Mitchell Hurwitz, who created the TV series Arrested Development, tells us how to create a group of core characters for a sitcom, using the characters of The Golden Girls for an example.
“At one point I remember learning that there was this classic archetype of matriarch, patriarch, craftsman, and clown,” Hurwitz explained on a recent episode of Julie Klausner’s podcast How Was Your Week. “I just thought it was the coolest thing, and started seeing it everywhere there were successful quartets.”
“Rose is the matriarch because she has the maternal instinct, and Dorothy is the patriarch,” Hurwitz says. “I think the clown is Blanche, because of all her sexual sort of clowning, and the craftsman, the serious one who sees things as they are, is Sophia.” These archetypes come from Commedia dell’arte, a form of theater based on a wider range of stock characters and narrative tropes that originated in Italy in the 16th century.
Hurwitz used this formula to develop the Bluth siblings for Arrested Development. Once you know what to look for, you can see it in a number of sitcom casts. Buzzfeed has an extensive list of ensemble groups that fall into this formula. It works a little less well for dramas and comic books, but you can still see it somewhat. Even real life groups, like bands, sometimes fall into these roles.