Charley Douglass’s famous invention was properly tested in 1965 when producers were trying to launch Hogan's Heroes. CBS screened two versions of the same episode to measure audience reactions; one contained the laugh track, the other was silent. As Hogan's Heroes required cerebral viewing, the audience watching the silent version were left confused, and the episode failed miserably. The version with the canned laughter succeeded and CBS gave the show a green light. After this incident, no sitcom went on the air without a touch-up from Charley Douglass’s laff box.
Wait. "As Hogan's Heroes required cerebral viewing..."? Say what?
How remarkable that this incident should be the "proper test" that has cursed nearly every comedy since with a canned audience. I'll certainly accept that the premise of Hogan's Heroes was such that, without the laughter, the audience might not understand the show was intended as a light comedy, which knowledge would certainly affect the reception the show received. But it doesn't seem a fair test of the need for "laffs".
Douglass captured many of his recorded "laffs" from the live audience of the Red Skelton Show during Red's weekly pantomime skit. How odd that a feature called the "Silent Spot" should contribute to the lack of silence on television for the following forty-five (and counting) years.