What do I mean by “premise”? Let’s define it. A premise is a one-sentence description of your sitcom that, in a quick and easy way, let’s anyone know exactly what it is you’re going for. When developing your premise, you must consider several elements.
First, you must understand that the networks define where a show is going to be positioned by who is going to watch it—that’s called the demographic. So in designing your premise, you need to consider which demographic your show is intended for. Is it for young people? If so, how young? Toddlers? Tweens? Or is it for older people? If so, how old? Middle aged? Retired? Dead? (Sorry, old sitcom joke.)
Next, you need to define who your main character is and make sure that he or she is relatable to the people in your demographic as you’ve defined it. To risk stating the obvious, Golden Girls is going to appeal to a different audience than iCarly. Now, if your main character is not relatable to your demographic, then you probably need to change one of two things: either your demographic or your main character.
Next, you have to have a villain, because a villain or an obstacle is what is going to drive your story, and any competent producer is going to know immediately whether or not your story has the kind of teeth that will sustain it for the long haul—because a long-term hit is ultimately the goal of every sitcom pilot.
Finally, you need to determine, very specifically, what style of comedy your sitcom will have. Edgy? Family-oriented? Is it a buddy comedy? For instance, Everybody Loves Raymond is a lighthearted family comedy about a normal guy who is surrounded by his crazy family while trying to keep his job and his marriage together. Being this specific with your premise will let network execs know exactly how and where the show is going to be slotted and whether or not it has the potential to be a hit.
So, to recap, define your premise as specifically as you can from the outset, because this will tell you, and everyone involved, exactly what kind of show you intend to create.