When a brand new sitcom called “The Big Bang Theory” debuted in 2007 about four nerdy Caltech scientists searching for the answers to life, love, the universe and everything else, some thought that CBS’ attempt to bring back the “I Love Lucy” style of multi-camera, laugh track-backed sitcom shot on a studio sound stage would fall flat.
At the time, several brand new single-camera, laugh track-less sitcoms like Tina Fey’s “30 Rock” and Greg Daniels’ American adaptation of “The Office” were earning outstanding ratings.
Fast forward a dozen years later and “The Big Bang Theory” is considered to be one of the most successful runs a TV sitcom has had in recent memory. The show’s final episode airs tonight and has prompted some debate over the future of TV sitcoms and what they’ll look like. As streaming services become more popular and cable TV package subscriptions continue to decline, major networks will be challenged to create content that can rival in quality what streaming services like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu can produce in quantity.
Is there still a role in the modern age of television for the multi-camera sitcom shot on a soundstage? Or has that ship sailed in lieu of the single camera? How can cable networks continue to compete with Netflix, Amazon and others for Emmy consideration? What do you think the next big TV sitcom looks like?
Saul Austerlitz, TV critic and author of several books, including “Sitcom: A History in 24 Episodes from I Love Lucy to Community” (Chicago Review Press, March 2014) ; his forthcoming book is “Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era” (Dutton, September 2019)