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A studio audience is an audience present for the recording of all or part of a television program or radio program. The primary purpose of the studio audience is to provide applause and/or laughter to the program's soundtrack (as opposed to canned laughter). Additionally, live studio audiences produce an energy off of which the actors can feed, as well as push actors to perform to the best of their abilities. Unlike relying on the ideal chuckles that a laugh track consistently provides, actors have to work for the laughs. A studio audience can also provide volunteers, a visual backdrop and discussion participants. On some game shows, contestants are taken from the studio audience, such as with The Price Is Right.
In the United States, tickets to be a part of a studio audience are usually given away. However, as an enticement to attend, one or more members of the audience may be selected to win a prize, which is usually provided by a manufacturer in exchange for an advertisement, usually at the end of the show.
For comedy television shows like All in the Family, Saturday Night Live and Happy Days (for indoor scenes), the use of a live studio audiences essentially turns them into de facto stage productions while shooting individual scenes, with minor problems like the audience applauding or uproariously whooping (the latter since becoming a satirical cliché in shows which mock the format and tropes of traditional sitcoms) when their favorite performers enter the stage. Shows like The Red Green Show, meanwhile, actually make the audience a part of the show, since that show is supposedly a television broadcast made from the (fictional) Possum Lodge, cast members react and speak directly to the audience as if they were talking to the viewers at home.
Most early radio shows were recorded in the presence of a studio audience, including comedies such as The Jack Benny Program, The Phil Harris-Alice Faye Show, and Fibber McGee and Molly, as well as anthology series like The Mercury Theatre and Lux Radio Theatre.
In its earliest days, most television broadcasts stemmed from the world of New York theater. Stage veterans were experienced in performing for a crowd. Starting in the 1940s, these plays were broadcast live. Thus, these plays were now directed towards both the live audience and those watching from home.
Premiering in 1951, I Love Lucy was the first television series to be filmed in front of an audience. This was made possible by the use of multiple cameras. This implementation allowed the show to benefit from the strengths of both stage plays (live audience) and film (camera angle options, point of view, etc.). This approach produced a marriage between cinema and theater; television and plays. Shows that subsequently adopted this concept include All in the Family, Cheers, The Jeffersons, Seinfeld, Friends and Full House.
Although radio broadcasts for a studio audience have for the most part ended for commercial radio programs (outside of special "road show" episodes), public radio shows such as A Prairie Home Companion, Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!, Says You!, Tent Show Radio and Whad'Ya Know? are mainly performed in front of live audiences in theaters or art centers, if not a confined studio setting.
- VanDerWerff, Todd. "Do Sitcoms Taped Before a Studio Audience Have a Future?". A.V. Club.