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There’s no doubt that within the past five years, there has been a comedy rejuvenation within the TV industry. What was once thought to be a lost genre during the 2004-2005 season, where only three comedies proceeded to a second season (NBC’s The Office, Joey, and Fox’s Stacked). That isn’t quite the case anymore as we head into the 2012-2013 TV season this fall.
With the rise of single-camera comedies flooding the TV landscape, multi-camera comedies that were once were the normalcy of sitcoms are quickly becoming the thing of the past.
Many of America’s beloved comedies are of the single-camera format currently. NBC’s 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, Community, and The Office, ABC’s Modern Family and The Middle are just a few of TV’s comedies that attract audiences because of their unique storytelling, style of comedy, and allowance of letting the audience find what’s truly funny in an episode with smart and quick dialogue, very subtle facial expressions from the actors, and the lack of a studio audience in the background telling the audience at home watching when to laugh.
This brings up the question do Americans think single-camera comedies are “smart,” and multi-camera comedies are “dumb?” Sometimes, it seems that way.
Many people flock to critics before a show debuts to see if the show is worth watching. As of late, it seems like if a single-camera comedy is set to debut, even if it’s bad, it’ll be given a chance because there could be very small cues of comedy buried in episodes somewhere, and different people can find different things that are funny about a particular episode.
This wouldn’t be the case if it were a multi-camera sitcom. For instance, two multi-camera comedies that are set to debut next season, ABC’s Malibu Country and NBC’s Guys with Kids instantly flopped when critics reviewed clips of them. It could be because the show’s aren’t that good, but it could be an underlying hate for multi-camera comedies. Many people may think that multi-camera comedies are “dumb” or “low class” because of the sometimes annoying laugh track in the background. It manipulates the audience into laughing at possible stale or unfunny jokes, compared to upscale and sophisticated single-camera comedies were the audience can find the jokes themselves, and can judge what works and what doesn’t.
Of you look at the vast majority of single-camera comedies on the air now, they are all loved by critics, but not really well-received by audiences. On the contrary, take a look at some of TV’s multi-camera comedies with laugh tracks – CBS’ Two and a Half Men and 2 Broke Girls for example – are hated by critics for not being “funny,” being too racist, or relying too much on jokes about sex to get a laugh. However, these two shows are two of the biggest comedies, single-camera or multi-camera, on television.
Even NBC’s Whitney and ABC’s Last Man Standing can go into this category. These two shows don’t draw in as many viewers as the CBS multi-camera comedies, but they both have bigger audience than many of their single-camera counterparts and critics disliked both of these shows upon their premieres last season, and well into their first season runs. Both Whitney and Last Man Standing are also the only multi-camera shows to be renewed for a second season in since Fox’s Til Death in 2007. That says a lot about this genre of comedy.
It’s not as if smart multi-camera comedies have been non-existent in television history. NBC produced a long line of smart, sophisticated, funny, and popular comedies like Seinfeld, Frasier, Friends, and Will & Grace for years, long before the single-camera format was the norm. Can shows not be funny like these shows and also be shot in front of a studio audience anymore?
So, do America’s hold single-camera comedies in a higher regard to multi-camera comedies? My answer would be no. The proof is in the ratings. CBS is the reigning champion of multi-camera comedies. When you compare CBS’s Monday night lineup of multi-camera comedies against ABC or NBC’s lineup of single-camera comedies, there’s no contest in who would win in the ratings. This is not to say that CBS’ comedies are in a sense “better” than the comedies on the other networks, but it’s obvious that more Americans relate to these shows. They aren’t trying to be quirky, smart, or revolutionize the genre; they just want to be funny make Americans laugh. That’s why they’re so popular.
Hopefully the smart multi-camera sitcom can one day make a comeback, but until then we’ll just have to sit back and see if Guys with Kids or Malibu Country are the comedies that are going to revive the once popular multi-camera format, or be cancelled within weeks of their debuts.