I thought M*A*S*H answered the laughter-track question in the Eighties?
Apart from the curious fact that Lucille Ball’s mother is the ‘Wilhelm Scream’ of chuckles on US TV’s canned laughter track, it still surprises me that the debate about whether a laughter track is a good idea continues to this day in America. Anthony Crupi on AdAge is the latest voice:
There’s actually very little research to justify the practice. The last comprehensive study to suggest that a laugh track could precipitate genuine peals of merriment was published in 1974, or a good three years before DeDe Ball chortled her last. A far more recent inquiry into the matter arrived at a different conclusion; a 2011 study of British and Norwegian subjects found that contemporary viewers have all but built up an immunity to laugh tracks, characterizing them as “cheesy” and “manipulative.”
I think there’s much less debate about this in the United Kingdom, and that’s down to BBC 2 airing M*A*S*H in the eighties. As far as I can remember, it was a fixture at 9pm every Wednesday. Someone was smart enough to decide that the audience didn’t need to be told when to laugh and the BBC leaned on Fox to strike new prints with clean audio for the UK audience.
Except one week. One week there was a technical hiccup and it aired in the laughter-fuelled American format. With no Twitter to channel the anger, the only outlet was the weekly ‘Points of View’ show that aired at 8.50pm every Wednesday on BBC 1. That week there was nothing but indignation…
The BBC never aired M*A*S*H with a laughter track again.
Originally published at www.ewanspence.co.uk on February 24, 2017.