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

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.


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 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

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