into television programming of comedy shows and sitcoms.The term "laugh track" does not apply to the genuine audience laughter on shows that shoot in...

. One-hour dramas included such shows as police and detective series, westerns, science fiction
Science fiction
Science fiction is a genre of fiction dealing with imaginary but more or less plausible content such as future settings, futuristic science and technology, space travel, aliens, and paranormal abilities...

, and later, serialized prime time soap opera
Soap opera
A soap opera, sometimes called "soap" for short, is an ongoing, episodic work of dramatic fiction presented in serial format on radio or as television programming. The name soap opera stems from the original dramatic serials broadcast on radio that had soap manufacturers, such as Procter & Gamble,...


While sitcoms would occasionally balance their humor with more dramatic and humanistic moments, these remained the exception to the rule as the 1960s progressed. Beginning around 1969 in the US, however, there was a brief spate of half-hour shows that purposely alternated between comedy and drama and aired without a laugh track
Laugh track
A laugh track is a separate soundtrack invented by Charles "Charley" Douglass, with the artificial sound of audience laughter, made to be inserted into television programming of comedy shows and sitcoms.The term "laugh track" does not apply to the genuine audience laughter on shows that shoot in...

, as well as some hour-long shows such as CHiPs
CHiPs is an American television drama series produced by MGM Studios that originally aired on NBC from September 15, 1977, to July 17, 1983. CHiPs followed the lives of two motorcycle police officers of the California Highway Patrol...

in the late 70s to early 80s. These were known as "comedy-dramas." Another good example was The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd
The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd
The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd is an NBC/Lifetime comedy-drama that aired from 1987 to 1991. It was created by Jay Tarses and starred Blair Brown in the title role.-Premise:...

, which aired from 1987-1991.

These early shows also influenced how general TV comedy and later how TV series (especially family themed sitcoms) were developed. They often included brief dramatic interludes and more serious subject matter. An example of a successful comedy-drama series that distinguished this genre in television was the series Moonlighting
Moonlighting (TV series)
Moonlighting is an American television series that aired on ABC from March 3, 1985, to May 14, 1989. The network aired a total of 66 episodes...

. It generated an immense amount of critical acclaim as well as being a highly rated series worldwide. Another example of a successful comedy-drama was the television series Eight is Enough
Eight Is Enough
Eight Is Enough is an American television comedy-drama series which ran on ABC from March 15, 1977 until August 29, 1981. The show was modeled after syndicated newspaper columnist Thomas Braden, a real-life parent with eight children, who wrote a book with the same name...

. The show was distinct because it was not a comedy-drama in the traditional sense. It was an hour-long series that utilized a laugh track which was very unusual, but is considered a comedy-drama for the fact that it alternated between drama and comedy.

In the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, the format first appeared successfully in 1979 with the long-running series Minder (TV series)
Minder (TV series)
Minder is a British comedy-drama about the London criminal underworld. Initially produced by Verity Lambert, it was made by Euston Films, a subsidiary of Thames Television and shown on ITV...

ITV is the major commercial public service TV network in the United Kingdom. Launched in 1955 under the auspices of the Independent Television Authority to provide competition to the BBC, it is also the oldest commercial network in the UK...

/Euston Films
Euston Films
Euston Films was a British film and television production company. It was a subsidiary company of Thames Television, and operated from the 1970s to the 1990s, producing various series for Thames, which were screened nationally on the ITV network...

Thames Television
Thames Television was a licensee of the British ITV television network, covering London and parts of the surrounding counties on weekdays from 30 July 1968 until 31 December 1992....

) with other notable comedy-dramas such as Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet
Auf Wiedersehen, Pet is a British comedy-drama television programme about seven English migrant construction workers. In the first series, the men live and work on a building site in Düsseldorf....

 (ITV/Witzend Productions/Central Independent Television
Central Independent Television
Central Independent Television, more commonly known as Central is the Independent Television contractor for the Midlands, created following the restructuring of ATV and commencing broadcast on 1 January 1982. The station is owned and operated by ITV plc, under the licensee of ITV Broadcasting...

) and Big Deal
Big Deal (TV Series)
Big Deal is a British television comedy/drama series produced by the BBC between 1984 and 1986. The series was created and written by Geoff McQueen who created several other major television series including Give Us a Break, Stay Lucky, and The Bill.Starring Ray Brooks and Sharon Duce, the series...

The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...


In addition, comedy-drama series have been associated with the single-camera
Single-camera setup
The single-camera setup, or single-camera mode of production, is a method of filmmaking and video production. A single camera—either motion picture camera or professional video camera—is employed on the set and each shot to make up a scene is taken individually...

 production format.

Attributes of comedy-dramas on TV sitcoms

  • There is often an absence of a pre-recorded laughing track.
  • Storylines tend to be more serialized, with events taking place in earlier episodes being referred back to or having an effect in later episodes. This can be compared to more traditional sitcoms which focus on telling one standalone story every week.
  • Continuity of character and storylines are more relevant than in traditional sitcoms.
  • Can be either half-hour or hour long episodes. However, shows which use a 30-minute format tend to be more comedic with dramatic elements that keep storylines going forward, while shows which use a 60-minute format tend to be more dramatically based with humour used throughout the show as either comic relief or to punctuate certain scenes.
  • Characters' backstories tend to have a greater overall effect on story line. Often something a character has done in the past will catch up with him or her, as opposed to more traditional sitcoms where a character's backstory is unlikely to be referenced by the story of the week.

See also

  • Black comedy
    Black comedy
    A black comedy, or dark comedy, is a comic work that employs black humor or gallows humor. The definition of black humor is problematic; it has been argued that it corresponds to the earlier concept of gallows humor; and that, as humor has been defined since Freud as a comedic act that anesthetizes...

  • List of comedy-drama television series
  • List of comedy films
  • Melodrama
    The term melodrama refers to a dramatic work that exaggerates plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions. It may also refer to the genre which includes such works, or to language, behavior, or events which resemble them...

  • Seriousness
    Seriousness is an attiude of gravity, solemnity, persistence, and earnestness toward something considered to be of importance....

  • Tragicomedy
    Tragicomedy is fictional work that blends aspects of the genres of tragedy and comedy. In English literature, from Shakespeare's time to the nineteenth century, tragicomedy referred to a serious play with either a happy ending or enough jokes throughout the play to lighten the mood.-Classical...

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