From the Live Audience to the Laugh Track: Examining 80s Sitcom Filming Styles

If you were around in the 80s, you might remember some of the most popular sitcoms of the era, from The Cosby Show to Cheers to Family Ties. But have you ever stopped to think about how these sitcoms were filmed? Believe it or not, there were a variety of techniques used, from shooting with a live audience to using a laugh track. Let’s take a closer look at the different 80s sitcom filming styles and how they impacted the viewing experience.

Live Audience

One of the most traditional ways to film a sitcom was with a live audience. This means that the actors would perform in front of a real audience, and reactions like laughter and applause were captured on camera. Shows like The Cosby Show and Cheers used this technique, which added to the authenticity and energy of the performances. The audience could also influence the delivery of jokes and the timing of the actors, leading to a more dynamic and entertaining experience.

However, filming with a live audience wasn’t always easy. Shows had to be performed in real-time, and mistakes were more difficult to edit or correct. Some scenes had to be re-filmed if the audience didn’t respond the way the producers wanted. And of course, there was the possibility of the audience not responding at all. A joke that killed during rehearsals might not get a single chuckle from a live audience.

Laugh Track

Another way to capture audience reactions was to use a laugh track. This involved adding pre-recorded laughter and applause to the soundtrack during post-production. The idea was that this would cue the viewers at home to laugh along with the joke, even if they weren’t actually finding it funny.

The use of a laugh track allowed for more control over the timing and pacing of a show, and it made filming less reliant on a live audience. Sitcoms like Full House and Growing Pains often used laugh tracks, which gave them a more polished and consistent feel. It also allowed for more complex scenes to be filmed, as the actors didn’t have to worry about timing their delivery with an audience reaction.

However, the use of a laugh track also had some downsides. Many people found it to be distracting or irritating, and it could take away from the authenticity of the performances. It also meant that the audience at home knew exactly when they were supposed to laugh, which could make jokes feel forced or contrived.

Single Camera

While filming with a live audience or a laugh track were the most common methods used in 80s sitcoms, not all shows followed this formula. Some shows, like The Wonder Years and Growing Pains, used a single-camera format instead. This involved filming scenes like a movie, with multiple takes and camera angles to capture the action.

The use of a single-camera format allowed for more creative storytelling and visual experimentation. It also allowed for more natural and nuanced performances from actors, as they weren’t playing to an audience or worrying about timing their delivery to a laugh track. Shows like The Wonder Years were able to incorporate music and voice-over narration in unique ways, making them stand out from other sitcoms of the era.

However, filming with a single camera was also more time-consuming and expensive. It required more takes and more time in post-production, which made it less feasible for every sitcom to follow this format. Some viewers also found the lack of a laugh track or live audience to be disorienting or off-putting.


While 80s sitcoms are often remembered for their catchy theme songs and heartwarming family moments, the way these shows were filmed also played a big role in their success. From filming with a live audience to using a laugh track to experimenting with a single-camera format, producers found different ways to capture audience reactions and deliver entertaining performances.

Each of these techniques had its advantages and disadvantages, and ultimately it was up to the producers to decide which method would work best for their particular show. Whether you loved the energy of a live audience or preferred the consistency of a laugh track, 80s sitcoms had something for everyone.