Reality TV’s annoying laugh track needs to die (cymbal crash!)

Reality TV has been with us on prime-time network television for more than 10 years now. Back then, TV was awash with generic sit-coms that copied each other and became increasing lazy in the way they told stories. Sound familiar?

Unscripted TV doesn’t have a laugh track like sit-coms, thankfully, but it does have its own version, which is getting just as annoying: sound effects and orchestration that tells us when we’re supposed to react, as if we’re not capable of doing this ourselves. If you’ve ever seen The Amazing Race, you’ve seen this in action. The high-energy score is full of cymbal crashes and other noises that are supposed to draw our attention to something that we’ve probably already noticed.

This isn’t bad by itself, and can sometimes be entertaining. But it’s way overused, on TAR and elsewhere–from Bravo to Food Network. Becoming increasingly aware and annoyed by this prompted me to write about reality TV’s laugh track for RealScreen, including this example:

“Food Network’s Chopped … is a great competition series, but for some reason, we hear this “laugh track” non-stop during the judging. A judge compliments a competitor’s food and we’ll see another competitor’s face and hear a cymbal clang, so we’re aware that something good about their competitor means bad news for them.

If every part of the machine — from casting to production to editing — is working well, viewers will draw their own conclusions and reactions from a show. They don’t need to be explicitly told when to feel something. They should just feel it.”

Reality TV doesn’t need a laugh track, just as it doesn’t need to be faked to be engaging or interesting. Let’s hope this trend dies soon.

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.