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Timeless TV

Tracking the Laughter

September 20, 2007 3:08 PM

Worth reading: Drake Bennett has written an enlightening history of the television laugh track for Slate.com that comes complete with illustrative video clips from assorted shows. Here’s how he begins:

“These are uncertain times for the laugh track. For the past few seasons, the most talked-about television comedies—‘The Office,’ ‘30 Rock,’ ‘My Name Is Earl,’ ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’—have looked and sounded more like films than sitcoms. Partly, the change has been visual: These new shows forgo the studio-soundstage look of traditional TV comedy, opting for a more cinematic, single-camera style. More jarring, though, for generations raised on ‘Dick Van Dyke,’ ‘All in the Family’ or ‘Cheers,’ the new crop of comedies has done away with the aural backdrop of laughter—sometimes real, sometimes fake—that has for decades given viewers at home their Pavlovian cue.

“This fall, five of the eight new comedies go without the sound of laughs, and TV critics and network executives alike have proclaimed the death of the laugh track. Freed of the stodgy cadence of setup, punch line, laugh, the new shows can supposedly be slyer, subtler and more subversive.”

Check it out
(t/y David)


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