Dramedy, also known as seriocomedy or black comedy, is a type of comedy that combines comedy with dramatic, often dark elements. Its goal is to make light of serious situations while also exploring taboo topics. The show’s dramatic tension is created good writing and conflict, which is broken up comedic moments.
Half-hour shows began to shift away from slapstick and silly comedy in the 1970s, instead addressing more serious issues in “special” episodes. Hour-long dramas began to include some comedic relief in the form of amusing subplots. Many medical and police shows featured tense rescues and calls interspersed with hilarious scenes involving the protagonists’ coworkers and personal lives. The term “dramedy” was coined to describe the ambiguous genre of these shows.
Later shows depicted characters dealing with personal problems while attempting to maintain their integrity. When danger was present, a common tactic was to use witty humor to keep the characters grounded. Some primetime dramas are soap operas, with bizarre situations and characters in serious trouble, and cliffhangers are frequently used to build tension.
The viewer is kept on edge increasing the level of conflict in each episode. If the tension becomes too much, a switch to the comedic subplot provides a welcome break and keeps the audience guessing about what will happen next. Throughout the season, a dramedy usually has ongoing story arcs that may or may not be resolved until the finale. Even if the show is primarily humorous, the laugh track may be removed to emphasize the more dramatic elements. In order to deal with the often shocking nature of the situations, the writing must be excellent.
In a dramedy, the use of humor allows the writers to explore social issues and problems that are either taboo or at the very least contentious. For example, Archie Bunker, the main character on the 1970s show All in the Family, confronted the audience with prejudice and racism through his rigid views of Jews, blacks, and homosexuality. It was also the first program to broadcast the sound of a flushing toilet, which had previously been ignored to the point of being invisible on television.
The sitcom M*A*S*H is another example of a dramedy. Set in a mobile surgical unit during the Korean War, the show combined the horrors of war and death with the idle antics of bored doctors and nurses. M*A*S*H lasted eleven years, almost four times as long as the actual Korean War. Serious episodes with no laugh track alternate with highly amusing practical joke episodes. The final episode drew nearly 106 million viewers, making it one of the most watched shows in television history.