I don't watch a lot of television, and thanks to TiVo, I don't watch anything that I don't really enjoy. This year, a couple of my favorites from last year are gone -- HBO's Six Feet Under and (especially) Showtime's Dead Like Me. (What happened to DLM? I never heard anything about it being killed, it just didn't show up this season.)
The good news is that the networks seem to be stepping up, at least NBC, with a couple of great new shows.
Tonight, as Deanna and I capped off a great hour of comedy with My Name is Earl and The Office, we started talking about what it is that we really like about the shows and Deanna suggested that one factor was that neither one uses a laugh track. I think that's a big piece of it. The comedies don't insult the viewer by telling him when to laugh. They don't follow that traditional sitcom strategy of the setup and punchline. As we started to talk about it, other deviations from the traditional comedy started to come out: the traditional sitcom three walled set with multiple cameras has been replaced by a single camera and movement around real-world settings. Not every scene has to end in a laugh (and The Office in particular wraps a lot of scenes with something quite far from a laugh -- a very uncomfortable silence.)
Now I find it completely intollerable watching a sitcom with canned laughter or a studio audience clapping and laughing on cue and I'm going to actively seek out shows that forgoe the laughtrack and the three-walled set.
(note: yes, I loved the original Ricky Gervais The Office. Oh, and thank you, NBC, for putting your money behind these two entertaining comedies.)