Monday, August 12, 2013

Who's laughing now?: The use of laugh tracks on broadcast television last season

Laugh tracks have their fair share of critics. They're often derided as outdated, obnoxious and even insulting to the audience's intelligence. Yet it's hard to argue that they're a relic of the past when the highest rated comedy this past season, The Big Bang Theory, heavily features one. Given these conflicting sentiments, I thought it would be interesting to examine the use of laugh tracks on television last season.

Before I get to the laugh track breakdown, I'd like to make a few clarifications about the data I used. First of all, I only examined live action comedies on the big five U.S. broadcast networks. Second, the shows used are from the past 2012-2013 TV season (including mid-season shows that aired at least one episode), not from the upcoming 2013-2014 season. Finally, by using the term "laugh track" I'm referring to both canned and audience laughter.

Here's a chart demonstrating the split between comedies with laugh tracks and those without them.
Pie Chart of Laugh Tracks in Comedies in 2012-2013

Next, here's a separate graph for each network's breakdown of comedies.
Pie Chart of CBS Network's Use of Laugh Tracks in Comedies in 2012-2013
Pie Chart of ABC Network's Use of Laugh Tracks in Comedies in 2012-2013
Pie Chart of NBC Network's Use of Laugh Tracks in Comedies in 2012-2013
Pie Chart of FOX Network's Use of Laugh Tracks in Comedies in 2012-2013

Here you can see the number of each type of comedy each network has.
Number of comedies with and without laugh tracks by network in 2012-2013

This is a representation of how the 11 shows with laugh tracks add up by network.
Network Comedies with Laugh Tracks by Network 2012-2013

Finally, here's the list complete list of comedies used for data.
List of Network Television Comedies 2012-2013

Some Observations: 

  • With 11 laugh track shows and 23 non-laugh track shows, just under a third of the comedies had laugh tracks. If anything, I'd probably have expected a slightly higher number of laugh tracks. I'd just assumed that several of the shows I haven't watched, such as Animal Practice or The Family Tools, had them.
  • CBS is known for its use of laugh tracks, but I hadn't realized that all of their comedies last season used them.
  • In fact, both FOX and CBS are in the extremes when it comes to laugh tracks. CBS used a laugh track in all of its comedies, and FOX didn't use one in any of theirs. NBC and ABC are more mixed, leaning towards no laugh tracks.
  • I was surprised to see that The CW had no comedies, either with or without a laugh track, on its line up. 

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