Comedy-drama (also known as dramedy, tragicomedy, comedic drama, or seriocomedy) is a genre of theatre, film, and television that combines elements of comedy and drama, having both humorous and serious content.
Traditional Western theatre, beginning with the ancient Greeks, was divided into comedy and tragedy. 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, George Bernard Shaw, and Henrik Ibsen blurred the line between comedy and drama.
The advent of radio drama, cinema, and in particular television created greater pressure in marketing to clearly define a product as either comedy or drama. While in live theatre the difference became less and less significant, in mass media comedy and drama were clearly divided. Comedies were expected to keep 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 hour-long "dramas". Half-hour series were mostly restricted to situation comedy (sitcoms) or family comedy and were usually aired with either a live or overdubbed laugh track. One-hour dramas included such shows as police and detective series, westerns, science fiction, and serialized prime time soap operas.
Arguably, one of the first American television shows to successfully blend elements of comedy and drama together was Jackie Cooper's military themed series Hennesey. Although the show featured a laugh track, it also contains many elements of character drama that occurred amongst the re-occurring characters and the guest stars. The laugh track wasn't excessively used in each episode; by the third season, it was eliminated completely from the series.
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, as well as some hour-long shows such as CHiPs in the late 70s to early 80s. These were known as "comedy-dramas". Another example was The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd, which aired from 1987 to 1991.
These early shows influenced how general TV comedies and 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. It generated critical acclaim and was a highly rated series worldwide. Another example of a successful comedy-drama was the television series Eight Is Enough. 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 addition, comedy-drama series have been associated with the single-camera production format.
Attributes of comedy-dramas on TV sitcoms
In a comedy-drama, there is often an absence of a pre-recorded laughing track. Episodes can be either half an hour or an hour long. However, shows that use a 30-minute format tend to be more comedic with dramatic elements that keep storylines going forward, while shows that use a 60-minute format tend to be more dramatically based with humour used throughout the show either as comic relief or to punctuate certain scenes.
Storylines tend to be more serialized in comedy-dramas, with events taking place in earlier episodes being referred 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. The continuity of character development and storylines are more relevant in comedy-dramas than in traditional sitcoms. Characters' backstories tend to have a greater overall effect on storyline. Something a character has done in the past will often 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.
- Ally McBeal
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer
- Nurse Jackie
- Boston Legal
- Desperate Housewives
- Devious Maids
- Ugly Betty
- Orange is the New Black
- United States of Tara
- Full House
- Once Upon a Time
- "Dramedy". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved 2012-07-30.
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- Peter Conrad (2006). Cassell's History of English Literature. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 0-304-36821-0. Retrieved 2008-01-26.