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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.)

 

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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.

 

Are Sarah and Hank getting back together?

By MSN TV Partner Fri 10:51 AM
In this sneak peek of the "Parenthood" season finale, Hank (Ray Romano) impresses Amber (Mae Whitman) and Sarah (Lauren Graham) with his Hank-like concern as they deal with Ryan's hospitalization.

Watch it first on MSN TV:

This clip, along with the promo clip NBC showed for next week's episode, hints at a reunion for Sarah and Hank. Are you rooting for the couple? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook and Twitter.

The season finale of "Parenthood" airs Thursday April 17 at 10PM ET/PT on NBC.
 

Get a glimpse of Marsden’s character in the animated show starring Jack McBrayer

By MSN TV Partner Mar 25, 2014 10:04AM

In a new episode premiering March 31, James Marsden will guest start on Disney XD’s “Wander Over Yonder”.


Marsden reunites with "30 Rock" co-star Jack McBrayer in this episode where the hero Sir Brad Starlight (Marsden) enlists Wander (McBrayer) as his goofy sidekick and Sylvia as his noble steed on his quest to save Princess Demurra from the evil Dragon King, King Draykor.


See this pic first on MSN TV: Wander is ecstatic to fulfill his fairytale dream of rescuing a princess, but Sir Brad Starlight is not interested in sharing the spotlight and reminds Wander at every turn that there's only room for one hero.


“Wander Over Yonder” airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Disney XD

 

Kim Kardashian, Wendy Williams hear what regular folk really think about them

By MSN TV Partner Mar 18, 2014 9:18AM
In the the new series from Oxygen, "Celebrities Undercover" will feature two celebrities concealing their true identity with the use of prosthetic make-up to find out what unsuspecting fans and friends really think of them without the distraction of their famous personas.

The season premiere will feature Kim Kardashian, and executive producer Wendy Williams will get a taste of her own medicine as well. In this clip watch Kim K. undergo an impressive make-up overhaul in prep for undercover work: going to a group job interview as a Kardashian fan hoping to become her own new assistant. 

Watch the video:

Other stars features this season include T-Pain, Fantasia, Joey Fatone, Lil’ Kim, Chili, Anthony Anderson, Jaleel White, Adrienne Bailon, Ice-T and Coco.

"Celebrities Undercover" premieres March 18 at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on Oxygen.

 

Host Justin Willman and Disney stars dish on the new show and offer up advice

By MSN TV Partner Mar 14, 2014 11:15AM

(Disney's Win, Lose or Draw /Adam Taylor, Disney Channel)By Minh Nguyen


It didn’t take long for memories of the original “Win, Lose or Draw” game show to come flooding back as soon as we stepped foot on the set of Disney’s resurrected show of the same name.  Gone was the ‘80s living room set, replaced with bright vibrant colors, fun props and technology everywhere. Host Justin Willman (“Cupcake Wars”) commanded the stage as Disney stars Dove Cameron and Joey Bragg from “Liv and Maddie” battled it out against each other with their teammates.


The premise is pretty simple: two teams of three players (with the Disney stars on each side) compete in drawing contests to win prizes. Thrown into the mix are special challenges (like Shake, Rattle and Draw; Sit and Spin; The Wand) that take advantage of oversized props and fun gadgets. This season will also feature stars from Disney shows "Kickin' It," "Lab Rats," "I Didn't Do It,"  "Austin & Ally," "Jessie," "Dog With a Blog" and "Mighty Med" as well as stars from "Teen Beach Movie."


Over lunch, we were able to speak to Willman, Cameron and Bragg.


For people that aren’t familiar with the original game, how are you describing this to them?

Willman: The simple idea is just that it’s drawing Charades. You get your teammates to guess what you’re drawing. We have a team of writers who write these clues, and the words that they have to draw are so clever.


It's super high-tech, so the old original version was more markers on pads of paper, which was great at the time but here they have these massive touch screens and tons of software they designed just for the games that’s completely interactive.


Contestants have to do a bunch of crazy challenges in round two. Like drawing with a helmet on, where they can’t see anything or drawing with a unicorn stylus and that makes it way tougher but also much more entertaining to watch.


How are you enjoying being a part of the show?

Willman: As a live performer, I’m used to having that instant gratification of a live audience and this feels a lot like that. We’ve got 150 screaming kids, who are having the time of their lives just being there. It’s great because the jokes get instant payback. The excitement, I feed off of it. Even if it’s first thing in the morning, I don’t even need to have my coffee. As soon as that crowd starts to roar, I’m ready to go. It’s a blast.


Bragg: I like the rapid round. I can’t remember what it’s called. Where there’s one person drawing, and two people guessing, then we just switch.


Cameron:  I think the best part for me has actually been, (I know this sounds like such a canned answer), but has been getting to meet these kids. There was this great moment where, it was at the end of the first round when they all kind of flooded in and they hugged us. And some of them were crying, and I wanted to cry. We didn’t realize the gravity of how huge this really is, and “Win, Lose, or Draw” has been great that way. We’ve gotten to interact with a lot of kids.


Justin, what’s the best advice you ever received?

Willman: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”


Dove and Joey, you guys seem really polished. What kind of advice do you have for kids that get stage fright?

Bragg: Well, I was doing stand-up comedy, and I don’t mean to be that guy, but it’s one of the hardest things to go up there and say stuff that you’ve written. You don’t have music backing you. I wanted to do something that I’m going to remember. And I think a lot of that is “I’m going to embarrass myself,” but you’re never going to see those people that are watching you ever again. Just do it!


Cameron: I always had a fear of cameras because I grew up on stage. Most things in life are one of those things where once you try it, you realize how OK it is. I just don’t take life too seriously. Nobody gets out alive anyways. So, yeah. Just have fun. Do what you please.


“Disney’s Win, Lose or Draw” airs Mondays through Thursdays at 5 p.m. ET/PT on Disney Channel.

 

She still lives with her parents!

By MSN TV Partner Mar 13, 2014 10:55AM
Later this month, "Extra" host Maria Menounos will premiere her new reality show. "Chasing Maria Menounos" will give fans a peek into her life, including living with her longtime boyfriend and her immigrant parents.

In this interview with Oxygen's On-Air Personality Susie Castillo, Menounos reveals more about her upbringing and what to expect on her new series. Watch this first on MSN TV:


"Chasing Maria Menounos" premieres March 18 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Oxygen.
 

Princess Aslaug brings surprise and intrigue to this scripted drama

By MSN TV Partner Mar 13, 2014 10:17AM
Season 2 of History's "Vikings" is underway. Princess Aslaug (Alyssa Sutherland) revealed she was carrying Ragnar's (Travis Fimmel) child, sending rippling effects into his kingdom. In this video extra, Sutherland talks more about her character and how filming went the second time around.


"Vikings" airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on History.
 

"It's not a good day, Mad Max"

By MSN TV Partner Mar 12, 2014 9:56AM

In this "Parenthood" clip, Max (Max Burkholder) wrecks havoc for Sarah (Lauren Graham) and Hank (Ray Romano) when he barges into the studio, interrupting their workflow.


Watch this clip, first on MSN TV:


Parenthood airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
 

The classic game show has been upgraded with newer technology

By MSN TV Partner Mar 3, 2014 11:36AM

Who remembers the celebrity game show, "Win, Lose or Draw"? Disney Channel has recreated a kids version of it, premiering Monday, March 3. (The show will air Mondays through Thursdays).

 

On "Disney's Win, Lose or Draw" Disney Channel and Disney XD stars team up with kid contestants to compete and win prizes in a battle of drawing skills, creativity and wits. Justin Willman hosts the contemporary version of the popular game show, which also features new technology such as motion-control illustration, interactive multi-touch screen displays and other fun challenges.

 

Watch a clip:


 "Disney’' Win, Lose or Draw" premieres Monday, March 3, at 5 p.m. ET/PT on Disney Channel.