August 28, 2012

That's What Friends Are For

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director

Ever since the dawn of the sitcom, writers have recognized the value of  a second banana. (Actually, it goes all the way back to Greek comedies, but I don't have photos of Lysistrata and Calonise, so let's go with Ed Norton.)

Audiences love a good friendship, and writers love them even more because it paves a ready path for:

1) Exposition
2) Plot Progression
3) Conflict
4) Mentoring

In a comedy, it's especially important to have a partner in crime, a foil even, to share the hero's dilemma, or even make it worse. A hero with no one to talk to doesn't reveal much.

Where would Andy have been without Barney?  Lucy without Ethel?  Those two examples epitomize two very classic chemistries: 1) The sensible protagonist with the wacky friend, and 2) The wacky protagonist with the sensible friend (although Ethel usually could be roped into any hare-brained scheme).

Quite often the supporting cast is also a rich field for mining memorable and very useful characters. The quirky neighbor is a particularly popular archetype. Bewitched and Three's Company were richly enhanced by the nosey Gladys Kravitz and the befuddled Mr Roper. Anyone who watched Newhart eagerly anticipated the appearance of bumpkins Larry, Darryl and Darryl, a contrast to Bob's button-down personality.  Indeed, contrast is a major component in the supporting casts of everything from The Beverly Hillbillies to Big Bang Theory.

Looking again at the Mertzes and the Nortons, neighbors have always been a staple of story. In more recent memory, Seinfeld's Kramer opened the door to at least momentary mayhem whenever he came bursting in, just as Lenny and Squiggy did on Laverne & Shirley.

Not that all neighbors are nuts. Sometimesas on Home Improvementthe guy next door is the voice of reason, even when the fence obscures his wise face.

Whether they are a harbinger of hassles for the hero, or just someone to reveal plot points to, a second banana or a supporting character with pizzazz has the potential to become a breakout personality  the audience comes to enjoy on a par with the hero himself.
We put a great deal of thought into our protagonist, making sure they have charisma and wit, are interesting and worth caring about.  Don't they deserve a good friend to hang out with?

Who are some of your favorite supporting characters?

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