I consider myself somewhat of a connoisseur of good television. I grew up on the classics (thank you, Nick@Nite) like "I Love Lucy" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and have now progressed to watching current primetime. I do, however, have some guilty pleasures like Survivor, and have even succumbed to watching several seasons of The Bachelor. But my heart still belongs to the sitcom. I love a good sitcom, and you will know I consider it good because I can watch rerun after rerun (and my husband hates me for it). And that brings me to my first point about What Makes A Great Sitcom.
Rewatchability. Now, if I remember correctly, this term was first coined by a once great Nick@Nite (a time when "classic television" meant classic television, and not Growing Pains and Home Improvement reruns). In order for a sitcom to be great, it must have the rewatchability factor. If you don't understand what I mean, start watching Arrested Development. This show has rewatchability written all over it. I have seen each episode several times and pick up new jokes and meanings every time.
I am a big believer in "inside jokes" in a sitcom. These are phrases or character flaws that are repeated throughout the seasons and only dedicated viewers pick them up and realize they are funny. This is necessary in rewatchability. Again, in my opinion, Arrested Development was the master at this. The inside joke factor is a reason that I watch reruns of the show, and as I said, continue to pick up more and more inside jokes.
Another huge factor in a great sitcom is chemistry among the characters/actors. I think this is why Friends made it for so long. It didn't offer anything new or something we hadn't seen before. Indeed, the biggest criticism of the show is that all they do is sit around, talking and drinking coffee. But I believe that is why the show worked. These characters had such great chemistry that we loved to watch them, and almost feel like a part of it. A new show that I started watching (and continue to watch only because I love Kelsey Grammer) is Back To You. I honestly think this show could be funny, but cannot pull it off due to a lack of chemistry among the characters. I am just not buying the Kelsey Grammer/Patricia Heaton love story.
Friends also had another factor going for it. Each of the characters had an equal and valuable role. And because of this, none of the sub-plots ever seemed boring. A major flaw with many sitcoms is when the non-main characters get their own plot lines and viewers must endure them while waiting to get to the real meat of the show. Again, (I'm sorry, Kelsey!) Back To You struggles to keep my attention through the sub-plots and I find myself even fast-forwarding at times (insert shameless Tivo plug here).
And finally, a great sitcom must have an overarching love story. Now please understand me here. Having an overarching love story does not a great sitcom make. It is the opposite. An overarching love story is the icing on the cake. It makes me full and satisfied. I can laugh and laugh, but the love story makes it complete. Frasier did it so well with Niles and Daphne (aren't they the reason we watched this show after its fifth season?). And who doesn't know about the Ross and Rachel love connection? The Office has done it superbly with Jim and Pam. Even Arrested Development had an unusual one, but nonetheless satisfying.
Rewatchability. Inside Jokes. Chemistry. Love Story. The factors that make a great sitcom. If you find yourself daring to disagree, I challenge you to leave a comment and we can discuss it further. But in the end, time will tell, as it has done with the good old classics of yesteryear.