Thursday, December 3, 2015

Meta-Sitcoms: The Future of Television?

There is a very specific superhero craze going on right now. I'm not referring merely to the abundance of television shows and films, which our society has pretty steadily been into for a long time. I am thinking specifically of the crossover.

Marvel laid the groundwork with their heroes Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, connecting them all with the Avengers franchise. Then they made the jump into television with Marvel's Agents of SHIELD. Following this is the Captain America movie Civil War which pits Captain America against Iron Man. There's even early buzz right now that Spider-Man might make a cameo in The Avengers III, connecting that whole other movie franchise.

DC Comics has jumped in on the game with their Netflix deals on DareDevil and Jessica Jones, both set in the same universe, as well as The CW shows Arrow and The Flash, the characters of which both frequently visit one another's cities. And of course who could forget the upcoming Batman v Superman movie which though not technically a crossover in the same vein as the above experiments (Ben Affleck, this movie's Batman, has never been Batman and is bouncing off the mega popularity of the Christopher Nolan series), still gets crossover appeal for putting two of the best known comic book heroes in the same story.

Who knew it would be so popular to connect movies and shows? Viewers get rewarded for watching multiple shows and movies and making connections between characters and their interrelated histories. What used to be a self-contained unit (either a TV series or a movie series) is now a dynamic meta-set of stories.

So if this kind of stuff can work with fantasy, why not do it in other genres?

Sitcoms are primed for this. For years, television has produced spinoffs, launching Frasier from Cheers, Mork & Mindy from Happy Days, etc. Some have succeeded, successfully carrying the audience from one show to another. Others have failed, like the short-lived Three's a Crowd (from Three's Company). But at the heart of it all is the crossover appeal.

What if a series of sitcoms came out that all overlapped and had crossover appeal? Off the top of my head, I think that if the children from The George Lopez Show, Fresh Off the Boat, and Everybody Hates Chris all went to the same school, it would make one crazy meta-television experience. Right now, these shows pretty much exist as islands, pandering to their specific minority's experience. But of course, while these shows are generating a lot of interest and mass appeal that TV execs never thought possible, keeping the camera on any one particular family isn't what the American experience is all about.

The school sitcom has been done. Saved by the Bell, Boy Meets World, Girl Meets World, Head of the Class, etc are well traveled territory. But we never really knew those characters' back stories. They were largely two-dimensional. But if you take the kids from existing shows, put them in a school together, you could get an unparalleled television experience.

Imagine! Exploring a particular character's life within a school-based sitcom would mean opening the door to that character's family-driven sitcom. Based on the success of the Marvel/DC franchises, I can't help but think that this would be an incredible venture in situation comedies. A meta-sitcom, an uber-sitcom, whatever you want to call it, could make for bold new television.

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