Multi-camera sitcoms and no Emmy love for ‘Bates Motel’

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Actress Allison Janney is the only performer in a classic multi-cam TV sitcom nominated in any Emmy category this year.

Question: What is the difference between a single camera sitcom and a multi-cam sitcom? Are there differences in tone, content, etc. And why do critics seem to make note of it so often? —Unsigned

Matt Roush: For me, good comedy is good comedy, whether it’s filmed in front of a studio audience in the traditional multi-camera format—which is often derided for its “laugh track” (a term producers hate, I can tell you with authority)—or filmed like a movie, in the single- camera method. The difference is largely one of tone, and perhaps preference, although in content, multi-cam comedies tend to deliver harder jokes to elicit the studio laughter (enhanced, to be sure, in most cases, but the idea is that they’re producing a short comic play each week). Single-camera filmed comedies are trendier, and seen by some (though not all) as generally more sophisticated.

And while multi-cam sitcoms can draw huge audiences—The Big Bang Theory, before that Everybody Loves Raymond, and in one of its more recent heydays, Friends and Cheers and Frasier and Seinfeld and so on—the Emmy trend favors single-camera shows. Not a single multi-cam sitcom is nominated for best comedy this year, and Mom’s Allison Janney is the only performer in a classic multi-cam sitcom nominated in any category.

Question: I cannot for the life of me understand how the Emmy voters could continually ignore the super job Freddie Highmore and Vera Farmiga did on Bates Motel. Not even nominated??? —JVO

Matt Roush: To be fair, when five of the seven Best Drama nominees are new, and nearly half the Best Actor candidates and five of the seven Supporting Actress candidates (Vera Farmiga’s category) are first-timers, the argument of the Emmys nominating the same shows and stars every year doesn’t hold up this year for a change. The issue is that the newly favored shows may not be your favorites, and Bates Motel always suffered because of its unsavory genre and because it aired on a network (A&E) with such a low profile in the scripted arena. If more voters had seen Freddie Highmore’s exceptional work, I’d like to think he’d have had a better chance, but the category has no real slackers in it. The good news is that Highmore is equally effective as the autistic genius surgeon in ABC’s The Good Doctor, and maybe that will boost his profile. But until this year, with two This Is Us actors in the running from NBC, there hasn’t been a best-actor nomination from a network drama (not counting Downton Abbey) since Friday Night Lights winner Kyle Chandler and House’s Hugh Laurie in 2011. So even that will be an uphill fight for recognition.

To submit questions to TV Critic Matt Roush go to tvinsider.com.

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