Why TV Genres Never Really Die

If you Google the phrase "Sitcom is dead," you'll get not less than 17,900 results, quite an impressive number. All those informed articles analyzing audience's exhaustion with the genre, all those proclamations that sitcoms are on a one-way ticket to the TV graveyard.

Yet a look at today's television reveals a very different reality. Yes, after "Seinfeld" and "Friends" ended, there was a period when no sitcom seemed to work, but the vacuum was filled. "The Big Bang Theory," "How I Met Your Mother," "Hot in Cleveland" and many more shows all do great for their broadcasters. And they are all classic, multi-cam, situation comedies.

If there is one absolute truth in the world of television, it is that genres are immortal. Just like a character in a soap opera, death is only one step in the story line. Things may go missing for a while, but they will always make a spectacular comeback.

The most current example is candid camera shows, maybe the most lamented genre of them all. The late Allen Funt started it all with "Candid Microphone" during the radio days. His show was declared dead, then made a comeback and became a huge hit for years. Since then, the genre has changed shape and form dozens of times, but the basic premise remains the same, as when Ashton Kutcher pulls pranks on his fellow celebrity friends.

Over the last two years it seems as if a wave of hidden camera shows is flooding the world. A huge Belgian hit called "Benidorm Basterds," where senior citizens pull pranks on "regular people," was sold all over the world (in the States Kinetic Content produced a local version, hosted by Betty White, for NBC). In Israel a combination of a game show and a candid camera show, called "Deal with It," became huge hit. In the Netherlands a show called "Upside Down" has people with Down syndrome performing the pranks (it's not as cynical as one might think). Over in the U.S. Howie Mandel got a second series for his "Mobbed," the show that combines the zeitgeist of hidden camera with the flash mob trend.

I'm not a prophet, but I'm sure that this wave, too, will be over sooner or later. Articles with the title "Candid Camera Is Dead" will be in every TV magazine. I am also sure that this "death" will be temporary. That is because the viewers have changeless, timeless needs that candid camera shows provide an answer for -- whether it's basic malicious joy, schadenfreude (pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others), the feeling that our daily life can become a joke (whatever this is), candid camera shows supply it.

TV genre hits are moving in a cyclic way. A TV producer who wants to find the next big thing should pick up a shovel and go to digging in television's graveyard.