The historic path of TV shows have undergone many changes over the years. Laugh tracks are definitely one of the biggest points in TV history. One of the most popular TV formats to date are sitcoms, which, in their stage essence, have a lot to do with classical ways how plays have been presented to an audience. Actors would get in front of an audience on a stage or a podium and start acting their parts and bringing the characters they are portraying to live.
Now, television is, unlike plays in the classical sense of the word, a rather new medium. Once the first sitcoms arrived on our TV sets, the ones watching and the ones creating the shows noticed a distortion of the way the television “play” was received by the TV watchers. For quite long time, there was a certain dissonance between what the sitcom was when watched being performed live and the end product that was put on TV for millions of people to watch.
Sitcoms were (and some are still) recorded live in front of an audience
It took a fair amount of time to figure out what this difference entailed, until, finally, someone found out. That someone was Charles "Charley" Douglass - an American sound engineer who worked on a lot TV sitcoms back in the 1950’s.
He couldn’t understand why the reception of the sitcoms in the studio while they were taped differed from the reactions they got from TV watchers. And, like with other great revelations in history, one day it suddenly hit them: “There just wasn’t a feeling of togetherness like in the studio.”
You see, sitcoms were not only put together like 3 act stage plays, they were also produced as such. The actors would get onto the stage, that is to say the set, and they would start performing their act in front of a live audience. This may seem like nothing new to us. We’ve all seen or heard about sitcoms being taped like that (Seinfeld, Frasier, The Golden Girls, Everybody Loves Raymond, The King of Queens, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, etc.). So why was this “revelation” so important to Charles Douglass?
Audience gives feedback and a feeling of shared experience
Well, for one thing, sitcoms, as the name suggests, are situational comedies. They rely on jokes that come out of dialogues between the characters of the shows. What Charles Douglass noticed is that these jokes worked rather well when performed live, but they get lost in the process once screened at home on the television.
Then it hit him. He was sure the jokes were not the problem rather than the other important aspect plays have, but TV just couldn’t transfer to its audience: the feeling of a shared experience.
When watching a play or a comedy that has outstanding jokes in them, people tend to laugh more because they’re surrounded by other people who share that same experience. We’ve all experienced it one time or the other: we watch a comedy movie alone and maybe laugh a couple of times although there were plenty of jokes in the movie. Then, we watch the same movie again, but this time, we watch it with a few friends. Suddenly there are a lot more scenes that get us giggling and laughing. Why is that?
Laughing is contagious
You probably all heard the phrase “laughing is contagious”. When we laugh, other people are inclined to laugh as well, and vice versa. When we watch a movie with our friends, everyone finds some part funnier than the other and starts laughing or smiling. We see that and suddenly, unintentionally, start laughing with them.
Charles Douglass noticed this and developed the so-called laugh track as a way of transferring this experience of a live shared moment into the TV sets at home. He did this by recording the studio audience’s laughs on a separate track than the rest of the show. Then, in editing, he put the laugh track under the shows other audio track, and the modern day sitcom was born.
Jokes don’t get lost
Besides the shared experience aspect of the laugh track, Charles Douglass noticed that this technique of editing could be used to accent certain parts the director of the show wants to emphasize. When a fast-paced show was hitting the viewers with jokes, the editor could accent those, so people watching at home would not miss them.
Because of this, Charles Douglass made a laugh track machine that could play various laughing sounds and produce the effect whether there was an audience or not. With today’s technology, you are able to create your own laugh track machine in no time. Here, at CrazyGiggles.US, we have a small collection of laughing sounds recorded with a professional studio equipment, so with a little bit of editing you can arrange your own laughing track with ease.
Other than in sitcoms, laugh tracks have become a tool of many editors who need to spice up their projects with a laugh track. A technique in sound editing that’s called foley sound recording replaces the existing sound of the movie with a prerecorded sound of higher quality. Here’s where the utilization of sites like our CrazyGiggles.US is great as it offers exactly that for laughing sounds. Newer sitcoms don’t rely so heavily on laugh tracks, though exceptions are sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory, Mom, Mike and Molly, The Odd Couple 2015, 2 broke girls, etc.
Laugh tracks have been around almost as long as TV sitcoms have. They’re an important part of how we, the audience, learned to perceive TV shows (especially sitcoms) in a way they were intended with the live audience element in mind. There are many criticisms of laugh tracks being overused in some shows that don’t deliver funny jokes to begin with. However, if used right, a laugh track can improve a lot of aspects of TV and film making.
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