TCA: 'Modern Family' Showrunner Compares Laugh Tracks to Coyotes Eating Cats

Steve Levitan
Steve Levitan
 Frank Miclelotta/PictureGroup

“There was a time when the laugh track was reassuring and helped people understand when to laugh, and I almost feel the opposite now," adds "Suburgatory's" Emily Kapneck.

You know the sound that's made as a coyote is eating a cat?

That’s the noise that comes to mind when Modern Family creator Steve Levitan hears a multi-camera laugh track.

“I just can’t take it any more,” says the producer of a staple of multi-cam shows, a genre that he's thrilled to have moved away from with his latest comedy. 

The outburst came Tuesday during a panel with ABC’s other single-camera showrunners, including Suburgatory’s Emily Kapneck, Happy EndingsDavid Caspe and Jonathan Groff and The Middle’s Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline. And to hear him and his cohorts tell it, audiences no longer need – and for that matter, want — the prerecorded laughs as their cue. 

“There was a time when the laugh track was reassuring and helped people understand when to laugh, and I almost feel the opposite now and it winds up feeling a little bit oppressive," says Kapneck, before adding: "I think people respond to that element of single cam now, the freedom to find the jokes that you respond to." 

Their comments are not designed to be disparaging of the considerably less sexy -- if considerably more successful -- genre, since even Levitan will admit that multi-cam fare isn't easy to do -- and, for that matter, quite hard to do well. And when you're able to accomplish the latter, he notes, the laugh track often disappears. 

Still, for each of these producers, the freedom that the single camera format allows is tremendous, they say. And it goes beyond the canned laughs, to be sure. 

For the executive producers of The Middle, being able to move the cameras outside of a studio allows the midwest to be a character in their show. Plus, viewers have already seen so many family comedies in the multi camera form, where the setting is little more than a backdrop with a couch. says Heisler, "It would have turned into a more familiar --and not in a good way-- show if we had gone mutli-cam."

Kapneck, too, is thrilled to be able to take her show into the streets and have suburbia play a bigger part. "We wanted it to have a cinematic quality," she adds, "and to be able to move the camera and explore the environment in a way that's very visual."

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