Throwdown, the Results Show: Single-Camera Comedies vs. Multi-Camera Comedies

By Tim Surette

Dec 08, 2011

Everyone, except for pirates and kids who use BB guns, sees the world through multiple eyes. But television, specifically the genre of comedy, can't seem to decide whether to use one camera or many. Last week we asked you to vote on which format you prefer your comedies to use: single-camera or multi-camera. And though I would like to say that the votes were fairly split, they weren't, and the final tally wasn't much of a surprise. Multi-camera comedies were laugh-tracked out of the competition by a wide margin: 50-17. Some voters took a diplomatic approach, with 27 insisting that it doesn't matter how a comedy is filmed, as long as it's funny. And at least one person has been paying attention throughout the course of this series so far: Supernatural got a single solitary vote.

But now let's see how it looks with a pie chart!

Which comedy format is better: Single-Camera or Multi-Camera?
Single-Cam, 50 votes | Multi-Cam, 17 votes | Doesn't Matter, 27 votes

Studios have valid financial reasons for choosing one format over the other, but for viewers, it's just a matter of taste. Though multi-camera formats have made a comeback in recent years, the majority of readers who voted still prefer the single-camera format. Also, just an innocent observation: Fans of single-camera comedies seem to be a bit more vocal and aggressive about their opinion. Here are some of the highlights from the comments section:

Taccado laid it out thusly (don't forget to read this in a Finnish accent): "OK, the answer is simple: Single-camera shows are far more superior than multi-camera ones. I don't even have to point out the reasons why, do I? Look at the shows that are getting all the nominations nowadays for best comedy. They are mostly single-camera ones, and that's for a reason. Single-cam ones are smart shows, multi-cam ones are usually not. I really don't understand the appeal that multi-cam shows still have today. There are productional reasons for it, like cheapness. But quality-wise, when it comes to humor, they are far inferior compared to single-cam shows. They are, as you said Tim, 'old-timey.' Single-cam shows are modern and fresh. And what's up with that f*cking laugh track which all multi-cam shows use?"

mariana064 has no need for capital letters and just wants to explore TV's famous domiciles: "multi-camera shows don't have complete sets and that just bugs me. i would like to see the other wall of charlie harper's house or how i met your mother's complete apartment."

DrSpongejr sits alone at lunch and doesn't care: "I'm gonna be the uncool kid and go with multi-cam. All of my favorite '90s sitcoms (Seinfeld, Friends, Cheers' late episodes, and Married...with Children) were all multi-cam. These shows take themselves far less seriously than single-cam shows, and have a far less pretentious attitude about themselves. These shows are about making people laugh, not how many pretentious TV critics will give them an Emmy nomination."

luv70s loves the energy of a crowd: "Unlike most people I don't ever let the laughter of the live audience (yes, LIVE audience, it is NOT a laugh track!) bother me and I have worked on a multi-camera TV show so I enjoy it much more working off the audience's energy than having to find it all from within."

YaninaAyalaHe is way too practical in saying: "Does it actually matter how many cameras or the way they film? A good comedy is about good writing, good actors, and creative stories. The format has nothing to do with it. There are good comedies in both formats. I loved Arrested Development (single-cam), and now I love The Big Bang Theory (multi-cam), and it's because they make me laugh, I like the writing and the actors, not because how many cameras they use."

ben45tpy hates awkward pauses: "Look we know both formats can be funny, as I count Seinfeld, Frasier, and closer to home The Adventures of Lano & Woodley as some of the greatest shows ever. I think that even a laugh track isn't that much of a barrier to something being funny. It only really starts to annoy me when the laugh track starts to cramp the comic timing of the show—when everyone stops in their tracks for a few seconds after a joke or a character entrance so that the laugh track can do its thang. I think there's also a tendency for jokes to be over-stated because they're playing to a live (or canned) audience. These things all break the reality of the situation for me and make the show unfunny. The best multi-cam shows avoid most of these pitfalls..."

killerpuppies blew my mind with this one: "I feel that while most multi cam comedies can be turned into a single-cam comedy, it wouldn't work the other way around. Can you picture Arrested Development as a multi-cam? God no. But you can prolly picture Friends as a single cam (a.k.a. Happy Endings)."

You guys are all way too smart for your own good. We'll be back soon with another Throwdown, so keep hitting refresh on the homepage until your finger falls off!

Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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  • pcsjunior002 Dec 09, 2011

    @killerpuppies Blowing my mind, too. Awesome analysis. And regardless of anything else, I would like to see people chill out with the criticisms of each other.

    We all like comedies and like to laugh. Certainly the preferences go both way, as well as the snobbery. I like single cam. Good for me. "Better" also has many definitions, and unless we're defending a dissertation here from a previously defined "better", I think we can cool it a little, as, depending on definition, both sides have major and minor claims for "better".

  • Mischa Dec 09, 2011

    Excuse the typo, "ditto" was the word I was looking for...

  • Mischa Dec 09, 2011

    Dittle Trevplatt and Bendylegsnick on Supernatural. :)

    Eh, I agree most with DrSpongejr. The only singlecam show I couldn't live without having watched is Arrested Development, yet I could never picture my life without Friends, Seinfeld, and the more modern IT Crowd.

  • Taccado Dec 09, 2011

    Hats off to killerpuppies. That's a very good point.

    And I'm happy that the right opinion got a 53 % share of the votes. (See what I did there? Still going with a confrontational attitude.)

    But seriously, I get that this is matter of opinion, despite the fact that I always fiercely defend single-cams shows, and criticize multi-cam ones. I'm not that black-and-white, despite my strict opinions about multi-cam shows. In fact, some of my favourite comedies in the past have been multi-cam. Seinfeld, Friends and Frasier are obvious ones. I also remember liking Just Shoot Me! and Suddenly Susan but I put that partially down to me being young and not yet recognizing really good comedy. Nowadays though, it's like multi-cam shows are at a standstill. Nothing fresh and really unique has been created in this genre during recent years. That's why, at the moment, I feel that single-cam shows are way ahead of multi-cam shows. There are some other reasons too relating to the quality of comedy, but it's too long of a story to explain here.

    This comment was written entirely in Finnish accent, for your enjoyment. Apparently it adds a comedic element to my opinions.

  • Shikady Dec 08, 2011

    I'm sorry...I don't see how it's a "live audience" when they laugh with every stupid joke. I guess they get paid or they force them to laugh...because some jokes are lame, unfunny and pathetic for the audience to laugh. Are you really saying to me that people were watching According to Jim or Til Death they actually found the show funny enough to laugh at every joke? Yeah right. I don't care much about multicamera or single camera, in fact I hardly notice the difference and I don't know how It's different one from other, but most shows I do like are Single camera. The only show I can get pass the laugh track is Seinfeld. I do like other shows with laugh tracks, but sometimes they annoy me...I don't care with Seinfeld.

  • Ninjagenial2 Dec 08, 2011

    On the contrary of mariana064 , ,I don't want to see the other wall in multi camera shows. Whenever we can see that wall, it always bothers me to see how small the "never seen space is" (because they don't put this 4th wall where the cameras are, but always closer, which means that the camera is in fact filming not from the place the wall is supposed to be, but farther than that, kinda filming through the wall if you know what I mean).

    In the last 2 1/2 men episode, we have seen this : I always thought that this living room was bigger than those 2 feet of space before the sofa.

  • TrevPlatt Dec 08, 2011

    I would love to vote for Supernatural too, but I just can't bring myself to waste my vote when it's a subject I'm interested in. When the Showdown is Kardashians v Jersey Shore or some such shite (I hope it never is) then I will definately vote for Supernatural.

    This was a really good one by the way, it actually got me to think about which I prefer. As much as I love The Big Bang Theory and HIMYM there are more single camera shows that I look forward to than there are multi-camera.

  • bendylegsnick Dec 08, 2011

    I love the single vote for Supernatural, though I would not class it as a comedy, it is funny, and is also my current favourite television show.

  • Silver_Sword_14 Dec 08, 2011

    YaninaAyalaHe hit the nail on the head.

  • meee223 Dec 08, 2011

    I agree with DrSpongeJr and YaninaAyalaHe and I feel exactly the opposite of Taccado. (Sorry, Taccado), but we obviously have different tastes. After growing up watching some amazing comedies over the past 40 years, I find it kind of weird to watch one without hearing someone laugh. Intelligent doesn't necessarily mean funny. Actually, it usually doesn't mean funny.

  • Taccado Dec 09, 2011

    Despite the fact that I hate the expression, I guess we have to "agree to disagree". There's no reason to feel sorry, people have different tastes. I prefer comedy which isn't obvious; comedy which doesn't have a clear punch-line which screams "look here, a joke was just made". I like jokes which are subtle, which makes you think and which the audience themselves have to notice when a joke was made. And to me, single-cam comedies represent this style. They more often try to be clever about what actually is a joke, by using concealed remarks and references to popular culture and art. I guess part of the reason for this is that the format allows it. When there is no laugh track to cut off the delivery every other second, many jokes can be fired at a rapid pace and the audience has to stay alert to catch all the quick-wittedness. I guess to me, single cam-shows just feel more natural. A multi-cam show is more like a play which is filmed so it feels a little theatrical.

    Some people say that the only thing a comedy is supposed to do is to make people laugh out loud. They say it's all about uninhibited joy. But personally, I feel comedy is also a mind-game. It's supposed to be witty and clever. It is meant to test the minds of the viewers. If you understand the humour and pick up all the jokes, you've passed the test. You can laugh on the inside and ask friends afterwards if they noticed this and that joke in the episode. That's why I prefer single-cam shows because they go better together with this mindset. Many people would call this kind of an opinion pretentious, elitist and snobbish. I don't care. There is a difference between intelligent as in "serious intelligent discussion" and intelligent as in "intelligent humour". The former can be boring. The later on the other hand is very rewarding to one's sense of humour.

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