What Is The “Multicamera Comedy” And Why Is It Dying?

“The Odd Couple,” shot on multicam

With the recent cancellations of 2 Broke Girls, Dr. Ken, and Last Man Standing (and perhaps The Odd Couple as well if we take Matthew Perry’s word for itwe just might be seeing the death of the multicamera comedy in favor what is increasingly becoming the industry standard: the single-camera comedy.

But what exactly is a multicamera comedy? It sounds like it has more cameras than merely a single-camera comedy, so isn’t it better? I’m a big TV sitcom nerd, so you’re going to hear me briefly pontificate on this topic. Get ready.

If you’re my age or slightly younger, you probably grew up with multicamera comedies. The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Friends, Cheers, Seinfeld, etc. They usually are shot on stages with several cameras running at the same time to capture different angles. With this method, a scene can often be captured within just a single take, and thus money is saved.

“Friends,” shot on multicam

Multicamera comedies are often what one thinks about when bringing to mind the standard image of what a “typical” comedy looks like.

Single-camera comedies, on the other hand, are shot more like movies, with a single camera capturing a specific shot (possibly needing more than one take). Whereas the multicamera comedy seems to take place on one “plane” (a particular stage or set; though there might be several different sets created for the series), there seems to be more “depth” to the single-camera experience.

Notable modern single-camera comedies include Malcolm In The Middle, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Modern Family, and Parks And Recreation. Though a number of “fantasy-based” comedies from the 1960s also went single-cam, including The Addams Family, I Dream Of Jeannie, Gilligan’s Island, and Bewitched; it was just easier to factor in the special effects and occasional action sequences that way.

“Malcolm In The Middle,” shot single-camera

What has happened now, I believe, is that the multicamera comedy is “seen” as retro, unsophisticated, and somewhat archaic; a throwback to a time of laugh-tracks and hackneyed, cliche sitcom plots. This is not to say that all of the sitcoms shot in this method are unsophisticated or cliche—but I’m wondering if that isn’t the general perception.

Case in point, Netflix’s recent One Day At A Time reboot. I binge-watched this all when it came out, and thought it was a smart, progressive comedy, But it was multicam. Rightly or wrongly, my very first initial perception was that it looked “dated.”

As of now, ABC might enter the 2017-2018 season without a multicamera sitcom for the first time in many years. Is this the end of this venerable television comedy institution? Or will some creative wizard come up with a way to make multicam “cool” again?