Q: Laugh tracks added to comedy series, old and new, are annoying and insulting to viewers, who don't need to be cued when to laugh. Who is responsible for adding them and why?

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Adam Thomlison / TV Media

A: People have been sounding the death knell of the laugh track for ages -- at least since NBC's "The Office" premiered in 2005 and became the most critically acclaimed sitcom of recent years, without the aid of recorded revelry.

And they may be right -- these days laugh tracks are a rarity in comedies. An article on AdAge.com points out that though they were once an absolute necessity in sitcom production, only seven of the top 20 broadcast comedies in 2017 used canned laughs.

However, they are still being used, and you can boil that down to one big reason: "The Big Bang Theory."

While "The Office" may have gotten all the critical acclaim in the late 2000s and early 2010s, "The Big Bang Theory" got all the viewers. Featuring a laugh track that seems to play every time Sheldon (Jim Parsons, "Judging Amy") opens his mouth, it has been not only one of the biggest comedies of the past 15 years, but one of the biggest shows period. 

While the critics agree with you that laugh tracks feel like laughing instructions being issued by your television, the historical view is a bit more generous.

Encyclopedia Britannica points out that they originated in TV's earliest days, as an attempt to replicate the more familiar theater-going experience. "Adding a laugh track to a television show makes the viewers at home feel much less like they're sitting on a couch staring at the television screen and much more like they're in a room full of laughing, happy people."

As for who's responsible for adding them, it's the show's producers and the networks who boss them around. CBS, the home of "The Big Bang Theory" and other recent laugh-tracked hits such as "How I Met Your Mother" and "Two and a Half Men," seems to particularly favor them.


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