Are multi-camera sitcoms dead? Are single camera comedies here to stay? At today’s TCA panel “Directing Funny” sponsored by the DGA, directors from some of TV’s top comedies assessed the outlook for both styles, which have teetered back and forth in recent years.
Said Mark Cendrowski, who has directed such half hours as The Big Bang Theory and the recent The Odd Couple, “It’s cyclical. When you get a good funny show, people gather that success. I remember when Friends made it big, there were 12 pilots that year for multi-cam shows.”
Added Alec Berg who writes and directs on HBO’s Silicon Valley, “I remember when The Cosby Show was on the air in the early ’80s. People said ‘The sitcom is back. Four camera will go away, single cameras will emerge, then someone will do a four camera that will feel fresh. The same way everyone yelled with Unforgiven, ‘The western is back!'”
But if you gave this panel –which also included directors Peter Atencio (Key & Peele), Michael Blieden (Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll), Linda Mendoza (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Zetna Fuentes (Jane The Virgin) and Tristram Shapeero (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) — the choice between multi-cam and single, most would choose multi-cam given its live audience quotient. The immediate feedback is priceless, particularly when sizing up jokes.
Said Cendrowski, “There’s an instant gratification particularly in regards to whether jokes are working or not. There’s nothing better for me knowing that it worked and we can move on. I found that a lot of actors certainly appreciate that. You can’t find that on a single-cam set. Jim Parsons can get laughs from a studio audience simply by raising an eyebrow. It’s like coaching a basketball game, there’s an adrenaline flow like no other at the end of a shoot.”
“Funny is funny, and good entertainment is good entertainment. It doesn’t matter what package it comes in. I don’t think the multi-cam show is going away, it’s a different style and format,” said Atencio.
Berg, having shot in both, said that a multi-cam sensibility on Silicon Valley would change-up the dry tone set by the show’s humor. “We can’t play tonality on our show with multi-cam, but on the flip side, it’s awesome to be in front of an audience….they’re way ahead of us whenever they like something.”
Blieden also mentioned that the word single-cam is a misnomer. Over several days, single-cam shows typically employ two to three cameras. Not to mention most single-camera direction applies a proscenium when blocking shots. There’s an imaginary line behind which a scene’s action resides, quite similar to a multi-cam show.
Blieden said, “I’ve actually suggested to a producer, ‘What if we used one camera during this single cam shoot?’ The producer said, ‘What would we get out of that?’ I said, ‘We’d get less options!'”
Added Berg, “You would have to shoot twice as long.”