Pop Culture


The TV sitcom is having another golden age right now on kids' cable channels. Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel are crammed with popular 'tween-aged comedians and laugh tracks. Shows such as "Zoey 101" and "Hannah Montana" feature sitcom gags from the age of "All in the Family" and even some of the same writers from shows like "Rosanne." Nate DiMeo has our story.

NATE DIMEO: If you're looking for the classic sitcom, the three-camera, filmed before a live studio audience sitcom, just turn on Nickelodeon. Pretty much everyone below voting age already has. Dan Schneider runs several shows on the network.

Mr. DAN SCHNEIDER (Actor, Writer, Producer): I mean, "iCarly," for example, with people all the way from 17 to 2 - now, that's a big wide demographic. "iCarly" often is the number show not just on cable, but all of television.

(Soundbite of TV show, "iCarly")

Ms. MIRANDA COSGROVE (Actor): (As Carly Shay) We got to figure out a way to get Sam out of detention.

Ms. JENNETTE MCCURDY (Actor): (As Sam Puckett) Not going to happen. Mr. Howard hates my guts.

Mr. NATHAN KRESS (Actor): (As Freddie Benson) Well, then maybe me and Carly need to figure out a way to get into detention.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. COSGROVE: (As Carly Shay) Hey, "iCarly," live from detention.

DIMEO: Nickelodeon and its mortal enemy, the Disney Channel, have kept the multi-camera sitcom alive and have kept it free of the excesses of the schlubby husbands with improbably hot wives. Andy Bonnet is a programming executive with the Disney Channel.

Mr. ANDY BONNET (Programming Executive, Disney Channel): There was a generation of adults that just saw a lot of bad sitcoms.

DIMEO: He says that the success of "Seinfeld" and "Friends" in the '90s bred too many pale imitations. And grownup audiences got burnt out on laugh tracks and wacky neighbors.

Mr. BONNET: The beauty of kids is they weren't part of that audience. So they come in with open eyes and embrace the format.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Hannah Montana")

Ms. MILEY CYRUS (Actor): (As Miley Stewart): Hey Maddie(ph). Just the tush I've been looking for. Can you close my suitcase?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #1: (As Maddie) Wait until I tell my friends that I sat on Hannah Montana's suitcase.

DIMEO: The Disney Channel has embraced the format with outrageous success. Shows like "Hannah Montana" and "The Suite Life of Zach and Cody" have helped build the network - and have fueled the Disney juggernaut by launching its current generation of movie and pop stars.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Hannah Montana")

Ms. CYRUS: (As Miley Stewart) Now, bounce up and down.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #2: Well, we are a full-service hotel.

DIMEO: The writing staffs of shows like "Hannah Montana" are often stacked with veterans from the heyday of the network sitcom - people who wrote for "Roseanne" and "The Facts of Life" and "The Jeffersons."

Mr. SCHNEIDER: I don't think of myself as a guy who writes shows for kids. I really don't. I try really hard to write a good solid sitcom.

DIMEO: Nickelodeon's Dan Schneider has been in sitcoms most of his life. He was actually on one, years ago. He played one of the nerds on the '80s high school show "Head of the Class." He says the people at Nickelodeon go out each time trying to write something that can stand alongside a "Taxi" or "Bewitched," even if his audience has no idea what those shows are.

Mr. SCHNEIDER: Unfortunately, kids today don't know the classics. And kids don't know "Gilligan's Island" anymore. They don't even know "The Brady Bunch" anymore.

DIMEO: But he says that doesn't give writers license to slip an old "Laverne and Shirley" bit into a script just because the kids won't know any better. Though, he says, he's not above the occasional reverent homage.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Drake & Josh")

Mr. DRAKE BELL (Actor): (As Drake Parker) Oh yeah, this is really challenging.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DIMEO: As in this "Drake & Josh" episode: I Love Sushi.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Drake & Josh")

Mr. BELL: (As Drake Parker) Whoa.

Mr. JOSH PECK (Actor): (As Josh Nichols): Whoa, this thing's going kind of fast.

Mr. BELL: (As Drake Parker): Yeah.

Mr. PECK: (As Josh Nichols) Hey, can you slow it down a little bit?

DIMEO: The kids find themselves on a way-too-fast sushi assembly line, a la Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Drake & Josh")

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SCHNEIDER: I see all these kids laughing hysterically at "Drake & Josh" doing this bit. Isn't it amazing, you know, over 50 years later, still funny? It's the same exact bit.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Drake & Josh")

Unidentified Woman #3: You boys are doing a fine job.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Woman #3: Speed it up a little.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of buzzer)

Mr. SCHNEIDER: This is exactly why I stay in the genre that I'm in. Television has become so niche. If you and I go outside and walk up and down Sunset Boulevard right now and we go up to 100 people and say, did you see the last episode of "Two and Half Men?" What, six or seven are going to say yeah? Maybe. Well, you go up to 100 people, say, 9 to 14 and say, did you see the last episode of "iCarly?" Half of them are going to say yes.

DIMEO: He says he's happy to be in the only corner of the TV business where he can still have the kind of impact that classic network sitcoms had - when everyone could stand around a water cooler talking about last night's "M*A*S*H" or sing the theme to "The Beverly Hillbillies." It's good to know that someday his audience will be crowded around a keg in college reminiscing about that one "iCarly" episode.

For NPR News, I'm Nate DiMeo.

(Soundbite of theme song, "I Love Lucy")

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