TV.com Throwdown: Single-Camera Comedies vs. Multi-Camera Comedies

By Tim Surette

Dec 02, 2011

One of the first things you notice about a new comedy is how it looks on the screen. Are the actors walking around a house with one of the walls ripped off? Are the characters getting extreme close-ups? Does it sound like invisible people inside your TV set are laughing at the jokes?

There are two popular styles of comedy today: single-camera and multi-camera. Each style has advantages and disadvantages, but in the end, whether you prefer one over the other is really just a matter of opinion. So today we ask you, you intelligent, web-based think tank:


Which comedy format is better, single-camera or multi-camera?

The two styles have both gone in and out vogue, with multi-camera comedies dominating the '80s and '90s (Cheers, Friends), and single-camera comedies being the norm in the '60s and early '70s (The Munsters, Bewitched). But right now, multi-cams and single-cams are both plentiful.



Single-Camera

In single camera comedies, there's really just one camera doing all the work, so each shot or angle is filmed individually. When a 30 Rock scene cuts back and forth between Liz Lemon and Tracy Jordan, the camera will shoot Tina Fey's lines separately from Tracy Morgan's, and through the magic of editing, they'll come together into a single scene. Other current single-cam comedies include The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, New Girl, Community, and Modern Family.

Pros: Clean, bigger-budget, more movie-like look; fewer standing sets means more versatility; light can be changed each shot; can more easily handle visual effects.
Cons: Higher expenses mean a shorter leash for network tolerance and a greater chance of cancellation; high-brow snobbery.



Multi-Camera

Multi-camera comedies do things the "old-timey" way—or at least that's how they tend to feel sometimes. They're sometimes shot before a studio audience like a play (just ask Whitney), with few interruptions in filming as the characters all perform together while a handful of cameras catch all the action. When Tim Allen tells his precocious daughter to get a job, what we see on TV is the actual conversation that took place, with the focus merely flipping from one camera to the next. Current(-ish) multi-camera comedies include How I Met Your Mother, Seinfeld, Friends, The Big Bang Theory, Saturday Night Live, and pretty much everything from the '80s. Multi-cams are also infamous for incorporating laugh tracks.

Pros: Cheaper and faster to make; the familiar set-up/set-up/punchline formula used in many scenes means fertile ground for zingers.
Cons: The robotic clucking of a laugh track; limited comedy stylings.


So let's hear it, people. How do you like your comedy: Single-camera, multi-camera, or does it not matter to you? And why?


Last week's Throwdown:
Which network has the best comedy block? | Results

  • Comments (157)
Add a Comment
In reply to :
  • heatherrhillman May 10, 2014

    Single or multi camera doesn't matter......they ALL need to get rid of the laugh track! If the show is funny, people will know when to laugh. No one needs prompting.

  • EddieLHines May 24, 2013

    I always thought the single camera shows were the ones where they did the side interviews during the show which i do not like much

  • ICYNDICEY Sep 27, 2012

    Two of my favorite single cam comedies are Strangers With Candy and Arrested Development. Multi cam...I Love Lucy and Friends.

  • ICYNDICEY Sep 27, 2012

    I think it depends on the writing. If a show is well written and funny then either format works. But I've found when single cam comedies aren't funny...they're just dreadful to watch. It's like the person is standing there naked with a spotlight on them.

  • adam_hansolo May 13, 2012

    multi camera is good for some laughs, but single camera shows definitely have the more outrageous comedy,

  • AliAlYousef Feb 24, 2012

    single-camera

    but some multi-camera are great too, like the big bang theory , and 2 n half men

  • jekyll Dec 07, 2011

    I've never cared one way or the other, and really don't think about it. Honestly if I watched a show and you told me to tell you if it was single or multi camera, I probably wouldn't be able to.

  • katikool Dec 07, 2011

    Supernatural

  • Mischa Dec 09, 2011

    :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D :D

  • TimSpot Dec 08, 2011

    YESSSSSS

  • Arch_Angel88 Dec 07, 2011

    Haha! You just made Tim's day.

  • TheMirayShow Dec 06, 2011

    But not all mutli-camera comedies have a laugh track. Doesn't BBT have a live studio audience? :P Anyways, I'm going to go with single camera because a lot of my favourite sitcoms are shot that way! :)

  • mksystem74 Dec 06, 2011

    I don't think one is better than the other. If a show works in single camera it works, same for multi-camera. I do get annoyed with the laugh tracks at times and enjoy the organic comedy that comes from the single camera but beyond that it makes no difference. I like a show WHEN IT WORKS. I don't care if its single camera, multi-camera or people using flip cams, I'll watch a show if it entertains me. And i get that from both sides of the coin.

  • See More Comments (107)