The studio audience is, as the name implies, the audience present in the studio during taping of a television show. In the 1950s and early '60s, almost every show (excluding news shows) in the USA, the UK and Canada was filmed on a sound stage with a studio audience, including dramas and anthology shows, but by the mid-1960s, the majority of dramas became single-camera and thus dropped the studio audience. From then until the 1990s, studio audiences were used for most multi-camera shows—including talk shows and sitcoms—in the US, the UK and Canada. The studio audience is often visible in such talk or variety shows as Saturday Night Live, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and such daytime talk shows as Dr. Phil and The Oprah Winfrey Show. The sitcom parody It's Garry Shandling's Show also incorporated the studio audience into many of its shots, and the latter-day hit Home Improvement had its sitcom studio audience double as the talk show studio audience for its show-within-a-show, Tool Time.
However, perhaps in an effort to cut production costs and speed production time, many multi-camera sitcoms filmed without a studio audience, beginning in the late 1970s and becoming very popular in the 1990s. Where once such sitcoms as Cheers and Family Ties proudly proclaimed at the beginning of each episode they had been "filmed before a live studio audience," 90s hits such as Seinfeld and Friends replaced the audience with a laugh track. As of 2007, few primetime multi-camera sitcoms—if any—tape before a studio audience. However, they continue to be used for most talk and many variety shows, as well as some game shows.
Those shows which use a studio audience today frequently encourage the audience to participate in the show. Talk show hosts such as Jay Leno, David Letterman and Conan O'Brien interact with audience members, while many game shows draw their contestants from the audience. (The most famous early example of this was The Price Is Right, in which audience members who were chosen as contestants would learn of their good fortune through the catchphrase, "Come on down!") Perhaps because studio audiences are so important to these types of shows, it is in a show's best interests to fill its studio audience to capacity for each recording. As a result, tickets to become studio audience members are almost always free, no matter how popular the show, and shows will frequently advertise the address for tickets within the episode. In addition, tourists to such popular sites as Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles or Times Square in New York City will often run into paid ticket vendors offering tickets to various shows. Newer or less popular shows may even pay small stipends to people to fill studio audience seats for recordings.