TCA: Comedy Directors See Life Left in Multicam

Related: Complete Coverage of TCA Summer Press Tour

Beverly Hills, Calif. — An elite sextet of comedy directors tackled a range of subjects Wednesday during a TCA panel session hosted by the DGA. Among many observations: the multicamera format has been prematurely written off, and ad breaks have put too much of a squeeze on shows.

"I feel a lot of my job is to do the job of the studio audience," said Silicon Valley director and execuitve producer Alec Berg. "There's no thunderous applause after a take. The crew has been told not to laugh. So the director in that case is basically a proxy for the laughs from the audience." On multicam shows  he has worked on, including Seinfeld, there can be "an adrenaline rush" from audience feedback.

Tristram Shapeero said Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which had been headed to NBC before the network shuffled it off to Netflix, said the SVOD environment enabled him to "go back in and put the jokes back that were cut for time. That last little bit of breathing space was such a relief."

Traditional half-hours on broadcast, which have been steamed down to as few as 19 or 20 minutes by the need to stuff in more ads, "end up being a math problem -- how much time can you devote to all of the characters?"

Agreed Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll's Michael Blieden, "It's turning TV shows into radio plays. The visual elements are being removed so you can fit in all of the dialogue."

The panelists all shared stories from the trenches, from working with way-too-ambitious special-effects crews to fine-tuning ensemble chemistry to navigating the delicate relationship with showrunners, especially when working freelance.

Sometimes, though, it ends up being worth it.

Zetna Fuentes smiled at the memory of capturing a breakout performance when she directed the season finale of Jane the Virgin. After a clip of the episode played, she recalled that star Gina Rodriguez "was glowing. It was like she was actually pregnant. The way she moved, the physicality, was amazing. We knew we had to get her moving in every scene."