Why are TV shows still using a laugh track?

12Jul11

Over the weekend, I watched a few episodes of a fairly new TV show called “The Middle”. It’s a sitcom that follows the life of a middle class family, and bears a striking resemblance to “Malcolm in the Middle”, which aired in the 1990s.

As we sped through a few episodes that had accumulated on the TiVo, my wife pointed out something very interesting. “The Middle” is precisely the kind of show that could have a laugh track, but thankfully, it doesn’t. “Raising Hope” is the same way. Yet there are still shows like “The Big Bang Theory” that are crippled by a laugh track, which seems like a big mistake for today’s viewing audiences.

I doubt that anybody out there is saying “I wish there were more shows with a laugh track”, but there are lots of people who simply won’t watch a show that has one. The laugh track is a polarizing attribute that scares away a lot of viewers. But it doesn’t make those who can tolerate it any more likely to tune in. So when you’re faced with the choice of including a sort-of-maybe-like-it or totally-completely-hate-it attribute like a laugh track, the right choice is probably to leave it out.



2 Responses to “Why are TV shows still using a laugh track?”

  1. 1 Mike

    I don’t recommend the train wreck, “Natural Born Killers” to anyone, but Quentin Tarantino blew the doors of the laugh tracks dirty little secret in that movie by illustrating just how desensitizing it can be by throwing it over an unacceptable and sever domestic abuse situation.
    Canned laughter manipulates the minds of younger and more impressionable viewers not only to trick the mind into thinking it’s amused, but to color it the shade of a miserable self centered consumer.

    • That’s an interesting point, and brings up something I didn’t cover in the original post: the use of a laugh track in an ironic or otherwise purposeful way. Another example of this can be found in David Lynch’s “Inland Empire”. During the scenes that depict a bizarre rabbit-headed family, the laugh track helps emphasize the absurdity of the situation, yet makes it seem more familiar at the same time.


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