How Sitcoms Work

Petrified Collection/Getty Images

We've all seen sitcoms, laughed with them and probably even sung along to their theme songs. We occasionally find their jingles running through our heads: "Here's the story of a lovely lady," click, "Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale," click, "Where everybody knows your name." Their catchphrases pepper our vernacular: "Yadda, yadda, yadda." And their characters' tastes even influence what we drink -- cosmopolitans anyone? Who wouldn't agree that the backbone of American television is the sitcom?

But did you ever wonder where sitcoms come from, what makes a sitcom a sitcom and who actually comes up with this stuff?


In 1979, the New Wave band the Buggles sang "Video Killed the Radio Star." To be really accurate, they should have sung "television co-opted the radio star and made her its own," but it probably wouldn't have been as catchy. At any rate, the sentiment is true -- the sitcom owes its roots and early viability to radio. What we know as a sitcom today started as a 15-minute situational comedy on the radio. The term sitcom is even short for situational comedy and was first coined by Variety.

The first sitcom centered on the most unlikely of characters: the zaftig immigrant doting wife, mother of two and good neighbor to all -- Molly Goldberg. In this article, we'll learn about early sitcoms, unlock the sitcom format and look at the future of American television.