No Joke: UC Class Studies TV Sitcoms
It's not just a TV sitcom. It's literature reflecting our culture.
That's what former Fox Broadcasting executive Nick Belperio teaches in his "Evolution of TV Comedy" course at the University of Cincinnati. Over 15 weeks, he discusses the social, historical and cultural impact of "I Love Lucy," "Modern Family," "All In The Family," "M*A*S*H," "Maude," "Murphy Brown," "Roseanne," "30 Rock," "The Goldbergs," "The Office" and even "The Flintstones," "Gilligan's Island" and "Get Smart."
"For so long, people have looked down their noses at sitcoms," says Belperio, who is teaching the general enrollment elective for a third straight semester. He will talk about the class, and TV's most influential sitcoms, on the second half of "Cincinnati Edition" Wednesday (1-2 p.m. on 91.7 WVXU-FM and 88.5 WMUB-FM) with host Mark Heyne and me.
"People will look back 100 years from now, and see this as our literature. It's an art form. There is nothing else that has the capacity to refer to pop culture as a sitcom," says Belperio, a Greenhills native and 1989 Northern Kentucky University graduate. He worked in promotions for WKRC-TV, WCPO-TV and WXIX-TV until 1997, then moved to Los Angeles to be a Fox Broadcasting marketing vice president for 16 years.
During his three-hour Wednesday night class, Belperio shows all or parts of three situation comedies grouped by themes such as Domestic Bliss and Idealized America; Father Knows Best/Father Knows Nothing; Blue Collar and Working Class Comedies; Strength In Numbers: Women's Roles; and Brilliant But Canceled.
"In the '50s and '60s, sitcoms didn't show America as it was. 'All In The Family' broke that open in the 1970s, and the '80s showed life as it was," he says.
On a recent Wednesday, he screened three family sitcoms ("The Cosby Show," "Roseanne" and "Married… with Children") to show the adults' different attitudes about parenting, and also talk about A and B plot developments, classic stock characters (exasperated dads, for an example) and revealing set decorations and props.
He just doesn't play the hits. His students are watching Ethel Waters' "The Beulah Show" (1950-53), Diahann Carroll's "Julia" (1968-71), Marlo Thomas's "That Girl" (1966-71), Aaron Sorkin's ESPN-like "Sports Night" (with Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman and Robert Guillaume 1998-2000); and Seth Rogan, Jason Segel and James Franco in Fox's "Freaks and Geeks" (1999-2000).
"When I was a TV executive, I used to speak to high school and college classes, and I was surprised at how little they know about TV. You can watch 'The Simpsons' and laugh, but you'll understand so much more if you know the history of sitcoms."
Today there are more situation comedies, with all the streaming services and cable channels doing original programs. "There's a new situation comedy every 10 minutes, and all kids want to watch is 'Friends,' " he says.
The popular Jennifer Aniston, Matthew Perry, Matt LeBlanc and Courteney Cox 1990s NBC ensemble comedy doesn't make the cut for the UC class. Neither does ABC's "Moonlighting" with Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd (1985-89).
Some day UC students also may be offered courses on the evolution of TV drama or TV reality shows by Belperio. At Fox he help launch and promote "American Idol," "Glee," "So You Think You Can Dance," "Cops" and other hits along with such shows as "Joe Millionaire," "Alien Autopsy" "Temptation Island," "The Swan," "My Big Fat Obnoxious Boss" and Paris Hilton's "The Simple Life."
The professor disagrees with my theory from 30+ years as a TV critic that MTV's "The Real World" (1992) was the first reality show, and CBS' "Survivor" making the genre mainstream in 2000.
"I think 'Cops' was the first one (in 1989). When you think about it, it was radical – just raw police video on TV," Belperio says.
What's your all-time favorite sitcom? What was the most influential sitcom? Call into "Cincinnati Edition" Wednesday and tell us!