When television geeks use the phrase “single-camera sitcom,” they’re talking about a certain kind of show. People don’t generally refer to The Brady Bunch or Gilligan’s Island that way, though it’s technically correct — neither show is filmed on a soundstage, there’s no studio audience, and both have a visual style that is closer to a film than to Cheers. The modern use of “single-camera,” though, both the term and the technique, has only really been around since the mid-90s. Or, to be more accurate, since The Larry Sanders Show.
If you’re not already familiar with The Larry Sanders Show, watch a few episodes on Netflix Instant or get caught up here. I was too young to be aware of it when it first premiered, but I have to imagine it felt like a breath of fresh air. Even compared to Seinfeld, which had been on for a few years already, Larry Sanders feels risky, edgy, and real in a way that no sitcom before it had even tried to be. The bit in the pilot where Hank, completely serious, explains to Larry how to soft sell a product on the show (think about “America and everything she stands for”) is not only hilarious, but finds laughs in a place that you just couldn’t go with a four-camera setup, or even with animation. It’s not a back-of-the-theater laugh line, but it’s not a visual throwaway, either — it’s a moment you can only get from a great line teased out by great actor on film. It’s surreal but grounded — Hank really is that nuts — and it’s the type of thing that set the bar for character-driven comedy on TV. So why, twenty years later, has the bar set by Larry still never been cleared? READ MORE
Personality-driven reporting has become the rule rather than the exception. On Fox News and MSNBC, breaking stories come with a built-in perspective, keeping viewers loyal while helping insulate them from dissenting, challenging or complex opinions. Most blogs operate in a similar way. Try, if you can, to count how many times in the last few days you’ve skimmed over insight-free outrage at the childhood behavior of Mitt Romney. This is a question of hits, of course — a famous man being awful is news everyone wants to click on, and taking a righteous stance against him is easy, safe, and brand-building. On its own, this seems to be just another quirk of the opinionated internet media. But writ large, it’s pernicious. No matter what your political views are, the RSS feeds, Facebook pages, and Twitters you probably spend the most time on are the ones that flatter you, pander to you, and reaffirm beliefs you already hold.
Given that prevalent attitude, it’s a bit hard to understand the popularity of Christwire. A played-extremely-straight satire of the religious far right, Christwire at first glance seems more like a collection of terrifying opinions than any sort of insight you might agree with, let alone one you’d find humorous. It shares a small handful of commonalities with Hipster Runoff — firstly, that one may have to read a few articles to realize there’s a joke at all, and secondly, that when the joke finally emerges, it seems more bitter and resigned than laugh out loud funny. But while Hipster Runoff is largely read and commented on by those who are in on the gimmick, Christwire attracts a much larger array of different responses, from various displays of reactive vitriol, to people who jump in and participate in the site’s antagonistic fun, to to my personal favorite: commenters who condescendingly call the site “hilarious.” READ MORE
Viral success on the internet is a strange phenomenon. Marketers spend hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to create something people will share with their friends, only to be beaten time and time again by accidents and genuine ineptitude. That’s part of the fun of the web — halfway decent singers wallow in obscurity while Rebecca Black gets 20 million hits, and your meticulously edited Tweet will never be as funny as a horse avatar poorly hawking ebooks
. The content we share the most is stuff we can have conversations about, especially when the conversation goes something like, “This is weird and terrible and hilarious and I can’t look away and I think I love it.”
Most people who get that reaction weren’t looking for it and have no idea what to do with it. See, for example, Rebecca Black’s alienation of her fanbase by releasing something not hypnotically awful. But a handful of internet-savvy people have gone for that reaction on purpose. Of these, the most successful and maybe the best is Hipster Runoff, a website whose evolution after finding an audience is part success story, part cautionary tale for anyone looking for a foothold in web culture. READ MORE