The Old Guys, a Formulaic Sit-com

You know how sit-coms always have really forced sounding laughter over the soundtrack? That really is from an audience watching it being acted live and being forced to laugh on pain of being shouted at by a Glaswegian woman.

I went to see The Old Guys being recorded. I was very impressed by the BBC’s new studios in Glasgow, large room, lots of large high-definition digital video cameras. 100 rails on the ceiling to move lights, cameras and sound booms up and down. Must have cost a fortune to build (£118 million says the internet). The set is about 40 metres long and features ground floor inside of a house and a deli. The audience must have been about 200 people. The loud Glaswegian woman who gets sent on to do the warm up act is mostly annoying and unamusing but we laugh because that’s our role in the process. Next come on the crew, camera people, sound people, director and the bloke whose job is to carry cable reels around the place. Then the three actors come out and take a bow. They shoot some scenes and when we don’t laugh hard enough they have to re-take them. Every second scene is pre-recorded outside the studio and shown to us on large TV screens, when we don’t laugh hard enough they’re shown twice.

Most pleased to see Stoats porridge bars being used as a prop in one of the outside scenes. Some extras are used in the scenes in the cafe set, Ken Latham of Quaker Summer School organising is one of them, he joined an amateur dramatics society a while ago and I presume this is a way for them to earn some money for the society. They chat away silently while the actors say their lines and we try to laugh.

I can see why these programmes get made, they provide regular employment to the crew and make use of the shiny new recording studio, but the constraints are obvious. It need to have every other scene recorded in the set otherwise its not worth the time to bring in the cast, crew and audience which explains why so many sit-coms are based around a house and a pub/cafe. It’s limited to which actors you have on the day in the set, the outdoor scenes can have more actors but they can’t suddenly appear in the house or pub/cafe because they’re not at the studio recording. The script is dire and nothing about it is creatively original, I can’t help feeling it would be much improved by not having the restrictions of being recorded in a studio and having a laughter track. Probably why I don’t own a TV.


Ken Latham with Trigger. I knew him before he was famous.


Stoats Porridge Bars, free publicity when you send your product to BBC producers.

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