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Comedy's Errors

The sitcom format may be a little moldy, but it's far from dead (''Funny Business''). Arrested Development is a fine example of how to reinvigorate the genre in the Seinfeld tradition. But a big problem in today's demographic-sliced programming is that there's less appreciation for laughs than there is for high-concept gimmicks that turn viewers off no matter how enticing they seem on paper to advertisers. For instance, Watching Ellie's real-time idea might have been an interesting experiment, but it was, ultimately, an unfunny waste of talent and, ironically, time. Great but short-lived shows like Andy Richter Controls the Universe contain just enough quirk to be different, but that takes a backseat to the cast and writing. Fox took a chance but didn't stick with it -- and lost out on a potential cult, if not watercooler, hit. ROSS RANIERE johnny7200@yahoo.com Bronx, N.Y.

Why are sitcoms dying? Poor casting that focuses on building shows around stand-up comedians who can't act, actors and actresses who have no comedic timing, or pretty faces who can't do either. Without proper casting there is no chemistry between characters, as there was in sitcoms like Cheers and Murphy Brown. You end up with one-dimensional characters that the audience doesn't relate to, because the cast isn't capable of layered performances. AMY WATERS Chanhassen, Minn.

I found it interesting that your cover story ''Are Sitcoms Dead?'' focuses on the passing of Friends and Frasier -- two shows that have been running on fumes for a while. New shows like Life With Bonnie, Scrubs, and The Bernie Mac Show are just now hitting their stride, and are proof that the genre has plenty of gas in its tank. Cindy Chupack was right on the money when she suggested that with all the TV choices out there, it sometimes takes America a few seasons to fall in love with the good stuff. JEFF EASON eason@mountaintimes.com Boone, N.C.

Three more suggestions for how networks can ''bring back the laughs'': (1) Networks need to take chances on sitcoms and let them build their audiences, like NBC did with Cheers and Seinfeld -- chances that paid off later with both ratings and money. (2) Networks should also embrace original, funny shows like NBC's Scrubs. ABC should be ashamed of itself for allowing According to Jim to remain on the air instead of the brilliant Denis Leary vehicle The Job. (3) Don't move a show so much that people can't remember what night it's on! Part of the reason why shows like Friends do well is that their time slots don't change. People work their schedules around these TV shows because they know when to expect them. RON RAYMOND, JR. retroality@yahoo.com Portland, Maine

After Ricky Gervais' stunning upset at the Golden Globes, maybe the question isn't ''Are sitcoms dead?'' but ''Is network TV dead?'' Here's a guy who came out of nowhere with a foreign show sans laugh track that's not even on basic cable to take the awards for best actor in a comedy and best comedy. Why any writer would want to work for a major network -- especially in this FCC witch-hunt climate -- is beyond me. DEXTER COLLINS dextercollins@adelphia.net Buffalo

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