How Sitcoms Work

Sitcom Characteristics

­The camera crew prepares to shoot a scene of the hit sitcom "Friends" during one of their last shows in 2003.
­The camera crew prepares to shoot a scene of the hit sitcom "Friends" during one of their last shows in 2003.
David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images

While sitcoms come in a wide variety of situational flavors, the choice of technical styles is more limited. Sitcoms are typically filmed on set in front of a live studio audience, filmed on set without an audience (and in some cases a laugh track) or filmed on location.

Sitcoms filmed on set in front of a live studio audience usually feature a central area where most of the show's activity takes place. Think of Lucy and Ricky's apartment in "I Love Lucy," Monica's apartment or Central Perk in "Friends" or the bar in "Cheers." The set has three solid walls and the audience and cameras look through the open fourth wall.

"The Goldbergs" was performed and shot on set in front of a live studio audience. The Goldberg's six-room Bronx apartment functioned as the main set and opened to a small galley of seats for the audience and an area for the camera. The cast practiced their lines and scenes on set for a stretch of up to eighteen hours before shooting the show during the last hour. "I Love Lucy" improved upon this process by adapting the set to include walk through areas, different points of view for the camera and a static set of bleachers for the audience.

If a show is filmed on set without a studio audience, the fourth wall opens to cameras and an area for directors, producers, gaffers, technicians and other members of the production crew instead of a seating gallery or bleachers. Shooting on a set, be it with or without an audience, has many advantages. A set provides a stable environment with more control over lighting, sound and continuity.

Sitcoms filmed on location set up the whole production -- cast, crew, props and everything -- somewhere in the real world.

The location could be a street, an old office building or even an abandoned North Hollywood hospital like in the show "Scrubs." Shooting on location adds authenticity and believability to a show. By placing the characters in a real setting, the sitcom avoids the potential distraction of a fake set.

Sitcoms may be filmed using a single camera or multiple cameras. The single camera approach offers more control over the filming, providing the opportunity for close-up scenes, wide shots and lots of movement. Shows like "Scrubs," "My Name is Earl" and "The Office" use the single camera technique to follow characters as they go from place to place. The use of multiple cameras offers the opportunity to capture several angles of each scene simultaneously.

But where are sitcoms headed? In the next section, we'll learn about the future of sitcoms.