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Lose the Laugh Track, Cheap Seats

I used to love the ESPN Classic show Cheap Seats because it felt like l'esprit du divan, the living-room heckler's way adding a little humor to a sports spectacle. Given that the broadcasts of most sporting events are impregnated with a gravitas that is wholly inappropriate for what's actually on screen, something like Cheap Seats was necessary. It validates the sane person's contention that some contests are too stupid to be regarded without commentary. And like the best l'esprit du divan, it counted on the audience to get the joke.

Note how I'm writing this all in the past tense: some genius attached to the show has imposed a live audience and a laugh track on what was once a clubby little set-up: Randy and Jason, a couch and a lot of terrible "sports" footage worthy of The Ocho. The previous show: a half-hour concoction guaranteed to make viewers feel as though they were in on the Sklar brothers' jokes. The current show: bedizened with cues telling us to laugh, drones, laugh when some anonymous crowd tells us to. With just two cheap gimmicks, the show has sent its viewers two messages: we don't trust you to know what's funny, and we don't like it when you decide what you think about sports spectacles.

I'm still watching Cheap Seats, because I still have hope that someone associated with that show will tell the laugh-track advocates to shove their braying interlopers where the sun doesn't shine. But I'm not terribly hopeful about an organization that's so insecure about the quality of their product -- sports broadcasting -- that they have to neuter even the joking reactions to it.


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