Sitcoms often use live audiences to gauge whether viewing audiences will relate to the humour, and a popular sitcom of the yesteryears, Friends, used this very mechanism.
One of the conventions of sitcoms before the establishment of the “new normal” was the use of a live studio audience.
The primary intention of having a live studio audience was to gauge whether the jokes hit home, which would in turn affirm that the viewers at home would most likely also recognise the humour.
A popular series of the 1990s into the early 2000s to have used a live audience is the hit sitcom, Friends. The series which ran for 10 years from 1994 until 2004, used a live audience for most of the episodes it shot.
The only episodes that were shot without a live audience were the season finale episodes.
How has the use of live studio audiences changed in recent years?
Before the global pandemic, recent sitcoms straddled between the use of a live studio audience and using laughing tracks to highlight the comedy of the moment.
However, since the pandemic, there are less and less sitcoms utilising live studio audiences. This can be blamed on the fact that the logistics of ensuring that all the people in the live studio audience are COVID-19 negative are far too complex.
Did Friends have a live audience?
For most of its episode shooting, Friends did use a live studio audience. Reportedly, the sitcom used a live studio audience of 300 people. They would allegedly sit through the estimated six hours that it would take to shoot a single episode.
This is as the series would shoot multiple takes for each scene, and then there would be a 20-minute intermission as the crew changed the set ahead of shooting other scenes of the episode.
While the live studio audience was predominantly used throughout the shooting of many of the episodes of each season, there were episodes that were shot without a live studio audience, suggesting that the audience were not sworn to secrecy or made to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
For these episodes, the show would use recorded sound bites of previous live studio audiences’ laughter in order to showcase the comedy of the scene or the episode.
Which episodes of Friends did not have a live studio audience?
Though Friends did predominantly use a live studio audience, there was the exception of the season finale episodes, which for the most part were shot without a live studio audience.
The intention of not using a live studio audience during the shooting of most of the season finales was in order to not give the ending away.
For these episodes, the production used previously recorded laughter from other episodes that were shot with a live studio audience.
How can you tell if the laughter on Friends is real?
Usually, an easy way to tell whether the laughter in a sitcom is real or not, is through the similarity of the laughter in the comedic scenes of the show.
Hence with a show like Friends, we know the laughter is from a live studio audience due to the difference in the laughter in every scene.
Some scenes would draw continually and rousing laughter, while other scenes did not. However, if there was no live audience the laughter would come out the same for every humorous scene of each episode.
What was it like to be a live studio audience on Friends?
Each series treats its live studio audience differently. The one common tradition for any show with a live studio audience is the curtain call at the end of shooting, where the actors come out to bid farewell to the audience, but the rest is dependent on the series.
For Friends, it is reported that the audience of 300 would all receive a gift for being part of the audience.
Moreover, the audience members would also receive refreshments in the form of food and beverages if production was running behind and shooting would go on later than scheduled.
For decades, live studio audiences were an integral part of shooting a comedy series.
This is as the live studio audience would represent the large television audience, helping the creators and writers of the show to gauge whether the comedy will hit home with fans.
Friends is one sitcom that utilised the use of a live studio audience for shooting most of its episodes throughout its 10-year run.
The live studio audience of 300 would sit through the six hours of production for each episode, except for the series finale or cliffhangers of the series.