Is the laugh track dead?
This fall, five of the eight new comedies go without the sound of laughs, and TV critics and network executives alike have proclaimed the death of the laugh track. Freed of the stodgy cadence of setup, punch line, laugh, the new shows can supposedly be slyer, subtler, and more subversive.
There's nothing new about denigrating the laugh track. It's been viewed with scorn and suspicion from its invention in 1950, when it debuted to little fanfare on a short-lived comedy called The Hank McCune Show. In the decades since, it has stood accused of everything from bad faith to brainwashing to mere artistic laziness. It's survived all the opprobrium, however, and, in one form or another, it's likely to survive further still. In fact, at a time when it's seemingly being relegated to the pop-culture curio closet, its use is actually extending beyond the sitcom—and even beyond television itself....
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