In the early 1800s, as theatrical writing became more subtle and plays were less likely to end with multiple deaths, the term "drama" began to be used to describe plays that were more sober, with "comedy" meaning plays that were funny rather than plays which ended happily. Since then, the terms have remained relatively subjective. Authors such as Anton Chekhov, George Bernard Shaw and Henrik Ibsen blurred the line between comedy and drama.
By the early 1960s, television companies commonly presented half-hour long "comedy" series, or one hour long "dramas." Half-hour series were mostly restricted to situation comedy or family comedy, and were usually aired with either a live or artificial laugh track. One hour dramas included genre series such as police and detective series, westerns, science fiction, and, later, serialized prime time soap operas. Programs today still overwhelmingly conform to these half-hour and one hour guidelines.
While sitcoms such as Leave It to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show would occasionally balance their humor with more dramatic and humanistic moments, these remained the exception to the rule as the 1960s progressed. Beginning around 1969 in the US, however, there was a brief spate of half-hour shows that purposely alternated between comedy and drama and aired without a laugh track. At the time, these were known as "comedy-dramas." Perhaps the best known was Room 222. Later, the approach of these early shows influenced better-known series such as M*A*S*H, One Day at a Time, and Eight Is Enough (which featured hour-long episodes and a laugh track). These early experiments also influenced general TV comedy, and later series (especially family themed sitcoms) often included brief dramatic interludes and more serious subject matter.
Although elements of comedy were seen in the 1975 police drama The Sweeney, the first UK show to be generally acknowledged as a comedy-drama was the series Minder, first launched in 1979 (Both shows produced by Euston Films for Thames Television, for ITV).
A drama-comedy can also be a half-hour sitcom with more serious plots and content, shot on a closed set or on location instead of in front of an audience, and often without the usual laugh track, such as:
Though the great majority of shows still fall into either one category or the other, the comedy/drama line becomes more and more vague as viewers become accustomed to off-beat series, and as younger viewers who were introduced to genre hybrids at an early age become an older and more market-friendly audience (as well as becoming the television creators of today). The divide is further diminished by the increasing popularity of subscription TV services such as HBO and Showtime, where the demands of per-show marketing are not as stringent and viewers are explicitly looking for a product different from traditional television.