TV.com 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.



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

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Definitely multi-cam but I despise laugh track in either scenario. It's funny I wouldn't have guessed that I have a preference in how something is shot but if you list out single cam comedies and multicam comedies - I'm apparently not a fan of single cam...

I think for me what I find funny in a comedy is the setup/setup/punchline. I like it even better when it happens off script (see Undateable and sometimes HIMYM)
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single, definitely!!!
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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.

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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
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Two of my favorite single cam comedies are Strangers With Candy and Arrested Development. Multi cam...I Love Lucy and Friends.
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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.
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multi camera is good for some laughs, but single camera shows definitely have the more outrageous comedy,
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single-camera

but some multi-camera are great too, like the big bang theory , and 2 n half men
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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.
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Supernatural
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: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
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YESSSSSS
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Haha! You just made Tim's day.
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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! :)
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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.
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Single camera no doubt. But there are classics, never to be forgotten on multi-camera. If you are 25+yrs old you grew up on multi-camera and I loved those shows but times have changed. I still believe both can co-exist, there is room for multi-camera comedies but it has to be something really special. Scrubs is one of my favorite shows, have all the dvd's, listened to all the commentary (yes I'm a geek), and the single camera work on that show really is impressive. Plus no one wants a laugh track anymore.
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I noticed problems in Scrubs where people/clothes/objects/etc suddenly changed places during scenes depending on the camera angle, and since Scrubs used the single-camera format I'm just wondering if there are similar deviations in the scenes of multi-camera shows? (I usually try not to pay too much attention because that ruins the fun in tv shows and I also don't watch too many comedies.)
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I've noticed it on Friends before. Even though scenes are shot all at once they will have to do multiple takes of each one and if they edit together shots from different takes for the final cut that can happen.
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I don't think one or the other is better, what really matters is the quality of the actors and writers for each individual show. I'm a huge fan a Modern Family but I'm also a huge fan of The Big Bang Theory.
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I hate laugh tracks, and studio audience laughing. Mainly because it feels like they want to tell us when we should think something is funny.
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How I Met Your Mother is single camera not multi. They just make it look and sound like on so it can be CBS lol
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Where did you get that from? It says on IMDB that Alyson Hannigan was not going to accept her role on HIMYM if it was multicamera because of her long hours on Buffy. But the show's creators assured her that it would be single.
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Sounds like they misspoke when they wrote that up, because single-cam takes SOOO much longer than multi-cam, because rather than just getting thru the scene, there's a ton of set up between every shot
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Single-camera does work for 30 Rock cuz sometimes the reaction shots are funnier than the jokes. I really like "one-ers" where one scene will be filmed in one take. that's awesome and feels more real. also, with one-ers and multi-camera there's less chance of mistakes like two different hairdos, etc. that sort of thing bugs me enough to distract from the scene.

I think laugh tracks are there sometimes to act as an applause light which is obnoxious. However Seinfeld was so funny at times that the laugh track felt like it really belonged there.
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single-camera for the win. the greatness of seinfeld and a few other gems notwithstanding, single-cam shows are smarter, funnier, less predictable, and more creative.
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Am I the only person who doesn't like How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory? And I can't watch more than one or two episodes of Two and a Half Men, but I can watch five episodes of Blue Mt State, The League, Parks and Rec, and Better Off Ted with no problem. I just remembered that That 70's Show was multi-cam. And I could watch that one all day long pretty much. But for me that's an exception, not the rule.
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doesn't matter how many cameras. a laugh is a laugh. laugh tracks won't work if the show is bad and the shows mentioned above are definitely worth laughing
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I have no preference but do for LAUGH TRACKS!

in 2011, there is NO place for laugh tracks! Someone explain why they continue?
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A lot of hit shows in the past had laugh tracks and nobody cared. They loved the shows. So why should we care whether they are there or not. I grew up with laugh tracks and they don't bother me at all. Watch the show, hear the dialogue and laugh when it's funny. You really shouldn't even notice the tracks. No one in the past did.
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Because people are too dumb to know when to laugh otherwise.
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It's the quality of the work that's more important than the way it's shot. However, single camera shows are forced to pay more attention and as such tend to do a better job. Because multi-camera comedies can be done faster then don't tend to put in the same effort.



I think what we may see in the future is a hybrid of the two. With cameras becoming smaller and cheaper it's easy to shoot with multiple cameras but it's still possible to do some scenes in a single camera style.
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As long as multi-camera is featured as on HIMYM, I'll go with that ;)



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I prefer multi-camera. It's easier and nicer to watch, single-camera shows just feels weird.
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However Cougar Town is shot.
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Six seasons and a movie.
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That would be Cox-Cam.
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Two points. First, I don't really care. The ability of the actors and the writing is all that matters to me. Second, I honestly can't tell a single camera comedy from a multi-camera comedy. I don't notice it or think about it (and honestly, don't know why anyone would) and in fact, never heard of these styles until I started reading about them here. When it comes to comedy, it's really irrelevant.
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Definitely adore both, but recently started to prefer single-camera comedies more often.
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Single camera comedies it win for me.



I didn't want my love of Community to cloud my judgement so I thought about all the comedies I watch (which is a lot), and as much as I'd like to play-it-by-numbers as usual, this is really a matter of opinion that maths can't help with, mainly because the writing has a large part to play in all the comedies I like. Which leaves the look and feel of the show as the deciding factor.



Shows like Community, Suburgatory, Raising Hope, Happy Endings all seem to be more intimate, make you feel like you're a silent friend right there with the cast, whereas The Big Bang Theory, HIMYM, 2 Broke Girls, Last Man Standing, all feel like you're part of the audience watching a play, a little detached from the action. Also, I do hate laugh tracks, mainly because they are used regardless of the joke being funny or not.

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don't really care as alot of comedies suck doesn't matter if they were filled in black and white or a fricked slide show.
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One more thing to add... 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 (aka Happy Endings). Just my opinion, of course.
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While I am a sucker for most comedies (I just really like to laugh), I prefer the style of the single camera. It just always seems like a deeper experience. I also appreciate being given the credit to know when to laugh. I enjoy a vast majority of the comedies on tv today. However, the shows i ADORE tend to be single camera, such as Modern Family or the League. My all time favorite is Scrubs. Anyone remember the "My Life in Four Cameras" episode of Scrubs? Absolutely brilliant piece of work and a perfect example of the differences between single and multi cam comedies. If you haven't seen it, watch it for sure. So anyways, while I prefer single cam, a great multi cam show will make you forget the laugh track even exists. I'm aware the laugh track in Big Bang exists, I just hardly notice. In Whitney, however, I hear every single chalkboard screeching laugh. At the end of the day, just watch what makes you laugh, and there's plenty to choose from...
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I pretty much agree with you 100% There are plenty of multi cam shows that I love like Big Bang, Friends, and 70s Show, but I prefer the more realistic look of single cam shows. I almost never notice the laugh track on shows I like but I always notice the sets. For some reason they really bug me, especially anything that is supposed to be outdoors, they generally look pathetic.
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I like New Girl and Community ... but then again, HYMIM and TBBT are also awesome. It's a tie, for me.



As long as the show is done well and the jokes are fresh, it doesn't really matter if it's single or multicamera, does it?
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Here is the (mysterious) official tally: (I've done this for the past few Throwdown's, but this time, I don't want to steal Tim's thunder for the results show. So I'm going to give you the amount of votes for the two camera options, but I'm not going to tell you which is which:)



???: 44

???: 13

Don't care/Like both: 20

Can't tell the difference between them: 2

*margin of error + / - 1or2*



Well, one of them is definitely pulling away. I wonder which one?
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Few comedies with laugh tracks are funny. Frasier was probably the last one I could stand to watch. Remember Action, with Jay Mohr, a pioneering series in no laugh track shows.
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Two completely different schools. As you mentioned yourself, both have their ups and downs. There's no reason to pick a favorite style; I think they can both be extremely funny or disastrously bad, depending on writers and actors.
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I like Big bang theory as well as modern family!!!! As long as it is funny it doesn't really matter!!! Tie is the verdict from my side!!!
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Either is fine if it is executed properly. I laugh at both formats but as others have said, the laugh tracks are a little unnecessary.
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Single-Camera. Single-Camera. Single-Camera.
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I never knew people hated the laugh track until about a year ago when I finally started getting back into comedies after Lost ended. I kept reading complaints over the internet whenever I'd read up on what shows to watch, or the latest episodes for shows I did watch, etc. I agree with others here that each has it's place depending on the style of show and I've only ever felt the laugh track was terrible if it was used for something that didn't feel like a joke to me. That rarely happens though, to be honest.
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Your last line was a joke right? Laugh tracks are used for unfunny or non joke situations ALL THE TIME. There is nothing "rare" about it. Countless shows have been killed by a show using a laugh track to death. Hey studios, how about we decide when it's time to laugh?
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The laugh track was one of the reasons I gave up on The Big Bang Theory. When it was new and the jokes were solid-ish, the laugh track seemed to accentuate my laughter, but as the series wore on and the characters as well as the jokes got more tired, the laugh track only served to piss me off. That show is dead to me now.
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Honestly it's more about the story to me. Done well, either look great. What I hate is a laugh track. It's just stupid!
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I agree that it is whatever fits the show better. Like I love Modern Family but Big Bang is my favorite and I think each style fits the show perfectly. I personally don't get irritated at laugh tracks for the pure sake that I am used to it considering I used to watch all the old family sitcoms like full house, family matters, cosby show, fresh prince, etc. I can't imagine Modern Family with a laugh track but it doesn't make or break the show. If the show is funny it will be funny no matter what.
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i hate the canned laughter. Aren't we beyond that? Telling people when to laugh. I'm offended...
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multi-cam comedies have so much less flexibility and potential. Just watch Community and you will see why a single-cam comedy has the potential to be so much better!
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I don't care as long as they are funny.
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Who cares? If the show is funny, what the hell does it matter how many cameras they use?
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Exactly! "The Big Bang Theory," "The Middle," and "Modern Family" are all GREAT! The camera situation doesn't really matter all that much. If the show is funny on paper, the way it is stylistically shot doesn't matter. Just because "Man Up!" sucks, doesn't mean that the format of the show is the problem.
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Really? So your argument is that direction and production have little to do with how good/funny a show is? As a writer, the notion that what's "on paper" is all that matters is certainly an appealing idea, but I think it might be a wee bit of an oversimplification.
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so the choice is between Community, Modern Family, 30 Rock and The Office against Two and a Half Men, Whitney, I hate my teenage daughter and Last man standing? Thats like asking to choose between America and Nazi Germany, singla camera all the way
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Well said. You have quirky, well-written, hilarious and a well-done adaptation vs. trash, boring, poison and awful.
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I prefer whichever fits the show better.

Both can get annoying but I think a multi-camera with a laugh track is just overused.

Having more than one camera never bothered me on quality shows like Seinfeld or Friends (the laugh track is another story)
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In general I prefer shows that are single camera, but when I think about the comedies that I like, they are mostly multi-camera. So while I didn't think I had a preference, I guess I do. Learned something. However, I don't think it would matter the type as long as I liked the rest of the show.
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Both versions get laughs out of me. So in my case it's a tie.
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