Episode 305 of 99% Invisible tells the story of the Laff Box, the contraption which was used to generate laugh tracks for TV for decades. It’s a preview of a new podcast called Decoder Ring.
I’m in the modern minority, in that I actually like sitcoms with laugh tracks, but I don’t understand why it has to be an either/or stance. Some people hate laugh tracks; some staunchly support them. I think there is room for both formats on television. Part of what makes I Love Lucy, Three’s Company or Friends so great is that they were all performed before studio audiences, some of the laughs being “sweetened” not withstanding. Those three shows are among my all-time favorite sitcoms, in no small part because the actors are playing to the audience. But I also love The Wonder Years, an early example of a show without a laugh track.
The history of the Laff Box is interesting and entertaining as presented by Decoder Ring. I only wish that it hadn’t been so biased against its use. I don’t think we need to start overlaying a laugh track on The Office or Modern Family, but I don’t think shows should be shying away from it either just because it isn’t in vogue.