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What's so funny? Using a multidisciplinary approach to understand sitcom success

Juckel, Jennifer (2014) What's so funny? Using a multidisciplinary approach to understand sitcom success. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The sitcom genre is one of the most enduringly popular, yet we still know surprising little about which of the specific elements of sitcoms keep viewers tuning in. In fact, audiences themselves are not sure why they embrace a particular program, with research indicating behaviour often contradicts intention. Numerous studies have highlighted the problematically intertwined relationships between the physiological, cognitive and affective processing systems that contribute to research shortcomings. Furthermore, sitcom research lacks empirical audience response data. However, we can look to research to identify reliable components using measures from a variety of disciplines to offer insight into complementary audience responses. This study aimed to gather and reduce this information to a combination of key measures that best describe, and potentially predict, the components comprising successful sitcoms.

Audience response data was collected using the current top sitcoms across the four main US networks –Modern Family (ABC), The Office (NBC), Family Guy (FOX), and Big Bang Theory (CBS). Relatability of plots and characters were assessed with a post-exposure survey, while a typology of humour techniques provided a timeline of humour events for each program, with which data were correlated. Finally, to address the discrepancy between post-exposure audience report and response, dial data were used to establish real time effects during media exposure. New empirical measures were discovered that were predictive of ratings success, revealing reliable tools that should not only prove useful for industry (broadcasting/production of programs) but also for further social sciences research into the causes and effects of humour.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Interactive Television Research Institute
Supervisor(s): Varan, Duane, Bellman, Steven and Robinson, Jennifer
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