Artsweek

Pollock to Host Sitcom Conference



Scripted comedies have been a staple of television from the very beginning. With great, classic TV shows such as “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” “The Honeymooners” and “I Love Lucy,” there was no shortage of comedy television in the past. That tradition has lived on in shows such as “Friends,” “Seinfeld” and, currently, “Modern Family,” among others. But what drives us to watch these comedies? And, furthermore, how are they made? Who makes them? What is the process?

All these questions and more will be answered in the conference at UCSB, “All in the…Modern Family,” which occurs tomorrow at the Pollock Theater. It is a celebration of scripted comedies, from their impact on culture to the ins and outs of the writing room. Writers, producers and actors will each present their unique perspectives on the art of the scripted comedy.

The range of topics will vary throughout the event. The segment “Why We Need TV Comedies” highlights how comedy helps shape our lives for the better, whether through satire, funny observations or dry commentary. The most interesting aspect of this panel is that the presenters will feature producers (such as “Everybody Loves Raymond” creator Phil Rosenthal) as well as academics. Professors from the University of Pittsburg, Arizona State University and Syracuse University will be there to discuss how social distress, anxiety and fear are alleviated through comedy. The segment will also be moderated by a former critic for the Los Angeles Times, Howard Rosenberg.

Some aspects of the event will be more theoretical, like “Writers Room Workshop.” This will focus on the day- to-day workings of the writing room: where the ideas come from and how they are developed. Various writers, from both past and current TV shows like “The Simpsons,” “Cheers,” “Frasier” and “M*A*S*H” will be in attendance. In fact, this includes our very own UCSB film and media professor Cheri Steinkellner, former showrunner (along with her husband, Bill Steinkellner) of “Cheers,” among others.

Another section that goes to a more theoretical side, “Elements of the Scripted Comedy,” will discuss the various ways in which different features of comedy are used to the fullest effect. For instance, a professor from Northwestern University will discuss the virtues of the laugh track; another professor from Texas A&M

University will be talking about the importance of “youth comedy.” Also on hand will be Lisa Kudrow, one of the stars of “Friends” (Phoebe, the crazy blonde one, if you don’t remember) to talk about the strategies she’s using in her new show, “Web Therapy.”

Finally, the pièce de résistance of this entire event will be a screening of the pilot for “Modern Family” (thus, the name of the event). It will be attended by Steven Levitan, creator of this consistently funny ABC sitcom, which adapts the wholesome sitcom format for a more modern era, dealing with issues of divorce, adoption and sexuality (and also finally giving Ed O’Neill of “Married…With Children” some consistent work, which is awesome unto itself). Levitan will discuss everything from the show’s inception to its development to the business side of making a TV show and so on. There will also be a Q&A opportunity at the end.

So, if you are free tomorrow, get any tickets that are left as soon as possible and try to make it. This will be a great event for those wanting to make it in the industry, for writers or for those who really enjoy the art of comedy. In fact, anybody will probably be able to enjoy this event, and should.

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