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TV Awards Season-Single Camera vs. Multi-Camera

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By Ray Richmond
It’s a fact that the overwhelming majority of thegreat situation comedies in television history, from I Love Lucy to TheDick Van Dyke Show to Cheers to Seinfeld, were shot using multiplecameras in front of a live studio audience. But just as certainly, it’sa production style that has rapidly disappeared, with CBS’s Two and aHalf Men representing one of the few remaining high-profile traditionalfour-camera comedies still going.
Moreover, there are nearly nomulticamera shows on the drawing board being prepped for pilot, and thegenre is primed for seeming extinction – at least until re-emerging asa trend. But for now, it has been shoved into near-obsolescence by thesingle-camera craze that has produced such popular network fare asNBC’s The Office, My Name is Earl and Scrubs, HBO’s Curb YourEnthusiasm and Entourage and Showtime’s Weeds.
Why the evolutionaway from multicamera to single? Because it elicits a far morecinematic look that’s widely seen as hipper and more artistic. Thetrend certainly hasn’t come about because one-camera production issimpler, emphasizes Stephen A. Jones, who has won four Emmys for hiscamera operation on sitcoms including The Golden Girls and Benson andcurrently works on the CW Network series The Game. He also currentlyserves as governor of the TV academy’s electronic production peer group.
“Mypresent show is one of the few multicamera ones out there,” Jones says,”and for our purposes it works. I actually prefer it because you get toplay scenes all the way through. In single-camera, you’re having toshoot it more like a movie, breaking everything down into parts ofscenes. You’re also having to shoot at least five days a week, if notsix. And I mean, just because something is more film-like doesn’t makeit funnier, necessarily. It’s the writing that really matters.”
So why the single-camera trend, then?
“Sothese things always seem to be moving in cycles,” he notes. “I’m notsure if multicamera will be coming back in big soon, though. (ABCEntertainment president) Steve McPherson came right out and saidrecently that ABC will be ordering only single-camera comedy for now.That’s a pretty significant statement in itself. But trends can shift.”

Written by Ray Richmond

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