Thursday, May 10, 2018

It's Alive!

Here's a piece in The Hollywood Reporter that says, partly due to the success of the Roseanne reboot, the networks are ordering more multi-camera comedies.  According to their numbers, there were 16 ordered this year, while only seven were ordered last year.

I don't know if this is a true trend or a coincidence.  It is true that not so long ago, comedies done in front of live audiences were more common. In the 80s and 90s, the top sitcoms, like Cheers, The Cosby Show, Murphy Brown, Seinfeld, Frasier, Friends, Home Improvement and others, were generally done in front of an audience.  In the last twenty years, though, it would seem one-camera shows have become the norm, such as Arrested Development, 30 Rock, The Office, Parks And Recreation, Veep and so on.

However, some people treated this trend like it was natural, and that one-camera shows simply were better.  Not sure why they thought that. It's just a different style--let's call it the difference between movies and theatre.  It may allow for more subtlety, or even a higher joke density if desired, but there's something to be said for a performance in front of expectant people.  It brings a certain energy to the proceedings, and requires scripts that get actual laughs.

In any case, I wouldn't say one is superior to the other, though some people seem to be snobs about it, putting down multi-camera shows. Certainly the TV audience in general never cared.  The biggest hit comedy for the last decade has been The Big Bang Theory, a show shot live.  The second biggest comedy was probably the one-camera hit Modern Family.

So if bringing back shows like Roseanne and Will & Grace and Murphy Brown remind the networks that live comedy can still work, fine with me.  Keep 'em coming. Just make 'em funny.


Anonymous Lawrence King said...

IT DELETED MY FRICKIN COMMENT. I usually copy them to clipboad but forgot this time.

2:35 PM, May 10, 2018  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Trying again.

I had the impression that multicam versus single cam is an independent choice from live audience versus closed set. Is that true?

I thought the only connection was that in a closed set, you can have cameras everywhere, since the director only cares what the cameras see. When filming live, you have long bleachers with spectators who have to be able to see the action. That's why we never saw the fourth wall of Archie Bunker's living room, but we saw every wall in Ted's apartment in How I Met Your Mother.

I usually watch the bonus features when I buy DVDs. On some bonus feature for Big Bang Theory, Jim Parsons claimed that filming with a live audience is best, because it gives the actors more energy. On a bonus feature for HIMYM, Alyson Hannigan claimed that filming a closed-set multicamera show is best, because you can shoot each scene once and get every camera angle you need, and you can film the scenes in any order without worrying whether the studio audience will understand the plot. IIRC, she claimed that live filming ultimately takes much more time, and so she would not have agreed to the long working days required for such a show.

2:41 PM, May 10, 2018  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I have no control over this. It's never happened to me, so I don't know what's going on.

2:41 PM, May 10, 2018  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Multicam is shorthand for live. If you want, of course, you can shoot with multiple cameras on a set without a fourth wall, but usually, if you're going to shoot without an audience, you take the camera (almost always just one camera) wherever you want to go and shot from any angle you like. Look at all dramas--for some reason none are done live.

It is true some shows film multicamera style but will later add stuff shot without an audience. Seinfeld did this a lot. But they'll often invite an audience in and show them the pretaped material.

One huge difference to the TV audience is hearing laughs or not. With a live audience, there are laughs (and actors waiting them out), even if they're sometimes sweetened, while the one-cam shows don't have a laugh track. At least not any more. In the bad old days, the networks insisted even on one-camera shows that there be a laugh track added.

M*A*S*H fought against this, and got the network to agree there'd be no laughs in the OR, since it's a serious place, so they starting setting a lot of scenes there.

2:46 PM, May 10, 2018  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

I watch funny movies on TV, and they are funny even though they have no laugh track. So why does a funny TV show have no laugh track?

I didn't know that about MASH. So called "dramedies" (Buffy, Gilmore Girls) have a lot of funny buts, but never a laugh track. I just looked this up on Wikipedia, and it says that Eight Is Enough (which I remember mostly as a serious, though light, show) had a laugh track.

6:22 PM, May 10, 2018  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

typo -- I meant to write, "So why does a funny TV show require a laugh track?"

If we were to edit I Love Lucy or All In the Family or your fave Mary Tyler Moore and to remove the laugh track, and then watched it, would we laugh less at home?

6:24 PM, May 10, 2018  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I'm capable of laughing just fine without a laugh track, and I've enjoyed quite a few sitcoms (and humorous dramas) that didn't nudge me with an elbow.

There is an argument, however, that laughter is contagious. (Though is canned laughter contagious?) For centuries, if you wanted to laugh out loud, you'd go see a comic play, and others would be there laughing with you. Then came cinema, which was also enjoyed with others.

Radio, followed by TV, were more intimate media. Often their shows were done in front of live audiences to help the performers and perhaps the listening audiences. Perhaps they felt that hearing laughter was such a part of the whole process that adding a laugh track was a good idea. I'm glad that's no longer in fashion. In fact, I'm not sure an audience would put up with it any more. I'm pretty sure producers wouldn't do it, in any case.

9:11 PM, May 10, 2018  

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