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Adapting film parody for the sitcom format: Mel Brooks’s When Things Were Rotten (1975) and The Nutt House (1989)

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The landmark sitcom studies by Brett Mills, Janet Staiger and David Marc have previously identified a tendency in the ‘mainstream’ American sitcom towards standardized production values, predictable storylines and socially ‘conservative’ comedy. However, Mel Brooks’s projects When Things Were Rotten (1975) and The Nutt House (1989) are from a different tradition. Following in the ‘intermedial’ approach employed by AndrĂ© Gaudreault, this article examines the way Brooks constructed these shows by adapting material from his own ‘surreal’ Hollywood parody films – in particular, Blazing Saddles (1974) and Young Frankenstein (1974). By adapting the conventions of film ‘parody’ to the sitcom format, Brooks’s sitcoms – along with similar shows by others – were ‘innovative’ and untypical to the tradition. More importantly, these intermedial projects suggest that Hollywood film has made a so far neglected contribution to the historical development of the American sitcom that still continues today.
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Keywords: Harvey Korman; Mel Brooks; comedian comedy; film parody; intermedial; television sitcom

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Independent scholar

Publication date: 2012-05-08

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  • Adaptation, or the conversion of oral, historical or fictional narratives into stage drama has been common practice for centuries. In our own time the processes of cross-generic transformation continue to be extremely important in theatre as well as in the film and other media industries. Adaptation and the related areas of translation and intertextuality continue to have a central place in our culture with a profound resonance across our civilisation.
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