I always wondered this, and my only guess is that videotaped sitcoms took place in almost always one setting. Filmed sitcoms were in more than one. As a matter of fact, I saw more than one videotaped comedy where a scene took place outside and that scene, for some strange reason, WAS FILMED.
I imagine there is some sort of budget answer to this, but as you know, no sitcoms are viodeotaped today!
FAMOUS VIDEOTAPED COMEDIES
All in the Family
Sanford and Son
One Day at a Time
Whos the Boss?
FAMOUS FILMED COMEDIES
Mork and Mindy
Laverne and Shirley
Videotape is cheaper, but works best when you can fine-tune your studio lights, so you’ll see it in “never go outside” sitcoms. If a show has at least one outdoor segment per episode, the crew is more likely to use film, which looks better in natural light. Trying to use both systems on one production is unecessarily expensive, complicated, and jarring for the audience.
In your list of “filmed” comedies, most (except MASH*) were “indoor with occasional field trips”. The “videotaped” shows never left their established sets, except for “special” episodes involving trips to Europe or whatnot (though Sanford and Son was set in an outdoor junkyard it was obviously on a large indoor set). How many times did you see Archie Bunker sitting in his backyard? Or Maude raking leaves? Or McKenzie Phillips driving along the strip trying to score some coke? Happy Days had the rare outdoor shot, mostly involving Fonzie’s motorcycle, a demolition derby or, dare I say it, shark-jumping.
However, professional digital video cameras are fast approaching film quality while falling in price, and since they facilitate editing, I’m sure we’ll see them in general use for indoor or outdoor TV productions.
That still does not answer the question of why some studio-bound sitcoms have been shot on videotape, and other studio-bound sitcoms on film. I can think of at least one, Newhart, which began as a taped series, but switched to film after a few episodes.
One explanation I read from a television producer is that film is “kinder” on actors’ faces; and thus the decision may hinge on a star’s vanity. Another explanation is that some producers seem to be biased toward one medium over another. For example, Norman Lear (All in the Family, Maude etc.) almost always used tape for his series, while Gary Marshall (The Odd Couple, Happy Days, etc.) almost always used film.
You’re right, Mr. Blue Sky, there weren’t any sitcoms that were shot on videotape before All in the Family debuted in 1971. That is odd; videotape had been in use since 1956. Virtually all television variety shows of the 1960s were made on videotape (Red Skelton, Jackie Gleason, Andy Williams, etc.).
One answer may be that sitcoms of the 1960s were singularly bereft of live audiences. Other than 1950s holdover Jack Benny, I can think of only one 1960s sitcom that was filmed before a live audience, He & She (1967-1970), starring Richard Benjamin and Paula Prentiss (and shot on film). Lacking an audience, 1960s sitcoms were able to film outdoors and on location (e.g., The Andy Griffith Show, The Flying Nun). In the 1960s outdoor and location shooting would have been difficult to do on videotape.
I should add that 1960s sitcoms were moving away from their dialogue-based, studio-bound radio show origins, and becoming more filmlike and gimmick-based. By gimmick-based, I mean things like – castaways on an island, a family of monsters, a nun who can fly, an astronaut with a genie, a housewife who’s a witch, and so forth.
Some of the noticeable differences you can see with film and video inlcude: Film still seems to allow for better colour reproduction for really saturated colours. It can capture more subtleties of hue and shadow. Video tends to be more “crisp” and is higher in detail (IIRC because of better resolution).
The best example I can think of is to look at music videos of the 80s that were shot with cheap video cameras. Or compare an episode of Taxi to the local newscast (usually video).
I could just be that film helps to “separate” the actors from the set, whereas video is so crisp that sometimes it looks flat and two dimentional. Theatrical lighting uses back lighting to enhance the 3-D effect of the live stage. (Think of how flat eveyone looks when you take a picture with a flash bulb from straight on – like a passport photo.) Video is so accurate and crisp, that even when you painstakingly sculpt actors with light, they still look kind of flat, especially if they move around under your perfectly placed light. (Unless you make the background comparativley quite dark, as they do in soap operas).
“Flatness” looks duller to the eye. It’s okay for the news, where they sit there as talking heads, but it can make actors moving on a stage appear to be “less dynamic.”
Again, think of the image quality when you see a “roving reporter” videotaped on the street, and an outdoor scene from Dukes of Hazard.
I’d also be curious about the degeneration of film vs. video. MuchMusic once showed an old Madonna video and prefaced it with “this is what happens when you don’t make back ups regularly.” It seems that as a magnetic medium, the video tape was starting to deteriorate in storage. Pehaps it deteriorates more rapidly than film and is a touch more difficult to reproduce (in the same way of you make copies of an audio tape, you get more hiss and static with each copy.)
Film has an excellent lifespan if it’s stored correctly and dupes can be almost as good as the original.
If I had a hit sitcom, I’d probably want my master copies to be on film.
I assume that soap operas are all video taped? Is this in fact that case? I’d like to compare the look of Y&R to Cheers reruns.
**I Love Lucy ** was filmed. When Lucy and Dezi were producing their show, and ( I believe) low on money ( as everyone in the biz said it would flop…a story about a ditzy housewife & her band leader husband what were they thinking?) they bought some cameras to record the show ( I can’t remember exactly why) and when the show was a massive hit, they had everything in the proverbial can.
They were one of the first shows to film their programs. And why I Love Lucy is a) syndicated *around the world still after nearly fifty years * and b)of excellent quality after all these years.
Norman Lear bragged c1980 about how his shows would still look great years from now (then) while the filmed shows would look terrible. He was somewhat wrong. Film does deteriorate though. The old MASH films were recently gone thru and painfully color corrected to produce new masters, which in turn were made into videos.
Given the importance of syndication, even by the '70s, I am surprised by how much was still done on videotape. Not everybody uses NTSC and converting to PAL, etc. loses some quality.
Other big reasons I Love Lucy was going to be a flop: