Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Future of Sitcoms

Emily, Michael, Mike, Nahnatchka, Greg
I've been watching sitcoms my whole life. From The Mary Tyler Moore Show to All in the Family to Taxi to Mork and Mindy to Family Ties to Cheers to Frasier to Seinfeld to Friends to Arested Development to The Office to Parks and Recreation to Modern Family to The New Girl. And all the others in-bewtween. With a few exceptions from the 70s and even fewer from the 80s, sitcoms, in my opinion, are better than ever these days; the laugh tracks are gone; new, clever formulas have replaced the old tired ones; and the acting is top-notch.

Today I went to a panel discussion led by the New Yorker's TV critic, Emily Nussbaum, called The Future of Sitcoms: Laughing Matters where I fell a little bit in love with Mike White who is clearly brilliant and more than a little disturbed (I recall reading that he had a nervous breakdown a couple years ago). The others on the panel were Greg Garcia (created My Name is Earl - watch it sporadically, appreciate the smartness while not being hugely compelled by the show; also created Raising Hope which I really like); Nahnatchka Khan (writer for Family Guy so she's clearly a genius, but still not sure about her own show, Don't Trust the B- in Apartment 23; seen it a few times, has an edge but it's not my favorite); Michael Schur (created Parks and Recreation which I was late to the party on despite Josh's prodding; one of the most delightful shows ever); and Mike White, whose show Enlightened I've heard a lot about but not seen - will track it down immediately when I get home. They didn't really discuss the topic at hand (a reoccuring theme at New Yorker Festival events) but had a lively and funny discussion about their own shows, their past shows, dealing with networks, what's funny, and how they started out in the business.

When I was young(er), I thought I might work in TV someday; I never did, and as George Eliot may or may not have said, it's never too late to be what you might have been... except, as Rebecca Mead pointed out, sometimes it is. But as Mike White wrote for his character Amy in Enlightened, "I will know you when we are both old and maybe wise, I hope wise. I know you now. Your story. Mine isn’t the one I would have chosen in the beginning but I’ll take it. It is my story. It’s only mine. And it’s not over. There’s time. There is time. There is so much time…" except when there isn't. But my regrets are few, and for all the time I have spent comparing my life to a sitcom instead of writing one, I am grateful.