Death of the Laugh Track

October 2, 2008

I was having a conversation with someone about 9/11 this morning. A cheery topic to start off any day.

And we talked about how humor sort of went away for a while after the attacks on the World Trade Center. How comedians didn’t really know what to say after such a horrible thing had happened to our country. And it took a little while for us all to laugh again.

We were smacked pretty hard in the face by the cold, damp hand of reality.

Speaking of reality…

Reality TV started to pick up in popularity just before 9/11. Then it exploded after 9/11. And dramas slowly became more popular than comedies. Why is that? After going through so much emotional hardship, didn’t we – as a country – need to laugh more than ever?

I tend to wonder if we just couldn’t put up with the network fluff that was considered to be funny anymore. Laugh tracks and over-enthused studio audiences were subconsciously TELLING US when to laugh… and we just couldn’t be told when to laugh anymore. We’d been through too much.

Some dumb actress getting her blouse stuck in a drawer and then subsequent canned laughter wouldn’t cut it anymore. It just seemed so empty.

I did a little research, checking out the Nielson ratings from the past years.

In 1999, some of the top comedies were Friends, Frasier, Everybody Loves Raymond, Becker, Dharma & Greg, and Drew Carey. All canned-laughter-shows.

The 2001-2002 season (which kicked off shortly after the attacks on the WTC) included comedies like Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond, Will & Grace, Becker, and Frasier.

Jump to 2005. In the top 20 shows, there’s really only one sitcom – Two and a Half Men – which does have a laugh track. Desperate Housewives was #4, but isn’t really considered a comedy. Nor is House. 2005 barely has a hint of laugh tracks in its top shows.

Look at the comedies we laugh at today: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Samantha Who, the second coming of The Family Guy, 30 Rock, The Office, My Name is Earl, Ugly Betty… Not a laugh track in the lot of them. Only CBS has a few laugh-track-shows left on their roster… and frankly, I don’t know anyone who watches them.

There could be another contributing factor to the laugh track’s death: technology.

Perhaps as people replaced their tube TVs with plasma and LCD screens, laugh tracks and cheap production values didn’t really seem to jive with the killer displays and surround sound. Shows like Ugly Betty and 30 Rock have the feeling of being shot “on location” and not in some lame studio. (Even though a good deal of 30 Rock and other shows are still shot on soundstages.)

With big TVs come the need for big drama, big production values, and big laughs. No sissy lame-ass jokes on a small scale.

So, maybe it’s the onset of advanced technology. Or we just changed the way we laugh at things in general. Either way, the laugh track is dead.

Get with it, CBS. It’s not 1999 anymore.

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This new viral spot from Diesel is mind-blowing.

As one of our interns said to me, “I don’t say this very often, but I wish I’d thought of that.” Amen, brother.

Visit this link to YouTube to see the video in action…

Easily one of the best episodes of ANY show on TV. Ever.

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more about “Hulu – Dennis And Dee Go On Welfare: …“, posted with vodpod

My Favorite Olympics.

August 20, 2008

For the first time in a while, I’ve watched the Olympics every day. Maybe it’s because I finally have an HD TV and everything – even synchronized swimming – looks great in HD.

Despite the fact that Ian Crocker (a high school friend’s younger brother) will go home with no hardware this time, there were definitely a few highlights for me this year, in my opinion:

  • Beijing is on the other side of the planet. Insomniacs rejoice. Something worth watching (LIVE, NO LESS!) at 3:30 am!
  • Hearing grown men repeat the last name “Dalhausser” over and over. Teehee. (pronounced Dollhouser.)
  • Hearing announcements repeated by an overenthusiastic Chinese announcer. Everything sounds funnier/cooler/more international in Chinese.
  • Watching hurdlers wipe out.

  • Seeing Nastia put that annoying little Shawn in her place in the all-around in women’s gymnastics. (Sorry, Shawn. You’ve been way too perky and confident coming into these games.)
  • Bela Karolyi’s semi-comprehensible, over-enthusiastic commentary. “Total reep-off!”
  • My grandmother’s valid point about “why do women wear bikinis in so many events?” Think about it – in running and beach volleyball, why don’t men wear the male equivalent of sport banana hammocks?
  • Dara Torres indirectly teaches the world how to appropriately pronounce our name.
  • Dara Torres (and a few other “older” silver-medal winners) raises the question: do older athletes “still got it” or can’t compete with the gold-winning whippersnappers?
  • Usain Bolt’s (Jamaica) obvious attitude problem. The hand-pistol? Flashing his pinky ring? Really? He’s not an Olympian. He’s a circus act.
  • The moms. Some of the funniest freakout video ever put on TV.
  • The opening ceremony. Good luck competing with THAT, London.
  • Oh yeah… and that Michael Phelps guy. Not shabby.

I’ll admit. I’ve been one of Paris Hilton’s biggest nay-sayers for a very long time. I remember being at NYU, way back in the late 90s/early 00s, and hearing about this little rich girl who only had any kind of notoriety because of her name and wealth.

Then she became unnecessarily famous and iconic. And part of a trend that probably has influenced more young women towards materialism, shallowness, over-sexualization, and plain old sluttiness.

And then McCain called her out on it. And frankly, his comments were pretty much right. She’s not a good influence. Maybe that makes me a red-state, old fart fuddy duddy too… but c’mon. She has made no positive contribution towards humanity. With all that money and free time, she could be trying to pull an Oprah or Angelina or Madonna. Even if half-heartedly. She’s got the money and visibility to do it. Instead, she follows her rocker boyfriend around on tour, makes crappy CDs, and lives off a fortune she never had to earn.

The American Dream.

Anyway, this rebuttal surfaced today on funnyordie.com. And frankly, she could have just ignored McCain’s comments… brushed them off like everyone else’s… but she’s obviously a part of Generation Obama (wooohooo! Gobama!   …ahem. Sorry. Little editorialism there.) And rather let a candidate she doesn’t like just trash her… she made this video:

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In it, she thanks the “white-haired dude” for his endorsement… as a presidential candidate. It’s hilarious. It’s smart. It’s a smack in the face to McCain. Something that really shouldn’t have backfired on him JUST DID. And, frankly, I gotta give her props for having a good sense of humor about how she’s perceived. She says, “I’m a celebrity, too. Only I’m not from the olden days, and I’m not promising change like that other guy. I’m just hot.”

“Olden days.” God… the last time I heard that annoying phrase used was by Tara Reid during an interview. And she used it, like, five times. ::shudder::

Give it a watch. Then go vote for Obama instead of that “wrinkly, white-haired guy.”

Illegal music-compiler/DJ “Girl Talk” is all the rage. He takes various artists clips and slaps them together in weird, wonderful, surprising concoctions that make every workout a totally entertaining experience. He’s fucking great.

In fact, I’d also say his label is fucking great. His label, Illegal Art, has just posted his new album “Feed the Animals” on its site for purchase. (He doesn’t get any of his samples approved by their artists… so they can’t sell the album legally)

Anyway, here’s the brilliance: there’s no set price.

Illegal Art lets you TYPE IN WHATEVER PRICE you feel like paying… and you get a high-quality download of the album. Pay $5 or more, and you also get the options of FLAC files, plus a one-file seamless mix of the album (good for homemade raves). And $10 or more includes all of the above + a packaged CD.

This seems like a really great way to sell music. Granted, some people won’t be able to pay much. But some will give more because maybe… just maybe… they got his last albums for free. And it’s good to support the artist.

Anyway, I applaud this not-so-greedy innovation. It acknowledges that some money is better than NO money… which is what he’d get if everyone just downloaded his music from Limewire.

Way to go. I hope we see more of this kind of $-for-Art exchange in the future.

Don’t you wish you’d thought of this first?

This site is simply called “How Many Five-Year-Olds Could You Take in a Fight?

Simple. Brilliant. And coincidentally, I could take on 24 little buggers. What’s your score?

So, I found this video on Perez Hilton’s site…

His name is Erik… just Erik. Like Madonna.

He sports a sassy double chin (covered in beard-scruff) and drinks from some kind of tallboy.

What could I possibly have to say about this guy?

Well, I have to wonder if this guy is actually cool in Bulgaria. If you stopped a 22-year-old on the streets of Sofia, would they be like “oh yeah! Erik! That guy’s the shiz!” Or would they be all embarrassed and say “actually, I prefer Justin Timberlake. Erik is ridiculous.”

Another interesting thought… it’s amazing what different standards other countries have for their musicians. If you’ve ever watched music videos from the Near or Middle East, you’ll notice that the musicians aren’t perfect-looking and 17.

They come in a range of ages, sizes, and aesthetics… Hence, Erik… who (ladies), if you saw him in a bar in the East Village, you’d probably splash his drink in his face just for talking to you.

Compare Erik to the Czech/Slovakian pop star Dara Rolins (great name, right?). Does that part of Eastern Europe just have different standards..?

Sweeney Pockets!

December 21, 2007

Just went to see Sweeney Todd. It was a great adaptation of the original musical… Tim Burton brought something to the show that I didn’t quite get from the Patty LuPone revival: ambiance. A sense of time and place. Burton’s version didn’t suffer from a lack of ambiance at all. It was so amazingly visual: dirty, gritty, greasy… and bloody…  which didn’t hurt for such a bloodbath of a story.

As my friend and I left, the only question I had on my mind was, “why didn’t the studio do a tie-in with Hot Pockets?” Like… free tickets… or a special “Human” flavor. Yum.

Om nom nom nom…

December 9, 2007

Oh, c’mon. You know that sound. Like when you take a toddler’s hand and pretend to eat it? It’s the sound of gobbling.

And someone figured out how fucking funny it is.

Check out http://www.omnomnomnom.com

Click through the pictures… and, according to the site, “If you’re not saying ‘Om Nom Nom Nom’ out loud at the same time as looking at these pictures then you’re doing it wrong.”

WARNING: Some are kinda not PC… enjoy.