There are some innovations on television that have overstayed their welcome by a long shot and need to go away. I was reminded of one of these innovations recently when I read a harsh critique of the new Zoey Deschanel sitcom, New Girl. One of the reasons the author gave to hate the show was the lack of a laugh track in the show.
Awkward and utterly unfunny jokes are just absorbed into silent oblivion by fade outs and quirky cheekbone movement from Zooey Deschanel. A new level of Sad is born.
When my wife and I are watching the show, we are always laughing — I believe we laugh at the moments the writers intend to be funny, anyhow. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but think of the laugh track itself, and how painfully irritating I find it to be for a number of reasons.
For one, I don’t always agree with the writers as to what is amusing in a comedy. The presence of a laugh track is the way that you are being instructed, in a way, to laugh at certain moments during the show. It was a bit like when I went to see a taping of The Colbert Report and we were told repeatedly before the show that we must be strong in our laughter and applause to encourage Stephen Colbert.
If a joke is genuinely funny, people will laugh. Television sitcoms were once all filmed live in front of studio audiences. Some, like Hot in Cleveland, continue to be done this way. At some point, when producers were displeased at how non-uniformly people seemed to be reacting to the humor in their shows, they decided to fill in the real laughter with fake laughter. When the artificial laughter completely overtook the real laughter, that is when the problems began.
There is just something creepy about sitting by yourself watching television — your spouse is grocery shopping, the baby is sleeping, the cat is having a good scratch — and hearing machines laugh at a television program that you might not find to be completely amusing. Some of the best shows out there have not a single titter of fake laughter, and I applaud them for it — the Gilmore Girls being one of them.
I am aware that one post among millions will not have too much of an effect — but I feel that I needed to just put it out there. Kill those laugh tracks and let the real laughs come from the people watching your shows.