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Studio audiences now make sitcoms seem less funny

By Corey Levitan Feb 7, 2013 11:04AM
salon.com

Whitney (Whitney Cummings) and her boyfriend (Chris D'Elia) stroll into their own version of “Cheers.” He’s wondering why an ex would want to stay friends with her, because she “not that friendly.”

Bing: "Whitney" | Whitney Cummings

 

I’m not a “Whitney” person -- though I am a Whitney person. Her standup talent gives me occasional hope that her sitcom has finally stopped sucking. Then I tune in. The show’s jokes are cute but impart the feeling that too many Cheez-Its have been consumed.

 

But I get the same feeling from "Two and a Half Men," "Anger Management" and even a much better sitcom than all of these: "How I Met Your Mother." So I blame the laughter.

 

The studio audience seemed floored by that “not that friendly” joke, and that made me resent it. This amazing ability I have to decipher, all by myself, which words are amusing when strung together -- honed by watching “Arrested Development," “The Office” and every single funny movie I’ve ever seen -- was suddenly stripped and there I was watching “Three's Company" in seventh grade again.

 

So why is this remnant still with us? Part of the answer is Desi Arnaz. He was the genius behind “I Love Lucy" and the three-camera shoot. So he must also have been a genius for inventing the studio audience. Right?

 

Sixty years ago, Americans were comforted by associating this newfangled box of images in their living room with something more familiar to them: a vaudeville show. Plus, it was thought, you're way more likely to do something you see or hear others do first. (It’s the same reason your mom was always on you about jumping off buildings.)

But not every show could afford a studio audience like that of "Lucy." So it was widely faked. Laugh tracks appeared everywhere, even places that were ludicrous if people ever stopped to think about it, which they didn’t. (What group of people could possibly have been sitting there laughing at "The Flintstones" or "The Jetsons”?)

Even sitcoms with audiences prompted them to laugh with signs, and "sweetened" their reactions with prerecorded laughter when they didn't. The combined effect was that viewers learned to associate sitcom laughter with unfunniness. (We are a lot more like dogs conditioned by bells than we like to think.)

 

More: 'Survivor': Where are they now? | TV reunions we'd like to see


Laugh tracks went out long ago, but studio audiences clung. Network executives and sitcom creators grew up on them, and the success of "Seinfeld" -- which still seems funny even with the laugh-prompting -- pumped at least another decade into the old paradigm.

But that's changing. Laughlessness is the new norm. And, like every other TV decision, this one comes down to money. Beginning with "Malcolm in the Middle" 13 years ago, networks saw proof that they could achieve the same returns on less of an investment. Sometimes, networks do the right thing for the wrong reasons.

"Whitney" is now the only NBC sitcom with an audience. And it is likely to be the last.

Does sitcom laughing annoy you, too?

"Whitney" airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.

 

Plus, watch this DVD extra interview clip with James Earl Jones

By MSN TV Partner Tue 12:47 PM
"The Big Bang Theory" begins its eighth season on Monday Sept. 22, then switches to its regular Thursday timeslot on October 30.

If that's too much to handle, why not get a copy of last season on DVD, now available in stores and online. Bazinga!

Now you can enter to win one of five DVDs of "The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Seventh Season," courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. Best of all, one lucky winner will receive a signed copy of the Blu-Ray edition!

Here's how to enter:
  1. Follow MSN TV on Twitter or Facebook
  2. Tweet or comment the following message: "I want to win the #TBBT giveaway"
  3. Email msn_tv_buzz@hotmail.com with the following subject (include your twitter handle or Facebook name): "I want to win the #TBBT giveaway"
Complete these steps by midnight PT Sept. 22, 2014. We will select up to five winners, plus one winner for the grand prize, at random by noon PT Sept. 23, 2014.

Watch this DVD extra clip featuring that dishes about how TBBT producers got the voice of Darth Vader himself guest star on the show:
"The Big Bang Theory: The Complete Seventh Season" is available in stores and online.
Season 8 of "The Big Bang Theory" premieres Sept 22 at 8 p.m. on CBS.


Other giveaway details:
  • Open to U.S. residents only.
  • NO P.O. boxes, please.
  • We will not distribute your email address.
  • Your email will only be used to notify you if you are the winner of this giveaway.
  • The prize will be shipped directly from Warner Bros. to the winners.

 

Plus, watch a DVD extra clip, 'Bound by blood'

By MSN TV Partner Sep 9, 2014 10:58AM
"Supernatural" returns this to The CW in October for its 10th season. If you need a fix now, "Supernatural: The Complete Ninth Season" arrives in stores and online today.

Even better, MSN TV is giving away the DVD to this fan favorite. Here's how to enter:
  1. Follow MSN TV on Twitter or Facebook
  2. Tweet or comment the following message: "I want to win the #Supernatural giveaway"
  3. Email msn_tv_buzz@hotmail.com with the following subject (include your twitter handle or Facebook name): "I want to win the #Supernatural giveaway"
Complete these steps by midnight PT Sept. 15, 2014. We will select up to five winners at random by noon PT Sept. 16, 2014.

But wait, there's more! Watch this DVD extra clip, giving fans a behind-the-scenes look into the life-or-death decisions Dean has to make about his brother:
"Supernatural: The Complete Ninth Season" is available in stores and online.
Season 10 of "Supernatural" returns to the CW on Oct. 7.


Other giveaway details:
  • Open to U.S. residents only.
  • NO P.O. boxes, please.
  • We will not distribute your email address.
  • Your email will only be used to notify you if you are the winner of this giveaway.
  • The prize will be shipped directly from Warner Bros. to the winners.

 

Will the E.R. doc win it all?

By MSN TV Partner Sep 5, 2014 12:59PM
Wannabe ninjas have been waiting for this moment all summer. The "American Ninja Warrior" finals, held in Las Vegas, will wrap up what's been a season of incredible feats and firsts.

Fan favorite Noah Kaufman is among the finalists. His appearance on the show last year was, as he says "from the couch" or without much training. For this season he got a little (or maybe a lot) more serious, and it shows in his performance.

Watch this exclusive clip of Noah's finals start here:

"American Ninja Warrior" airs Monday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
An encore presentation airs Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Esquire Network.


 

By MSN TV Partner Sep 3, 2014 10:30AM
Iin tonight's episode of "Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles" you'll see the story of of how Josh Flagg ended up in a golden wheelchair. Will this stop him from closing a big deal?

Meanwhile Josh Altman is getting caught up in wedding planning, but without Heather!? We've got this hilarious exclusive clip for you here:

"Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.

 

Wait, Donald's a nervous sailor? But that outfit...

By MSN TV Partner Aug 7, 2014 4:44PM
In homage to the classic Mickey Mouse cartoons, Disney Channel has been showing "Mickey Mouse" shorts, featuring Mickey and his BFFs, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy and Pluto. Hilarious situations that are fun for kids and grown-ups alike.

In this new short premiering tomorrow, Donald reveals he doesn’t know how to sail - his outfit is purely due to the fact that Daisy loves a, um, man in uniform.

MSN TV has this exclusive image from the short. You can also view a clip here:

The Mickey Mouse short "Donald the Sailor" airs at 8:55 p.m. ET/PT on Friday August 8 on Disney Channel.
 

Geek alert: 'Mythbusters' hosts lend their voices in this special episode

By MSN TV Partner Jul 24, 2014 2:24PM
Loads of fans are getting their geek on at Comic-Con this weekend. For the rest of us, there is the upcoming "Star Wars" themed "Phineas & Ferb" special episode. The animated stepbrothers and their friends will find themselves in a parallel universe, during "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope". Expect encounters with the major players, including Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2.

MSN TV has this exclusive image of "Mythbusters" hosts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman as members of the Empire:

Creators and executive producers Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh expressed their excitement about adding Savage and Hyneman to the cast: "We’ve been wanting to do something with them for ages, because they are the living adult versions of Phineas and Ferb in the real world. We ran into them at Comic-Con last year and knew that they worked on the original 'Star Wars', so when this opportunity came up we asked if they could come voice a few characters for us. It was really cool for us; we're hoping it was cool for them."

It's definitely cool for us!

"Phineas and Ferb: Star Wars" premieres July 26 at 9PM ET/PT on Disney Channel.
 

The animated host reveals her thoughts on new twists for Season 16

By MSN TV Partner Jun 24, 2014 9:07AM
Last week CBS announced some new twists in the upcoming season of "Big Brother" and also introduced the new cast. Just in time for the two-night premiere, MSN TV has exclusive photos of host Julie Chen hamming it up for the cameras. Chen also shared a little bit more insight into what to expect this season.

Photos: Reality TV villains

Photo Credit: Bill Inoshita/CBSOn which of the new twists will have the most impact on Houseguest survival week after week:
Julie Chen: "I think "Battle of the Block" will have the most impact on a Houseguest's ability to survive.  First, those competing in it will literally be fighting for their lives in the game.  Second, it will get one of the HOHs (Head of Households) into BIG trouble.  Let’s just say that if I were HOH, I would nominate two weak players."

Video: Meet the new 'Big Brother' houseguests


Photo Credit: Bill Inoshita/CBS
On the rooms and design of this season's tree house theme:
"My favorite room in the urban tree house this year is the honeycomb room.  It's cozy and secluded.  A perfect spot to 'buzz' with your alliance members about your team's strategy.  The room has a door you can close for piracy from others.  This is key to have in the house if you want to scheme!"

Video: Take a tour of the 'Big Brother' Tree house

Photo Credit: Bill Inoshita/CBSOn her most memorable "Big Brother" interview:
"One of my memorable Big Brother interviews was last year with Aaryn.   I had to check my feelings and ego at the door and set aside any personal bad feelings I had for her ugly comments.  I had to do my job and be fair and straight despite how personally offended I was.  It wasn't easy, but it was memorable." 

Photo Credit: Bill Inoshita/CBS

"Big Brother" premieres June 25 at 8PM ET/PT on CBS.

(Photo Credit: Bill Inoshita/CBS) 

Wayne Brady's improv skills nab a nomination for best original song, a first for the show

By MSN TV Partner Jun 18, 2014 11:06AM
The Daytime Emmy Awards are around the corner, and CBS' "Let's Make a Deal" has three nominations. In addition to Best Game Show, host Wayne Brady is nominated twice. No surprise that Brady picked up his fifth nomination for Best Game Show Host, but thanks to those stellar improv skills Brady also finds himself in the Best Original Song category. With the help of keyboardist Cat Gray, watch Brady create this impromptu tune for adoring fan and contestant Daphne:
Over the years, Brady has collected a number of Emmy nominations, and won twice for Best Talk Show Host (for "The Wayne Brady Show"). He also won a Primetime Emmy for his work on "Whose Line Is It Anyway."

The current version of "Let's Make A Deal" has been nominated for Best Game Show twice. This is the first time the show's been nominated in the Best Song category.

"Let's Make A Deal" airs weekdays on CBS. The 41st Daytime Emmys Awards will be live streamed at 8PM ET on June 22 at www.daytimeemmys.net.