Tuesday, June 16, 2015
This is for all the showrunners of new multi-camera sitcoms (i.e. shows shot in front of a live studio audience) that the networks have recently picked up. The format is much maligned, but hopefully this will help you avoid the audience complaints and ride your new series to success.
I have a number of friends who are on staff of various multi-cams . They report that the one note they now get incessantly from the networks is MORE JOKES. Networks are terrified that if there’s not a joke literally every two seconds that the audience will flee en masse to something else.
What they don’t understand, of course, is that the viewer needs to be invested in the characters and story. He needs to CARE what happens to these people. Although in a stylized setting, the characters have to appear at least somewhat REAL. They have to be relatable on some recognizable level. Characters just firing a barrage of one liners at each other for a half hour is what causes audience defection.
The truth is not every joke is going to land, especially when there are a thousand of them per half hour. Even if they all were genuinely funny an audience would not laugh at every one. If they did, they’d be worn out by the second act. They need to breathe. So when the laugh machine punctuates every single line with an orgasmic burst of laughter it sounds ridiculous and moderately offensive.
I understand that the pace of today’s sitcoms has been accelerated. Some multi-camera shows from the ‘70s and ‘80s may appear sluggish today. But trust me, it’s better to go six lines to set up one big genuine laugh than seven one-liners that are titters at best. When there are jokes every second the show reeks from desperation. And an audience can sense that.
As regular readers of this blog know, I love the multi-camera format. I also believe that sitcoms need to strive to make viewers really laugh, and in many cases that means jokes. But GOOD jokes. And presented in a respectful way. It’s not the number of cameras that turns many viewers away, it’s the abuse of the format. Take a step back. I guarantee you studio audiences are not laughing at every line. Don’t pretend that they are. Either lay off the laugh machine or don’t go for so many smart-ass remarks. At the end of the day the goal is to make the show FUNNY. Do that with clever surprising stories, do that with reactions, do that with ten big belly laughs or one big block comedy scene. Sometimes sluggish isn’t such a bad thing.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM