You have questions. I try to have answers.
Q: Is it true this is the last year for “Castle?” We have really enjoyed the series and hoped it would continue.
A: When I asked an ABC rep about the show’s status, he simply said that we will know if it’s getting another season when this and other networks announce their schedules in May. The show is quite popular. One recent telecast had a reported 11 million viewers, a pretty good number these days, and one that makes Castle ABC’s most-watched drama. With viewers 18 to 49 years old, the audience prized by advertisers, ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal have done better than Castle, but it still has a decent young-adult number.
Which doesn’t mean everything is rosy on the show. Deadline.com reported in July that Nathan Fillion — who plays the Castle in Castle — was at odds with the show’s studio because he wants a shorter workweek.
Q: Will “Southland” be back on TNT? It is one of my favorite police dramas.
A: It is also one that has ended after five seasons, the first on NBC and the next four on TNT. (If you don’t believe me, note that the last DVD set proclaims it “the complete fifth and final season.”
Q: Watching Sean Hayes’ new show, I am shocked that there is a laugh track. No Emmy-winning comedy has a laugh track any more. It indicates the producers have no faith in the actors or writers or that I’m not bright enough to know what’s funny. Not only is it irritating, it throws off what could be great timing — critical to a comedy. Hasn’t Hayes proved he is a master of comedic timing?
A: Hayes’s show, Sean Saves the World, is done before a studio audience, which is where its laughter comes from. Yes, best-comedy Emmy winner Modern Family does not include laughter. But the most popular comedy on television, The Big Bang Theory, includes audience laughter and won three recent Emmys — Jim Parsons as lead actor, Bob Newhart as guest actor and “outstanding technical direction, camera work, video control for a series.” I am not sure what that means, but it took six people to do it.
The debate about laughter with TV shows — especially so-called “canned laughter,” generated by a machine instead of an actual audience — is an ancient one in television. The first TV comedy to use prerecorded yuks is believed to be The Hank McCune Show in 1950. The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable Television Shows includes part of a review in Variety calling those recorded laughs “an innovation. … Whether this induces a jovial mood in home viewers is still to be determined.”
As we have seen in the 63 years since, some producers think audience laughter adds to viewers’ enjoyment and will even enhance a studio audience’s reaction to suggest still more hilarity. But some other producers stay away from it. The folks making M*A*S*H, for example, resented the laugh track imposed on their show. DVD sets accordingly gave viewers the option of watching with prerecorded laughs or without.
Q: Did PBS cancel “Call the Midwife”? If not, can you tell me when it is scheduled to resume?
A: The PBS period drama will be back for its third season in spring 2014. In addition, there’s a Call the Midwife holiday special set for telecast on Dec. 29. (You may want to double-check in your local listings.) PBS says of the special: “In 1958 East End London, the holidays are not just about the opening of presents, but also about the closing of deep wounds. Although the weather is unseasonably mild … the lives of the midwives are anything but calm.”
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Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter.