Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Laugh Tracks and Live Audiences: Ruining Sitcoms for 60 Years

Most of us weren't around to see the original airing of the first mega-popular sitcom:



I Love Lucy and other early sitcoms used live studio audiences to help viewers feel as though they were viewing a play in a theater. The tradition never really ended, but studios did come up with a way to get that laughter without the expense of a real audience: laugh tracks.



Over the years, the use of laugh tracks and live audiences has been controversial. Some network execs believed it was essential, forcing TV comedies like M*A*S*H to use them even when producers felt they shouldn't. However, the 90s saw the debut of the single-camera sitcom, which took the audience out of the picture completely. Some of the most successful comedies of the past 20 years have completely gone without forced laughter, including this show (considered revolutionary in the no-laugh-track genre):



This show:



And one of my all-time favorites:



Unfortunately, once you get used to NOT having laughter with your comedy, it can become annoying. Most of the time I ignore them...after all, I grew up on canned laughter. But sometimes a studio audience is just SO obnoxious, it takes you out of the comedy and makes you listen to the audience instead. The one and only time this has happened to me is with this show:



That show's live audience laughed at everything. Ev-er-y-thing. Someone walks across the room? Laughter. Someone says, "How are you today?" Laughter. That happens with a lot of these shows, probably because of the little sign all these shows have directing the audience when to laugh:



What gets me about That 70s Show is the cheering. If you've ever watched a Disney show or an old episode of Saved by the Bell, you already know that when two characters do something the audience likes, they scream and cheer.



But on That 70s Show, they cheer at even the slightest drug reference. I do mean "slightest." I don't even get what they're cheering about half the time, which I take as a good sign. But I wonder if anyone does.



I think I've figured it out, though. I think they handed this out to the audience before every show:



Have you ever been annoyed by something on a TV show you're watching? Did you stop watching as a result?

49 comments:

  1. I'd say they handed out Red Bull spiked with something.
    Not a fan of dumb laugh tracks either.

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    1. They're so obvious...and I wonder if that factoid up there is true--that all the laugh tracks we hear now were recorded in the 50s.

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  2. You just described why I really don't like That 70s Show. So damn stupid!
    A lot of people didn't "get" Arrested Development because there was no laugh track. I love the fact that show didn't underestimate the audiences intelligence to know when to laugh. Don't Trust The B is the same way! I love that show! It didn't fare well either....

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    1. I don't get Arrested Development...and a lot of shows like it. When it's too quirky I find I just can't ever connect with any of the characters, if that makes sense. That's probably supposed to be the humor of it, but it just always feels like "trying too hard" when I watch shows like that.

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  3. I enjoyed watching I Love Lucy back in the day. Now, Mike and Molly always makes me giggle. I can definitely relate :)Have a great week Stephanie.

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    1. One of my biggest wish lists for online streaming is Mike & Molly. It isn't available on Hulu or Netflix yet (at least not full seasons of it). I don't really watch TV on TV anymore, and I don't like watching episodes of shows at random. I want to watch from the beginning! I have watched some of the episodes in recent years about Molly becoming a writer and it's enough to let me know I'd like the whole series if I could find it!

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  4. Live comedy is tough. I enjoyed your entry and recall the canned laughter to which we have become accustomed over the years. Take it away, and it's mostly flat. Comedy is a personal thing I think. We all laugh for various reasons. Happy writing to you.

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    1. Comedy is definitely one of the most subjective things. There are some TV comedies that seem to be universally "successful," but you'll almost always find just as many people who don't like those shows as do.

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  5. I must be ancient because I remember the "I Love Lucy" but I don't remember any of the other shows. I Love Lucy was funny to me. She did so many dumb things that kept us entertained and laughing. She was an original and I guess we were not desensitized as there were only two channels on our TV.

    I always thought that the prompt laughter was ridiculous anyway and annoying. I know when something feels funny to me. dah...
    Love your post, you always come up with interesting topics... Have a great day Stephanie.
    Hugs
    JB

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    1. Yes, we have so many choices now, it's hard to catch all of the shows that are on. I didn't watch That 70s Show until it was on Netflix...and even then, I didn't make it past the second season. It just wasn't working for me, but I gave it TWO tries!

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  6. I was thinking this the other day, trying to remember when a laugh track was last used on a show. I know "Friends" used one, and they ended over a decade ago.

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    1. I meant "...thinking about this..."

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    2. This article says they've been in decline since the 90s. (Although I'd bet every show on the Disney channel uses a laugh track...no way real humans would laugh at most of those jokes.) But Seinfeld, Friends, Cheers--all laugh tracks. Like the commenter below, though, I know I've seen behind-the-scenes episodes of Friends where they were in front of an audience, so I'm confused! I know with Seinfeld, they were on the go so much, it would have been hard to contain all of that on one set with an audience sitting by.

      http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/laugh-track-sitcoms-continue-decline-article-1.2444242

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  7. Forced laughter does keep me from watching a show. I miss shows like I Love Lucy.

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    1. I like The Big Bang Theory...that's about the only sitcom I watch these days. But I know a lot of people don't like it...it's all about bonding with the characters, since I've seen people dislike one show and like another when they were produced by the exact same person!

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  8. I have not watched these shows but I do love really funny shows that will make me laugh till I cry.

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    1. The first season of Friends, Chandler was HILARIOUS. He was okay funny in other seasons, but rewatching Season 1 last year, I wondered if they threw all their best Chandler jokes into first season scripts.

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  9. I hate laugh tracks! Always have. They are more than annoying. If something is funny, I'll laugh; if it isn't, I won't. And the "oooooh-ahhhhhh" cheering stuff has me immediately switching channels. Audiences are too sophisticated for that today. In fact, I'm a product of the 50s and I think even "way back then" most viewers hated it.

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    1. You were just a baby in the 50s! You had to have been watching 50s shows in reruns.

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  10. I had students who did not like videos and I understood. I'm not much of a television watcher. But this has piqued my interest. I'm be tuning into arrested development and the others just to see what I am missing.

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    1. I loved The Office. Arrested Development was a little too quirky for me, but some people love it, so give it a try!

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  11. I was in a studio audience once in the '80s and I remember the flashing applause/laughter sign. (I don't remember the show at all!) How interesting that canned laughter is from the '50s. Personally, I don't like it, but I rarely watch sitcoms anyway. A fun post.

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    1. That seems like it would be SO much fun. Do you remember what show it was?

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  12. On I Love Lucy, Erie is a unique laugh that one hears...that is actually Lucille Ball's mother and you can hear her even today on the laugh tracks. There have been comedies I tried to watch when they had the laugh tracks which I found so annoying because it seemed forced and telling I better laugh. For that reason, I stopped watching.

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    1. Cool. I'll have to listen for that if I ever watch I Love Lucy again.

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  13. The only real time I've paid attention to this is on some comedy shows I've listened to recently, and that's mostly because someone has a really distinctive laugh that catches my attention...and then I can't just tune it out.

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    1. Oh yes, the obnoxious laugh. I've heard that a few times, too! That's the problem with live audiences--sometimes I think a few people do it to stand out when they watch the show later.

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  14. The laugh track on Big Brother has to go! LOL
    Sorry, I love reality TV.
    Any of those older shows I used to watch, the laugh track was so annoying. Brady Bunch, All In the Family, Barney Miller. They all annoyed me. But I don't think it ever annoyed me so much I stopped watching.

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    1. Well, you know I love Big Brother, too! The live feeds could probably use a laugh track. They can get pretty boring. You'll be glad to know laugh tracks appear to be going away...I discovered that through the comments today. They've dwindled to almost nothing since the 90s. (Although I'm pretty sure the Disney Channel still uses them.)

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  15. We watch Netflix and Amazon Prime. I don't recall any canned laughter. I did start watching that show you talked about the other day, but didn't like it. It was the sitcom that they redid many years later. I didn't care for it the first time around and this one didn't hold my interest for very long. There was however a lot of applause and laughter.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. I'm not sure which show you mean, but I think comedy is very personal...one person's funny is another's "meh!"

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  16. I saw an interview with the writers of Friends and they said they used a live audience to gauge the effectiveness of the script. If a line was supposed to be funny and no one responded, they'd stop right there and do a rewrite. I suppose that makes them a beta audience.

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  17. I like being the one doing the laughing. It is kind of freaky the way you mentioned that most people we hear laughing on those tracks are already dead.

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  18. One of the many reasons I stopped watching sitcoms. I think the last one I watched with any regularity was Everybody Loves Raymond (so a while ago). Actually, Quantico pissed me off last Sunday. I may not go back.

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  19. I'm especially annoyed by laugh tracks when the scene is painfully NOT funny. I was watching something, I can't remember what, and I remember thinking, "Really, people???"

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  20. Ugh. I grew up on canned laughter as well and it certainly should have ended with Lucy (Bless her heart). The Office wouldn't have near the same effect with laugh tracks and I wish they hadn't forced M.A.S.H. to use it.

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  21. The canned laugh is ok when the show is genuinely funny otherwise it is very annoying. I like good potty humor, I still have o portion of my 13 year old brain, but "Two Broke Girls" is unwachable.

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  22. Ewww...it's kind of weird to think many of those people laughing are now dead!

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  23. un-watchable. Every other line is a bad joke referencing a body part. I get it, you girls are crazy...enough, I turn on something else. I prefer real situation comedy, not every
    other line a joke.

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  24. Yes, and yes! I don't like cued laughter. If I think something is funny, I'll laugh, so it's distracting when a room full of folks are laughing, I can't see them, AND I don't know what the heck is so funny. lol

    Annoying!!

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  25. Yeah, I don't like to be told when to laugh, and I feel like that's what laugh tracks are doing. I'm pretty sure I can react all on my own. ;)

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  26. This is funny. I tuned out that sort of thing, I guess, since I barely noticed the audience laughter when I was a kid. I don't notice the absence now, but then I don't really watch sit-coms. That 70's Show was annoying to me so I didn't watch much of that one.

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  27. I believe it gives the show an audience like effect. Comedy movies are so much better when you hear others crack up

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  28. I try to tune out the audience laughter because yes, it can get annoying.

    And I love The Office!

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  29. Yep, hate laugh tracks. And yep, sometimes the studio audience is worse. Lucy was great because she did the physical comedy so well. And it was too bad they had to use the tracks in M.A.S.H.--those jokes were actually good enough they didn't need the cue to laugh.

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  30. I love Arrested Development. I binge watched it one summer. I appreciated that it didn't have laugh tracks. We don't need prompting to laugh. If something's funny, the audience at home will laugh.

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  31. Ugh, I hate laugh tracks. They're the worst on really unfunny shows, like Full House. Then it's so noticeable that it's fake.

    I don't watch any show with a laugh track, but I've always been more into dramas in any case.

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  32. I turned off Last Man Standing tonight! I just couldn't take the canned laughter anymore! Please do away with annoying and obnoxious canned laughter, it does not add to comedy shows but it sure does take away from it!

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  33. I turned off Last Man Standing tonight! I just couldn't take the canned laughter anymore! Please do away with annoying and obnoxious canned laughter, it does not add to comedy shows but it sure does take away from it!

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