How Fran Drescher’s Stalker Ordeal Forever Changed How Sitcoms Are Made

In 1993, Fran Drescher’s role as Francine Fine on the hit sitcom The Nanny propelled her to stardom, but as a result she attracted a rather serious stalker. He harassed her and her loved ones with calls and letters, he hung around the outside of her home, and he was spotted at the CBS compound. Naturally, Drescher became fearful of her life and took measures to protect herself, including hiring a security firm and screening all of the show’s employees. Rather than move the show to a sound stage and insert canned laughter, the network and Drescher came up with the idea of having extras be the studio audience. Anyone with a clean police record would be suitable, but they were also looking for people who had a boisterous laugh. Drescher put out a casting call and did a series of blind phone auditions, in which she simply said, “Ok, let me hear you laugh.” As a result, two new jobs were created: a laughter-wrangler, who finds people with a good laugh; and a professional laughers, who are hired to do nothing but laugh at the sitcom. Now, the practice is standard in Hollywood. The pay is meager — $75 a day — but can you think of anything better than sitting in a comfortable chair all day long and being amused?