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Old 03-26-2020, 06:34 AM   #11
oskar
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Default Re: Amount of characters for Sitcom - Minimum / Maximum?

Thanks, guys!

I am guessing that if you're juggling more than six characters it's important to group them into 'families'. Either different neighbors and real distinct families like modern family or teams of accountants, party planning committee etc. as in the office.

I am also guessing that from ep to ep the writers have to take a careful look as to regroup their huge casts into certain "teams" for the a-b-c-plots. Such as combining the three youngest kids and giving them the same mission for their c-plot of, I don't know, making the ice cream truck break down right in front of their house or something...
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Old 03-26-2020, 09:01 AM   #12
lostfootage
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Default Re: Amount of characters for Sitcom - Minimum / Maximum?

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Originally Posted by oskar View Post
Thanks, guys!

I am guessing that if you're juggling more than six characters it's important to group them into 'families'. Either different neighbors and real distinct families like modern family or teams of accountants, party planning committee etc. as in the office.

I am also guessing that from ep to ep the writers have to take a careful look as to regroup their huge casts into certain "teams" for the a-b-c-plots. Such as combining the three youngest kids and giving them the same mission for their c-plot of, I don't know, making the ice cream truck break down right in front of their house or something...
Oksar, you make a point I was going to try to make but didn't think I could do it here without confusing everything more. I've analyzed Modern Family (in the past) and I think you don't get confused because yes, they are on teams and so you really have three silos. (Also six adults.)

You can do anything you want. There was that show that only had one character for a few episodes - The Last Man on Earth with Will Forte. And I watched! Then they started bringing in other characters. And you can have more than 6 or 7 main characters, in workplace and family comedies.

But in general, for half-hour comedy, the sweet spot is 2-6. Even the shows with two (a couple, a pair of detectives) will have a couple of supporting characters. (Like, You're the Worst, The Wrong Mans, etc.)
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Old 03-26-2020, 12:33 PM   #13
JeffLowell
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Default Re: Amount of characters for Sitcom - Minimum / Maximum?

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Originally Posted by oskar View Post
I am guessing that if you're juggling more than six characters it's important to group them into 'families'. Either different neighbors and real distinct families like modern family or teams of accountants, party planning committee etc. as in the office.

I am also guessing that from ep to ep the writers have to take a careful look as to regroup their huge casts into certain "teams" for the a-b-c-plots. Such as combining the three youngest kids and giving them the same mission for their c-plot of, I don't know, making the ice cream truck break down right in front of their house or something...
You're way overthinking this. There's no right answer or formula to this. When you have a great concept, use the number of characters you need to tell the story. The number of important characters also can swell and fall during a series depending on the stories you're telling.

For example, on "The Ranch," we started out with four main characters: two brothers and their mother and father. Then we added two love interests for one of the brothers. Then the mother stopped being a regular, and appeared in fewer than half the episodes. Then we added a new love interest for the father. Then we added a love interest for the other brother. Then he left. Then we added a cousin. Then the cousin started dating the woman the departed brother used to date, which made her a regular again. We also had a barfly who appeared in every episode. And a best friend for the father who appeared in 3/4 of the episodes.

There was no calculation of "how many do we need in what configuration?" It was "what's the story we want to tell, and who do we need to do it?"
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Old 03-26-2020, 01:06 PM   #14
lostfootage
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Thumbs up Re: Amount of characters for Sitcom - Minimum / Maximum?

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You're way overthinking this.
You should probably listen to the professional. (I'm saying this to OP, not Jeff.)
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Old 04-06-2020, 06:28 AM   #15
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Default Odd Couple Analysis

Jeff's mention of THE ODD COUPLE (the original) got me thinking and I looked into the show on IMDB. Here are some basic stats:
  • 1970-1975
  • ABC
  • 114 Episodes
  • Tony Randall and Jack Klugman were in every episode
  • Al Molinaro (Murray The Cop) was only in 73 episodes
  • Randall and Klugman both won Emmys
I decided to watch a few episodes (Hulu) to see if it holds up and what conventions they used. I remember watching The Odd Couple in syndication and liking it. As was standard for the time it was a two-act show with a teaser (cold open) and oftentimes a tag. The real difference that I noticed is that the episodes are primarily A-stories with either weak B-stories or runners that act as bookends or framing devices for the A-story. The stories centered on situations that were exclusively between Oscar and Felix. Hulu only has the first season so I don't know if this changed as the series went on.

The other interesting thing to me was that there wasn't much of a supporting cast on an episode-to-episode basis, at least in the first season. It was also a slower paced show. Lots of lead time into a scene and interstitials. The pace of a typical episode is quite a bit slower than what we're used to today. The average season 1 episode ran 26 minutes with roughly an A-story and a runner, whereas the standard sitcom today tells three stories over twenty-one and half minutes.

Other 2-handers offer an interesting contrast:
  • Dharma & Greg (19972002) - Seven scharacters appeared in all 119 episodes.
  • Bosom Buddies (19801982) - Six characters appeared in all 37 episodes.
  • Perfect Strangers (19861993) - Four characters appeard in most of the 151 episodes with a total of 281 credited cast members.
  • Will & Grace - Originally conceived as a 2-hander, but quickly became a 4-hander/ensemble with those primary four characters appearing in all 244 episodes.

The thing that sets The Odd Couple apart IMO is the brilliance of Neil Simon for creating characters and a situation that easily generates fun and compelling stories. The other element is that it came at a time where a slower/more leisurely form of story telling was the norm.

Based on all of this info I think that it would be a tough slog to create a true 2-hander in the mold of The Odd Couple, and it would probably be smarter to think in terms of Dharma & Greg and Will & Grace these days. Of course these calculations are about half-hour sitcoms, if you're writing a web/digital series, then all of that goes out the window.

HTH,
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