4 Thoughts on Comedy in the Age of Streaming

Omri Marcus
4 min readApr 13


1) Comedies in the streaming era differ from the classic sitcom model.

In terms of content, comedies have always been a mirror to society and sometimes an X-ray. Much like in the cliché about the kingdom where only the court jester could tell the king the truth — the sitcoms on the main broadcast networks also reflected the changing face of the nation and reshaped perceptions. The broadcast channels took a risk and approved the broadcast of controversial episodes. Beginning in the 1970s, shortly after the ruling Roe vs. Wade, the heroine of the sitcom “Maude” (NBC) decides to have an abortion in an episode that caused a national scandal. All the way to the 2000s, when same-sex marriage was approved, and in “Modern Family” (ABC), Mitch and Cam got married on screen.

HBO (premium paid service) pushed all television forward when it aired series with nudity and strong language. The result was complex and funny comedies about sexuality, such as “Sex and the City” or “Girls,” that could not be broadcast on the main broadcasting networks and provoked a discourse that went beyond the boundaries of the screen and became a cultural phenomenon.

Then came Netflix and the other streaming services, which took the cable revolution more than one step further. The streaming services have realized that their original content must contain the unique DNA of things that cannot be found anywhere else. It must be louder, more memorable, and show things that have never been seen on the screen. It could be in finding niche audiences. An example could be the comedy Transparent (Amazon), which dealt with multiple sexual identities in the new era, or Orange is the New Black (Netflix) which brought the marginalized characters from women’s prisons to the front of the screen.

It can be in characters not seen before on the screen. A series like Bojack Horseman (Netflix) was a comedy about mental disorders, dressed in a happy animated world, and Ricky Gervais’ complex comedy After Life (Netflix) brought dealing with depression into the conversation.

2) The change in the economic model also affects the content

The economic model of commercial broadcasting networks was based on commercial breaks. The networks gave the viewers the content for free when the funding came from commercial breaks. For it to work, the content needed to be one that would interest the maximum number of audiences that would be exposed to that advertisement and remain for the next advertisement break.

Streaming services, on the other hand, work on an economic model based on subscription fees; it’s a different world where viewers measure satisfaction with the service to decide whether to stay and pay subscription fees next month as well.

The streaming model doesn’t need everybody watching everything. It encourages the creation of niche programs, for example, comedies about the identity issues of a young Muslim such as “Ramy” (Hulu) or “Mo” (Netflix).

Streaming services are less stressed that everyone will see all their content, but they are desperate to fight the churn by having the paying subscriber feel that there is richness and variety — that there is value for his subscription fee. It is more critical for the customer to know the series that are talked about in the office than it is crucial for him to feel that he has used the entire library of the content provider.

3) What is the opposite of development?

The basic trick to lower the risk of development is not to develop. Instead of developing a new series from scratch, you can always recreate or restart a familiar brand. It has led to a wave of remake-restart-reboot comedies that can be seen on streaming services — from Fuller House and Gilmore Girls on Netflix to the upcoming Frasier on Paramount Plus. Every hit that couldn’t be renewed — got a reboot. From One Day at a Time (Netflix), Night Court (Peacock), and The 90’s Show (Netflix). We can’t resist checking in on our childhood heroes who came into our living rooms. The fact that the program comes with a fanbase is a double-edged sword because, on the one hand, they will come to the familiar brand. On the other hand, they are particularly harsh judges who are quick to decide whether it is a dream or blasphemy — and will not be quiet about it.

4) The content market is becoming global

Another angle, which is also fascinating anthropologically, is exposure to content that isn’t in English, i.e., non-American and even non-British content. Comedy has a real challenge transitioning between cultures — much more than dramas or mysteries. The Asian ultra-conservatism that is a source of laughs for comedies there has trouble crossing over to the West. As well as the French, hmm…unique Frenchness… requiring audiences from other places to take a moment to recalibrate their social norms. But as proven by “10%”, or as it’s known by its international title, “Call My Agent,” the French have comedic qualities that are worth tuning in to.

It is reasonable to estimate that in the near future, there will be an internationally successful non-American/British sitcom. As evidence, more and more South Korean series are finding success among international audiences. Their humor is only sometimes evident, but the gripping plot and fast pace cover up the cultural gaps. It is worth taking note of some series that are at the top of Netflix’s global viewing. The Colombian youth comedy “Eva Lasting” is about a girl who joins an all-boys school. And from South Korea, “Crash Course in Romance” give an Asian twist to the rom-com genre. Moreover, this is a numbers game — if a non-English speaking sitcom makes it in every Asian country, that could very well be a bigger market.



Omri Marcus

Makes Things Interesting