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TV laugh tracks are fading away

”Sports Night” isn’t the only show to cut down on the fake yuks

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Josh Charles, Peter Krause, ...
Bob D'Amico

For all the annoying trends spotted in the upcoming season’s lineup (too many high school dramas, too few minorities, too many characters talking to the camera), there is at least one positive trend: less canned laughter.

Last season, ABC’s ”Sports Night” cut down on the fake yuks, and now Fox’s new inside-Hollywood sitcom ”Action” and the child-genius comedy ”Malcolm in the Middle,” as well as UPN’s ”Shasta McNasty,” will all be going au naturel, according to Entertainment Weekly.

”There’s something about canned laughter I think is unnerving to younger audiences who expect something a little more real,” says Fox Entertainment president Doug Herzog. ”Shasta” creator Jeff Eastin suggests the tracks work only on shows with the traditional setup-punchline-big-laugh format. Eastin watched episodes of ”Friends” and ”Seinfeld” minus laugh tracks and reports they ”didn’t work; the jokes just hung there.” In ”Shasta,” ”Action,” and ”Malcolm,” however, the canned chuckles aren’t as necessary because the three shows ”use a more situational writing style.”

Odds are audiences won’t mourn the demise of phony guffaws. Nonetheless, the pioneering ”Sports Night” has yet to persuade ABC to let them drop the laugh track entirely. Still, Tony Krantz, CEO of Imagine TV, a producer of ”Sports Night,” might not wait for the net’s say-so. ”It may fade into the sunset,” says Krantz, who plans to phase out the offending yuks. ”One day you’ll wake up and not hear an artificial laugh.”