Saturday, May 05, 2012

Ever wondered what a Laugh Track machine looks like?

Check this out. Originally invented by Charles Douglas in the '50s. And his son Bobby has followed in his footsteps. Bobby is also one of the true gentlemen I've ever worked with in the business.

So here's the scoop on the original laugh machine. Note how enthusiastic the owner is.

19 comments:

Paul Duca said...

How did that get from Charlie Douglass' possession to someone's storage unit? And how did this guy manage to beat the time of those who have their own TV shows (yes, there's more than one) about going around and buying the contents of abandoned storage units?

New WV that makes sense

whedyna oppoi--when Ken occasionally says while in Hawaii

David Schwartz said...

Unbelievable. Yes, the owner needed some help from the machine to pump up his excitement about the value of the item. I don't know how they come up with a valuation of something like that, but $ 10,000 seems pretty cheap for something as unique and important to the history of television as that machine is.

David Schwartz said...

I would think the log book itself is probably worth a bundle as well. That's an impressive list of shows he both used on his loops and worked on.

Max Clarke said...

And there's the scene in Annie Hall when Tony Roberts and Woody Allen are in the editing room for Tony's sitcom.

Woody watches Tony and the editor add laughs to what is obviously a lame scene. He points to the laugh track machine and asks, "Is there booing on there?"

MikeBo said...

Gads. I remember meeting Charlie and his son when I worked on a couple of shows for Allan Blye and Bob Einstein. In post production, they would lay in the laugh track. A few times the producer would suggest a different type of laugh response to the gag on the monitor. The first time I saw that happen, Charlie wheeled his contraption down the hall. When he came back he had the desired laugh track. While they were gone from the room, Bob explained that their laugh machine was "top secret," and they never tweaked it when anyone besides the two of them could see what they were doing. David Schwartz is absolutely right in saying Douglass' machine is unique and important to the history of television.

Kirk said...

Could it be possible that the guy was told before hand that the machine was worth $10,000, and thus had gotten over his intitial suprise and excitement by the time he appeared on camera? I have no inside knowledge that that's the way they do things on "Antique Roadshow", but it's odd how those appraisers know exactly what something is and what it's worth at their very first glance.

1953? I thought I read somewhere that the laugh track was originally used in radio. Could it be that this machine replaced or was an approvement over an earlier device, which then went on to become an industry standard?

Ted said...

I also worked with Charlie Douglas once. The producer let me know in advance that this legendary genius was coming in to "laugh the show," so I was prepared to be thrilled. And I was.

The one thing I remember from the session is that Charlie would laugh, guffaw and giggle along with his machine as he twisted the dials furiously. For me, it was an unforgettable Hollywood moment.

Cap'n Bob said...

The items chosen to appear on Antiques Roadshow are researched before they go on the air. I don't think prices are revealed until the filming. Or taping--I'm showing my age again.

Karl said...

The audience response tracks used on radio were from disc and were used sparingly when prerecorded shows (such as Armed Forces Radio's variety series "Command Performance" and ABC's "Philco Radio Time" starring Bing Crosby) were being edited to cover spots where cutting left laughter and applause that didn't match up. They didn't "sweeten" in those days. The introduction of magnetic tape in the late 1940s made it easier to do this, and there are a few early '50s radio shows, such as Doris Day's CBS series, whose audiences were entirely dubbed in.

A_Homer said...

But here's the "original" one on youtube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tpY0Muy_1qI

Anyway, nice find - incredible storage container story. But even I, who is no profi, can say that machine is easily going for more than 10k. He should have taken it to Pawn Stars instead. It actually still works, it has working magnetic tape loops from the history of tv laughtrax, and most importantly, it has a book of handwritten entries (all the way up to Cheers, nice) There are high-stake collectors for tv history, for technology, and not to mention in other countries, Japan etc, and there are museums. A collector can purchase and later still donate to a museum and get a tax write off. This is the kind of object museums love because it is possible to make an exhibit with it that is incredibly user-friendly. And this will only get a better price with age. Would personally love to have it.

MikeBo said...

Kirk, you are correct. TV's laugh tracks are a carry-over from the days of live network radio when most of the shows were done live before an audience. Many of the "veteranos" that I met at AFTRA meetings and social events had worked during the "Golden Days of Radio," and reminisced fondly about performing in front of a live audience. ("LIVE, from COAST TO COAST!")The early TV producers who had come from Radio carried on the tradition. In fact, if you ever read the "letters to the editor" of TV Guide from the '50s, there were a lot of questions as to whether the shows hired "professional laughers." Some of the laughs were recognizable from one show to another, which is why some people thought that "professional laughers" were hired to jazz up the audience response. I later realized, when I worked as a "page" at ABC in NY, that the stage crew alway chimed in on the laughs and applause. And since most of them worked different shows, a noticeable laugh would show up on several different programs. Charlie Douglas brought "high tech" into the game. He is truly one of the unsung heroes of the industry. Yet you hear his magic on just about every old show you see.

Barry Traylor said...

I am certainly glad this was not thrown away. What an important piece of television history.

Marty Fufkin said...

I wish this machine went missing before MASH went on the air. The laughtrack killed that show.

Cindy E said...

My guess is the guy is less than enthusiastic because he agrees that this box is worth more than $10K. For all we know, he stormed off the set afterwards and called Christie's or Sotheby's.
Also, HE may be an actor.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

I swear, Charley Douglass' original laff box needs to be in the Smithsonian or something; I know a lot of people give the laugh track flack (and I know in M*A*S*H's case, Larry Gelbart, Gene Reynolds, and Burt Metcalfe didn't want it at all), but Douglass' laughs is part of what made classic shows so much fun, because you have to admit, isn't it more fun to watch something funny with a group of people as opposed to by yourself? And that's exactly what the laugh track was intended to do, to recreate the atmosphere of watching a show with a group of people.

I'm also glad to know that within the last couple of months, it seems a number of laff box nerds have been coming out of the woodwork, and I'm also not ashamed to admit that I use Douglass' classic laughs on a number of my own projects, as I like to try and channel the spirit of wholesome, classic television, as opposed to today's overtly sexual garbage that pollutes the television landscape.

Paul Iverson said...

I am an unbashed "laff box" nerd and have been fascinated with the Douglass laugh tracks for over 30 years. Those chuckles are as classic as the shows they are part of. The sounds of those people laughing is like hearing old friends you have known for years laughing along with you.

I love some of the above posts, hearing from those who have worked with Douglass, seen him in action and witness the process of laying in those classic laughs.

I only wish I could have met the legendary genius himself, and would be just as grateful to meet his family to write a book on this incredible, often underrated piece of television history.

I wrote my college term paper (circa 1993) on Douglass and his famous "laff box," and this was during the pre-internet era when little was known about it.

Like the post above, I too have isolated many of these classic chuckles and have tried to emulate Douglass' laugh track (see this link to the Pink Panther short PINK PAJAMAS - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rwP6B0V7OdY)

Dave Mackey said...

Glad that people are nostalgic over the Charley Douglas laff box and not the old Mackenzie audience response loops that NBC Burbank ran into the ground on every game show taped at that place from the mid-60's to about the time of the John Davidson "Hollywood Squares".

david said...

@Paul Iverson: who are you? where are you? I have been trying to hunt down your paper, "The Advent of the Laugh Track" from Hofstra. People cite it all the time, but no one has yet been able to tell me how they get their hands on it (or if they do at all). The information in their citations is not complete enough for me to go through Interlibrary Loan. I really want to read it, so please, if you get this message, get back with me. Thanks!

pacobell63 said...

@david - Sorry Hofstra does not have a copy on file. I do have the original and would be glad to provide a copy to you. Email me at pacobell73@gmail.com