Tuesday, July 05, 2016

This British TV critic is just wrong

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. They did pull out of EU. There must be something in the water. But now a UK TV critic, Sam Wollaston, maintains in an article that not only should there no longer be canned laughter in sitcoms (for which I don’t disagree); there should no longer be actual studio laughter as well. In other words, never do a multi-camera show in front of an audience. Not in 2016.

According to Mr. Wollaston, it’s unnecessary and automatically makes the show feel dated. Do FRASIER and FRIENDS seem dated to you? Those are two examples he gave. Do you no longer enjoy watching these shows because they contain genuine laughter?  

And even if they do appear “dated,” does that prevent you from still enjoying them? If only I LOVE LUCY didn’t have audience laughter. Or THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW.

I wonder if Mr. Wollaston believes stage play comedies are passé because actors still have to hold for audience laughter? How unnatural! How 1st-20th Century! 

It’s such a stupid argument I have to shake my head. He’s welcome to say he himself prefers shows without any kind of laugh track but to suggest that multi-cams with audiences should no longer be made in this modern era is downright idiotic. (And before you claim I just have a bias for multi-camera shows, remember I wrote for a certain single-camera show too – MASH.)

Artificial laughter is distracting and insulting to the home viewer. But I see no harm in including the laughter that is earned. “Laughter” doesn’t make sitcoms seem stale – bad writing does. Tired jokes, situations you’ve seen a thousand times (done better), cliché tropes – those are the culprits. I would think a television critic would know the difference.

Here’s a value to audience laughter Mr. Wollaston seems not to know: It holds the writers accountable. There are some inspired single-camera shows. But there are also a lot that are weak and unfunny. The writers might be hysterical watching the dailies but the home viewer is staring at the screen saying, “This is some real lame shit.” On multi-camera shows you have 250 strangers telling you whether something works. Often the first cut of a show will be long by several minutes. The question becomes what to cut? On multi-camera shows it’s fairly easy. You cut what didn’t work. Single camera shows are just guessing. They might guess wrong.

Mr. Wollaston also disagrees with the claim that studio audiences result in better performances and he lists a few actors who perform quite well without audience assistance. Well, as someone who has produced shows for forty years let me just say, Mr. Wollaston, you’re wrong. Just flat out wrong. This isn’t my contention; it’s ACTORS’. For the same reason that they get a charge out of performing live on the stage, having an audience DOES energize performances. I’ve stood on those stages. I’ve seen the difference between when scenes are pre-shot or performed live. There’s a discernible difference, sir.

His overall argument that audience shows might have been well and good in decades past but this is 2016 – we’re so much more sophisticated now, have such higher standards is condescending and insulting. If we’re going to talk the test of time, let’s see how many of these 2016 laugh-free single camera shows are still being enjoyed in ten years. I bet FRASIER and FRIENDS will still be around. And I LOVE LUCY. They’ll have the last “laugh,”which you will hear out of your speaker.

54 comments:

Stylus said...

I'm thinking of getting some cards printed: "I'm from the UK and I wish to apologise for [fill in blank here]"

Totally agree. I've laughed like a drain at audience sitcoms, I love to see the actors feed off the laughter.

Peter said...

Ken, I agree with every single word you said....EXCEPT about the EU. I voted to leave the EU, as I believe in the basic principle that every country should be completely sovereign, which simply isn't possible if you're part of a superstate whose laws take precedence over domestic laws AND demands you pay billions a year to be a member.

Apart from that, spot on!

Peter said...

Oh, I just heard the sad news that the first live-action Lois Lane, Noel Neill, has passed away at 95.

Ken, I know you were a big fan of the George Reeves Superman show in which she starred, so I guess this has particular resonance for your generation. I saw the show when reruns were aired in the UK in the late 80s.

I'm glad she lived a nice long life. RIP

Scott Willison said...

Sam Wollaston is a *terrible* TV reviewer, and has been for years. This is a recurring theme in his drivel. He constantly uses the phrase "canned laughter" and dismisses great new comedies at the first hint of an audience. His criticisms are frequently inane and usually involve him simply recapping the show's plot. Quite why the Guardian continues to employ him is beyond me.

tavm said...

Since we're talking about live audience laughter vs. canned, does anyone know if "2 Broke Girls" is filmed in front of one? And if so, just how starved for laughs does one have to be to find any of it funny?

Stephen Marks said...

Fawlty logic!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

I fear you have fallen victim to a peculiarity of British life: the look-at-me-I'm-a-contrarian. It seems to be a standard thing that if you want to get attention in this country you write something more or less deliberately guaranteed to wind people up. Does Wallaston really believe what he wrote? No idea. But by taking the time to refute it you've widened his circulation.

The most annoying thing about it is you *do* have to refute it or it becomes received wisdom. And then another contrarian can come along and the whole cycle can repeat.

Maybe Johnny Walker has more insight...

wg

Joseph Scarbrough said...

Didn't you write recently, Ken, that CBS was going to start filming/taping their new multi-cam sitcoms without audiences to try to give them more of a modern single-cam ambience, since laugh-free single-cam sitcoms like THE OFFICE, MODERN FAMILY, and others have proven so successful?

Either way, I still say sitcoms without laughter -live or simulated- are handicaps.

DARON72 said...

The scene from the 'Taxi' episode where Reverend Jim takes his driver's test and asks what a yellow light means could simply not exist without a studio audience because the laughter gets louder every time Jim asks the question (kind of a snow ball effect) whereas in the single camera format, I believe the viewer would get tired of Jim's repetition rather quickly. Another strike against the Brit.

Covarr said...

He's coming from an increasingly common mindset that trends are permanent. What was once far more popular, the multi-camera show, is going out of style, so that of course must mean it's strictly inferior to the single-camera show that is currently en vogue. I see this attitude everywhere, not just TV.

The mindset isn't completely without merit. Modern digital recording, for example, is pretty definitively better than tape, which was popular mainly because it was cheap, and it's capable of mimicking the intricacies of film that tape never could, assuming you use the right lenses and spend a bit of time with it in post.

It's just sad when this attitude is taken too far. The argument he's giving, which boils down to "come on, it's 2016", could just as well have been used in 2007 as an attack against movies without penguins, because they happened to be successful and popular at the time therefore all movies should shoehorn in penguins forever. I mean, come on. It was 2007. Movies without penguins were dated.

Fred Vogel said...

I have always thought intelligent, well-written shows such as Frasier and Seinfeld were doing their audience a disservice by using canned laughter. It is extremely annoying.

Covarr said...

Addendum to my previous comment:

I reread his article and noticed the following quote: "Canned laughter implies fake laughter, which hasn’t been used for decades, and I meant studio laughter."

I'm not convinced that fake laughter is entirely out of use. I've seen it all over several Disney Channel shows; virtually everything by It's a Laugh Productions has very identifiably samey laughter. I know these shows are shot in front of a studio audience (at least, Girl Meets World is. I assume others are as well), but the laughter sounds very canned anyway.

blinky said...

Larry Sanders was a black and white single film camera show but it also was in color on video when the "Tonight Show" part was done. SO the B&W had no audience and the Color did. A two=fer!

Episode30 said...

Great post! The snobbery toward comedy now has a second level of snobbery toward multi-cams. They don't win Emmys and never get nominated for their writing. Some reviewers treat them as inferior automatically. As if the audience is the problem with the shows. It's particularly annoying when they call it canned laughter when it's a studio audience.

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Episode30 THANK YOU!!! I get so annoyed when people use the term "laugh track sitcom" as a blanket terminology for any and all sitcoms where you hear the sounds of laughter - even if they're shot in front of a live audience. There is a difference.

DBA said...

I'd also argue, his point of listing a few actors who perform quite well without an audience does nothing to refute the notion that actors in general (potentially including those he listed) perform better with an audience. Doing well without doesn't mean you can't do better with. That's like saying pitchers shouldn't throw 3-2 sliders for a strikeout and listing a couple pitchers with high strikeouts/low BA against not involving sliders, completely ignoring all strikeouts that resulted from good sliders.

Douglas Wyman said...

Indeed

Craig Gustafson said...

Ken:

I think you're dead wrong. Here's why.

"Mork and Mindy" would have died without a live audience.
As stated above, a live audience was crucial to "Taxi" and "What does a yellow light mean?"

But if all multi-camera shows are taped the way "Mom" is, it's 100% as false as a laugh track. I attended a taping years ago of "Anything But Love." It was a great experience, watching the Goddess Jamie Lee Curtis, Richard Lewis, John Ritter and Ann Magnuson (in a red rubber fetish suit).

20 years or so later, this past February, my wife and I attended a taping of "Mom." THERE'S four hours of my life I'll never get back.

Everything was performed behind screens. There was NO direct interaction between actors and audience. The only time I got to see the Goddess Allison Janney in front of me was when they took a curtain call.

There was a pain-in-the-ass warm-up guy constantly needling us to laugh and laugh more, basically because *that was our job*. "Show me the love! Show me the love!" It was like being trapped for four hours with an insurance salesman who doubled as an ex-Navy Seal personal trainer. I went there to be entertained; if I had known it was a job, I would have wanted to be paid.

Even when the material was funny, we weren't connected to it and were constantly badgered to laugh louder. This is NOT letting the material earn the laughs.

Long stretches between set-ups, when the warm-up guy did things like telling us to make our favorite animal noise. Mine was, "Show me the love!"

OH, AND... they passed out mimeographed (I swear to god) programs that announced we would be seeing Richard Schiff as a guest star! Oh my god! Toby and C.J. together again! They didn't state that Schiff's appearance was pre-taped; so we never saw him live. Bait and switch. Or announce and disappoint, to be more accurate.

Hideous, grueling, sycophantic... it was NOT entertaining. So if this is the way all sit-coms are now filmed, I'm in complete agreement with doing away with the laughs; they're just as phony as any laugh track ever used.

I mean, really... Robin Williams with a barrier between him and a live audience? He would have kicked over the fucking screens.

Thank you for your very kind attention.

Doug said...

I've heard people say that on shows filmed with an audience, it doesn't matter whether or not the audience laughs because they'll just fill in the dead spots with a laugh track, which isn't true. Most shows filmed in front of live audiences use laugh tracks only for editing purposes. When you cut a show with a live audience, the audience reactions don't always match because you're taking footage out. Generally, you have a little library of audience sounds that you use to smooth over the bumps. And yeah, there have been less-than-honest sitcoms that have made liberal use of the laugh box to add laughs that they didn't get from the audience, but they're in the minority. Most sitcoms filmed with a live audience take great pride in earning those laughs. Besides, live audiences tend to be enthusiastic. If anything, you're more likely to have to bring them down than bring them up.

"Filmed before a live audience" was a rarity for sitcoms prior to the 1970s. Lucille Ball's shows and THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, of course. A few others, like DECEMBER BRIDE and OUR MISS BROOKS. Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson's HEY LANDLORD in the mid '60s. Most sitcoms in the 1950s and '60s preferred to go single camera and work without an audience. Even some that gave the appearance of having an audience, actually didn't. I MARRIED JOAN was filmed three camera, like LUCY, but there was no audience. Same thing with THE GEORGE BURNS AND GRACIE ALLEN SHOW and most of the filmed JACK BENNY SHOWS. It was Norman Lear who made "filmed before a live audience" a popular thing. He wanted ALL IN THE FAMILY to have the feel of live television. He wanted the show to feel more spontaneous and real. He once called single camera sitcoms "sterile," because everything is so carefully planned and manipulated. He wanted his shows to have the energy you can only get from a live audience, even if it meant that, technically, his shows looked less polished. Audiences obviously responded to that in his shows because "filmed before a live audience" boomed in the 1970s.

VP81955 said...

My two viewings of "Mom" eps have been the antithesis of yours -- smooth, efficient (both less than three hours), with Anna, Allison and company in full view and in good form. Yours was likely the exception to the rule.

Johnny Walker said...

Listening to an interview with Rob Long at the moment, and he contends that the only problem with modern comedies is that the media world are all watching niche comedies (but there's no money there), and they feel they're "stooping" if they go for mainstream comedy... and the audience can tell. Then when they try and do "mainstream" they hamper it with lots of concerns about their "brand". As you say yourself, Ken: Funny is funny -- and even shows forget that. They seem to treat funny as if it's "hacky", and aim for "quirky" instead.

According to him, networks take a retreat each year and the executives make a list of the type of programming they want from the following year. Then they release that list and programming tries to find show that fit this insanely arbitrary guideline. It hampers creativity before anything has even been seen!

I have no reason to suspect Long is wrong, but it's such an incredibly stupid system that I can hardly believe it. They'd actually turn down a potential huge hit of a show because it doesn't fit into their plan...

Johnny Walker said...

PS - Peter, please list some of the EU laws you were against. As this was your primary reason for voting Leave, I look forward to reading them. Thanks!

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Johnny You are so right on so many levels. That's, why I feel, THE MUPPETS (this past fall) was doomed to fail: the Muppets have always had their own unique brand of wacky and offbeat, yet sophisticated and heartfelt humor that have made them such an endearing and enduring franchise for many decades (even after the death of creator Jim Henson). . . . THE MUPPETS, on the other hand, suffered from the network bringing in writers from other mainstream sitcoms (including MODERN FAMILY and THE BIG DANG THEORY), and giving the show a mainstream format (the trite and tired mockumentary format that THE OFFICE paved the way for), in hopes that it would achieve mainstream success . . . and it flopped as a result, with many citing the show lacked humor and heart (two of the things the Muppets are best known for).

As for network executives, they never have a clue what audiences want to see, yet they think they know all. If they did have any clue as to what audiences want, I doubt half of the mindless garbage on today would even be on. But, the sad truth is, as even Ken has written, the American entertainment industry (and television is certainly no exception) is all about the money, as craved by corporate greed. This is even why modern cinema is in the crapper: all we keep getting are sequels, rehashes, reboots, and franchises, because these big studios know that's where the money is, so they're going bank on what they know will work, rather than take a risk on something original and have it flop.

What's one of the reasons TV shows were so much better back in the day? Creativity. Sure, there was network meddling back in those days (if early M*A*S*H is anything to go by), but many who have been in the business for a long time will tell you that the interference factor back then was miniscule compared to today's interference

Jerod Butt said...

www.tvtickets.com has 2 BROKE GIRLS listed.

Victor Velasco said...

As of 12:33 pm, no one has mentioned what may be the best method for adding laughter to a single or multi-camera show: do it ala Nat Hiken with Bilko and Car 54; take the episode to an audience, record the real time laughs, add whats' needed for broadcast. Larry David used this technique with Seinfeld...it's a winner...IF...your show is genuinely funny.

Craig Gustafson said...

"My two viewings of "Mom" eps have been the antithesis of yours -- smooth, efficient (both less than three hours), with Anna, Allison and company in full view and in good form. Yours was likely the exception to the rule."

Well... damn. Now I feel really abused.

Johnny Walker said...

@Blinky

Larry Sanders was never in B&W :)

Bu otherwise you're right. It was an example of Shandling's genius.

Myles Warden said...

It is. You can see what shows are live audience via tvtickets.com

VincentS said...

As a performer myself, I couldn't agree with you more, Ken. Actors certainly should never play for laughs - I always say it's the writer's job to be funny; it's the actor's job to be real - but boy what a great feeling when I am given funny lines and pull them off.

Myles Warden said...

Almost all Disney sitcoms are shot live in front a studio audience. Most shows with laughter are but for some odd reason people assume the laughter is fake. Check tvtickets.com for a list of most shows currently being shot live. You'll see most of the Disney shows there except KC Undercover which isn't shot live (probably due to all of the stunts/fx) and one or two new ones.

Myles Warden said...

Sounds like you had a rough experience but as someone who has frequently watched sitcoms taped live I can assure you this isn't the norm. Some episodes require more pretaped scenes or scenes shot away from the audience and not on the main sets but if it was all some cruel trick they'd just do it all without the audience and bring in a crowd to watch the tape and record their laughter. It'd save everyone time and money. Like Ken said the actors actually prefer the audience and feed off them. Everyone benefits.

Craig F. said...

I have noticed, when this subject comes up in discussions with people, that an awful lot of folks tend to assume that whatever sounds they hear from the audience -- laughter or applause or whatever -- are either entirely or mostly faked. That even if a show says it was taped before a live audience, that the audience track is always going to be very heavily sweetened, and so isn't really "real." I think that presumption might be behind many people's dislike of ever hearing "audience sounds." They think even if a show really is performed before a live audience, and even if that audience really is the only thing you hear on the track, that what they're really hearing is the 2016 equivalent of the old Charley Douglass laugh box.

Diane D. said...

Speaking of ALMOST PERFECT, I watched one of my favorite episodes, The Lost Weekend, today. The entire episode is wonderful, but there is one scene that is so LOL hilarious, it would be worth watching just for that. However, the episode is the first part of a 2 part story. The second part isn't on YouTube and I wondered if anyone knew if it could be found somewhere else. Are there any episodes that can be found other than on YouTube?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Craig Well, even today, almost everything you see on TV that was shot before a live audience is still sweetened, though perhaps not as much as it was back in the days of Charley Douglass. There's a supercut video on YouTube of one particular canned laugh that's heard repeatedly on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER that I've also heard pop up a few times on CONAN.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the Internet
Makes people 10 times as smart - and 100 times as ignorant.
All at once.

Al said...

This may be a Friday question. I've heard more than one person say that modern audiences wouldn't respond to a classic sitcom like I Love Lucy today. Now when I watch I Love Lucy, Mary Tyler Moore or the Bob Newhart show, I still laugh as much or more than stuff that's new. But I also think I may have learned what comedy is because those shows were in pretty heavy rerun rotation when I was a kid.

The question is, do we learn comedy rhythms? Since I was brought up on classic sitcoms, my sense of humor seems informed by classics from the 50's and 60's and a lot of modern comedies leave me flat. Is comedy innate or learned? Nature vs. nurture?

Joseph Scarbrough said...

@Al I think you have a point. Even though I'm a Gen Y'er (as I said, I feel the term "Millennial" is a tad inaccurate, considering I spent a majority of my childhood in the 90s), I have older parents (like Radar O'Reilly) who introduced me to the shows that they grew up with. Almost by default, I tend to find comedy and humor from the 50s, 60s, and 70s to be much more sharp, clear, and genuinely funny. Don't get me wrong, there are some more recent sitcoms I've seen growing up that I've enjoyed, such as SEINFELD (I agree with many critics that it was the last truly great sitcom television ever saw) and EVERYBODY LOVES RAYMOND, but I'm going to say that almost every sitcom of the past 10-15 have turned me off, because they all seem to go for the lowest common denominator in terms of comedy: lowbrow sex humor. I know a majority of Ken's other readers strongly disagree with me, but I definitely see the point that you make, and there could very well be a nature vs. nurture factor at play. If either of us weren't brought up with these classic sitcoms, would we find them funny if we tried watching them later in life? I see many modern and contemporary TV critics dismiss older sitcoms as being poorly-written fluff.

Terrence Moss said...

you're assuming canned laughter because there's an audience?

Terrence Moss said...

"the middle" is the funniest comedy on tv -- and has been for years.

in terms of multi-cams, "mom".

if tv critics stop at "seinfeld", they've not been paying attention. i personally find the show overrated as such.

hell, "veep" is funnier to me.

Loosehead said...

You can tell how much the EU referendum has split the UK, by the fact the arguments have spilled over into these comments. I wonder if the country will ever heal itself.

Johnny Walker said...

@Wendy Sorry, just noticed your comment. I'm pretty sure that saying deliberately contrarian things in order to get attention is standard practice outside the UK, too. From Rush Limbaugh to Donald Trump, it seems pretty common in the US, at least. It's very annoying.

Do You Do Any Wings? said...

Interesting point though - in the UK M*A*S*H was originally shown without the laughter track and was clearly beautifully written and timed. I simply can't watch the current repeats which use the original (US?) tracked versions.

Do You Do Any Wings? said...

ps - Peter - you mean like the United States of America?

Stuart Best said...

The audience is the fourth wall. If there's no studio audience, why only have three walls and a stage? There's nothing wrong with a staged sitcom with a studio audience. When you're watching a good show in your living room, there's a comforting feeling of being a part of that larger audience. A single-cam sitcom is a completely different art form, which I also appreciate. But if anyone doesn't want to watch a multi-cam show with an audience, there are lots of other options.

VP81955 said...

Think of classic radio comedy (e.g., "The Jack Benny Program"). Would it have been anywhere as effective if Jack and his cohorts didn't have an audience to play off of? The legendary robbery scene (Robber: "Your money or your life!"...long pause...Jack: "I'm thinking it over!") would've lost all its greatness without a studio audience familiar with Jack's persona.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Johnny Walker: there's a difference, though. The contrarian British critic really isn't aiming to poison British politics; he's just writing a dyspeptic piece where he gets to show off his writing flair while trashing something a lot of people like *because* they like it so he can come off as superior. It's a very different flavor.

wg

Richard Turner said...

While I agree that live audience laughter is a key ingredient for traditional sitcoms, there has been quite some evolution in TV comedy since we started watching Hancock.

Live Audience Multi-Camera Narrative Comedy (LAMCNC) is a specialist skill. The only people I know of who can do it consistently today are Graham Linehan, Brendan O'Carroll, and in a Dadaist anti-sitcom way, Reeves and Mortimer. Miranda's been and gone. Writing, producing, directing and performing these shows requires specialised skills that not everyone who wants to make narrative comedy shows has these days, and that's because there are so many new ways to make them, and we can't all do everything.

The dearth of LAMCNCs isn't the result of a perverse decision made by TV bosses, but is a rational response to changes in the circumstances that shape the whole TV comedy market, internal as well as external.

Back in the day, audiences were more attuned to the general idea of watching light narrative comedy in the theatre. Now most theatre is either a musical or 'high culture', so LAMCNCs aren't the TV equivalent of anything people are familiar with. Stand up comedy seems to have filled that gap now. Another consequence of this change is that there is no longer a great pool of West End comedy character actors. For Dad’s Army, Croft and Perry had their pick from the last generation of well-loved light comedy theatre greats. These actors knew how to do it. Now we have mostly names from the comedy circuit and TV panel shows to pick from, and their skills are quite different.

One consequence of casting comedy giants of the West End stage was that none of these actors was generally available for shooting, as they were all too busy acting in W1. So sitcom producers rehearsed the actors during the day, Monday to Friday, then recorded an almost live performance in front of a studio audience on Sunday night, the only evening the actors were free. It was relatively cheap to do.
If you were to try to go the single camera, non-audience route to make a comedy back then, you would have to ask for a movie budget. Now that we have cheaper, lighter and more reliable sound recording equipment and cameras, which work using natural light, single camera production is the cheaper option.

So to make a full-on mainstream LAMCNC is now the relatively big financial risk. But to compound this risk, there is a couple of other things to consider:

Firstly you will most likely fail. Even in their Golden Age, most sitcoms even if they were written by hugely successful writers and with star names, they all bombed on a regular basis. So if you weigh the big money risk against the slim likelihood of success, it's easier for most commissioners not to commission that new LAMCNC.

Secondly, there's no big audience for you even if you do succeed. Steptoe and Son's audience peaked at 28 million. A successful sitcom today couldn't dream of a number like that. Miranda peaked at 10 million, declined and only ran for three series. That's because the hundreds of channels we have to pick from, along with computer gaming and social networking, YouTube etc. have spread the audience thinly. There's at least one screen of some kind in every room of the house, so no-one is obliged to watch "something we all like". Comedy has therefore become more and more focused on narrower and narrower fan bases.

Looking at all this, it's a miracle that Miranda was made at all.

So rather than it being a perverse commissioner's choice to abandon the tried-and- tested formula of the Live Audience Multi-Camera Narrative Comedy, it's like when the Royal Navy finally got wise to lung cancer and alcoholism and stopped the quaint tradition of issuing their ratings with free filter-less cigarettes and rum. They realised it would be perverse to try and keep the tradition alive.

Richard Turner said...

While I agree that live audience laughter is a key ingredient for traditional sitcoms, there has been quite some evolution in TV comedy since we started watching Hancock.

Live Audience Multi-Camera Narrative Comedy (LAMCNC) is a specialist skill. The only people I know of who can do it consistently today are Graham Linehan, Brendan O'Carroll, and in a Dadaist anti-sitcom way, Reeves and Mortimer. Miranda's been and gone. Writing, producing, directing and performing these shows requires specialised skills that not everyone who wants to make narrative comedy shows has these days, and that's because there are so many new ways to make them, and we can't all do everything.

The dearth of LAMCNCs isn't the result of a perverse decision made by TV bosses, but is a rational response to changes in the circumstances that shape the whole TV comedy market, internal as well as external.

Back in the day, audiences were more attuned to the general idea of watching light narrative comedy in the theatre. Now most theatre is either a musical or 'high culture', so LAMCNCs aren't the TV equivalent of anything people are familiar with. Stand up comedy seems to have filled that gap now. Another consequence of this change is that there is no longer a great pool of West End comedy character actors. For Dad’s Army, Croft and Perry had their pick from the last generation of well-loved light comedy theatre greats. These actors knew how to do it. Now we have mostly names from the comedy circuit and TV panel shows to pick from, and their skills are quite different.

One consequence of casting comedy giants of the West End stage was that none of these actors was generally available for shooting, as they were all too busy acting in W1. So sitcom producers rehearsed the actors during the day, Monday to Friday, then recorded an almost live performance in front of a studio audience on Sunday night, the only evening the actors were free. It was relatively cheap to do.
If you were to try to go the single camera, non-audience route to make a comedy back then, you would have to ask for a movie budget. Now that we have cheaper, lighter and more reliable sound recording equipment and cameras, which work using natural light, single camera production is the cheaper option.

So to make a full-on mainstream LAMCNC is now the relatively big financial risk. But to compound this risk, there is a couple of other things to consider:

Firstly you will most likely fail. Even in their Golden Age, most sitcoms even if they were written by hugely successful writers and with star names, they all bombed on a regular basis. So if you weigh the big money risk against the slim likelihood of success, it's easier for most commissioners not to commission that new LAMCNC.

Secondly, there's no big audience for you even if you do succeed. Steptoe and Son's audience peaked at 28 million. A successful sitcom today couldn't dream of a number like that. Miranda peaked at 10 million, declined and only ran for three series. That's because the hundreds of channels we have to pick from, along with computer gaming and social networking, YouTube etc. have spread the audience thinly. There's at least one screen of some kind in every room of the house, so no-one is obliged to watch "something we all like". Comedy has therefore become more and more focused on narrower and narrower fan bases.

Looking at all this, it's a miracle that Miranda was made at all.

So rather than it being a perverse commissioner's choice to abandon the tried-and- tested formula of the Live Audience Multi-Camera Narrative Comedy, it's like when the Royal Navy finally got wise to lung cancer and alcoholism and stopped the quaint tradition of issuing their ratings with free filter-less cigarettes and rum. They realised it would be perverse to try and keep the tradition alive.

ADmin said...

I'm half with ya.

Live audience? Sure! Canned yuks? Meh, I can live without.

Richard Turner said...

So sorry I accidentally posted twice!

blogward said...

Have you SEEN any Brit- sorry, English 'sitcoms' lately? They must trawl secure asylums for the studio audience, let alone the writers. I can highly recommend "Still Game", a Scottish sitcom, however. When the audience laugh, it's because they get the jokes.

Matthew said...

Something in the water, huh?
Nothing like a bit of RED WHITE AND BLUE xenophobia.
Must be something in the water.

Steve Everitt said...

Just two names: mentioned once in the replies and not at all in the main article: Phil Silvers, Nat Hiken.

halojones-fan said...

That the show was shot with an audience does not mean that the laughter you're hearing is real. It's common for canned laughter to be dubbed in over the real stuff, to make it seem more consistent, more impressive, better timed, any number of reasons. Sometimes the audience is laughing so hard that it washes out the sound and they have to ADR the whole thing, in which case the laughter will obviously be artificial.