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Archive for February, 2009

Been very quiet on this blog for the last few days.  Perhaps this is going to end up being a regular thing: blog starts up in January each year then tails off as work begins to arrive from strange and various angles.  Last week was taken up with the film,various radio projects and some potential work buffing lines on a computer game.  Will any of these come to anything?  We’ll have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, I wanted to blog about those moments when, through no fault of the writer’s own, they see their good work crash and burn.  Last night I think  I saw one of those moments.  Sam Bain, Jesse Armstrong and Simon Blackwell are a hugely talented team (just think of The Thick of It, Peep Show, Moving Wallpaper et al) and, in The Old Guys, they’ve put together what should be a great show.  Roger Lloyd Pack and Clive Swift work together brilliantly, the script (judging by the first ten minutes of last night’s programme) is excellent and there’s even a good theme tune.  So why did I only get to see the first ten minutes of the programme?  Because some idiot decided to balls up the laughter track to the extent I couldn’t watch without cringing.

Now you may have heard the phrase “canned laughter”.  It’s something they used to use (may still do on some shows) in US series: pre-recorded laughs dubbed in at the (jn)appropriate moment to punch up gags and tell the audience (whom the producers obviously believe to be Delta-Gamma Semi-Morons) that “this is funny, laugh you dogs, LAUGH I SAY!”.

British producers/directors will always tell you with pride that we don’t do that sort of thing over here.  The laughter in British sitcoms is the laughter of a real audience, who genuinely watched the show.  There’s a piece over at Graham Linehan’s site on exactly this point.  BUT what was omitted is that, thanks to the wonders of technology, it is easier than ever to play around with those audience laughs, to take a laugh from here (in some notorious cases “here” may mean the pre-show audience warm up) and drop it in there, or to whack up the volume of the laughter to ridiculous levels (you can tell the level is as artificially enhanced as a Coca-Cola Championship WAG because if it were real the actors WOULD HAVE TO SHOUT ALL THEIR DIALOGUE LIKE SOME PRODUCERS SHOUT AT THEIR RUNNERS TO HAVE ANY HOPE OF HAVING IT HEARD).  If audience laughs are treated with taste and discretion  they enhance the overall experience enormously.  When done badly (as on The Old Guys and far too many other recent BBC shows) you end up with bursts of uproarious laughter over what the writer intended as mildly-amusing lines of exposition, sudden HUGE LEAPS in laughter volume, laughs that die off suspiciously quickly and, above all, a ruined televisual experience.

So there you go: you can write something brilliant, get a fantastic cast acting beautifully, be given a nice prime slot on BBC1 and lots of trails … and still see your work of art cocked-up by someone who thinks audiences at home are too thick to get a joke unprompted.

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