In our latest installment of Aught Lang Syne, NPI is going to look at the best and worst trends in our culture from this decade. John S will tackle movies and TV, while Tim will explain sports and, of course, fashion.
The Best Trend in Television: The Demise of Laugh Tracks
The slow, steady, not-yet-completed demise of the laugh track is probably the best overall trend of the decade in television. In the 1990s and the early part of the Aughts, nearly every big, successful sitcom was accompanied by a laugh track: Seinfeld, Cheers, Frasier, Friends, Will & Grace, Becker, The King of Queens, Everybody Loves Raymond, etc. Currently, though, most new sitcoms air without laugh tracks. Even among existing shows, the comedies that are critically praised tend to be canned laughless. The entirety of NBC’s Thursday night lineup—the traditional home of the most popular sitcoms—is laugh track-free. ABC comedies Modern Family, Scrubs, and Cougar Town are also not accompanied by disembodied laughter. None of HBO’s comedies—Curb Your Enthusiasm, Flight of the Conchords, Extras—have laugh tracks, either.
There are, of course, some holdouts: FOX’s only two non-animated comedies—Brothers and ‘Til Death—do have laugh tracks, but neither has much of an audience. CBS, though, has five sitcoms with laugh tracks (Gary Unmarried, Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, Accidentally on Purpose, and How I Met Your Mother), and all have some degree of success. In general, though, the trend is certainly waning.