How to write a sitcom (step #2): The setting

All television shows have a few primary locationsAll television shows, regardless of genre or “on location” shooting, have scenes in every episode set in a handful of primary locations:

  • The Big Bang Theory:” Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment; the cafeteria, Penny’s apartment.
  • Dexter:” The police office; Dexter’s apartment.
  • Entourage:” The agent’s office; the kitchen in Vinnie’s house.

And these primary locations will be the core of your sitcom, and will contribute to each episode on a thematic level, too, revealing layers of character traits. For example, in “The Big Bang Theory,” Penny’s apartment is typically messy, reflecting her somewhat disheveled character, while Leonard and Sheldon’s apartment is always neat, reflecting Sheldon’s obsessive-compulsive nature.

(Note: This is part of a series of posts about my sitcom development process in preparation for a free staged script reading Aug. 1.)

So what is it about your story’s settings that will reveal something about your characters?

  • Dexter’s character is all about concealing his true nature, so his apartment is always dark regardless of the time of day.
  • In “Entourage,” Ari’s office visually reflects success, power.
  • The pub in “Cheers” had to be somewhat upscale, cozy — a place where Diane logically would have worked; a place that reflected Sam’s “hometown hero” status; a place where Norm and Dr. Crane would linger.

Your primary settings also must be logical destinations for your primary characters — something that helps unify them. Places where it not only makes sense for your primary characters to spend time in every episode, but also where extra-personal elements can reveal character. If a location doesn’t challenge some character in some way, brainstorm other locations or character traits or subplots that will help drive comic scenarios.

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