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Andre: How come none of us ever sit on that side of the table?

Characters sit in an awkward semi-circle around a table so as to avoid anyone sitting with their backs to the camera/audience.

This is a holdover from the days of theatre, when the audience's perspective was obviously fixed, and thus any actors sitting on that fourth side of the table would have violated two major rules of the stage: never show your back to the audience, and never block the audience's view. It was considered a classic Acceptable Break From Reality.

Nowadays the practice is less often forgiven as the three camera setup becomes less common, and directors have more options for camera placement.

Often achieved in a non-intrusive way by use of The Couch. The camera is presumed to be filming from the location of the television, since no modern family would arrange a room with seats facing away from the television. As a result, the Social Semi-Circle is more intrusive when used in other settings: one wonders how Sam kept Cheers afloat so long with one entire side of the bar unused.

One way to avoid this is via a Round Table Shot; but that tends to be used sparingly so it doesn't get annoying.

See Also Standardized Sitcom Housing.

Examples of Social Semi-Circle include:


Art

  • Jesus and his apostles sit on one side of a long table in Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. Spoofed in Mel Brooks' History of the World Part One, when Leonardo interrupts the supper to paint their portrait:

 Leonardo da Vinci: "OK! Everybody want to be in the picture? Get up and get to the other side of the table! Come on!"

Film

  • Used in The Breakfast Club, during the scene where the teenagers are sitting on the floor and opening up to each other.

Live Action TV

  • Often used in Friends either at Monica's apartment or at the coffeehouse.
  • On The Golden Girls, when all four women are at the kitchen table, Sophia pulls up a stool next to Dorothy rather than sitting on the camera side. There isn't even a chair on the camera's side. (We're probably meant to assume that the table - and the oven, which is stage left but lined up with said table - are up against the Fourth Wall).
  • The Big Bang Theory uses this, with a couch and 2 chairs in an approximate L-shape. Justified by the television in the apartment, as it makes sense that everyone should be able to see the TV from their seat.
  • Are You Being Served featured this in lunchroom scenes, where all the main characters sat crammed together on one side of a long table.
  • Justified on How I Met Your Mother, as they usually sit at a booth at a bar with a chair on the side opposite the audience just because that would be the most convenient place to put a chair.
  • The ladies of The View form a Social Semi-Circle around a lovely half of a table.
  • Everybody Loves Raymond uses this at the kitchen table.
  • Reba
  • That 70s Show does this any time a group sits down at the Foreman's kitchen table.
  • Done in When the Whistle Blows, the sitcom in Extras.
  • Possibly a related example, Soap Operas. Pay attention some time, and you'll notice that someone will turn their back to someone and keep conversing with them (so they're both facing the camera.) Often they use it during tense dialogue, to make it seem like "I'm too ashamed to look at you," but turn around and talk to someone, it looks and feels weird.
    • Home and Away will often feature something like Miles washing dishes while Alf and Romeo sit on the couch, or Irene popping her head in as Leah cooks up a storm (both of which are normal for the house and diner respectively), but it's somewhat noticeable when, say, the cast sits down at the dining table. It's usually played a bit more realistically at the diner and surf club/Angelo's
  • All in The Family Archie, Edith, Mike and Gloria sat around the two thirds of their dining table facing the camera, leaving the third facing the audience free.

Professional Wrestling

  • The Nexus does this everytime they talk to each other. Sometimes they justify it by having them watch the action in the ring on a monitor, but not always. It creates the weird effect of someone speaking to the person directly behind them.

Theatre

  • Practically every time a dinner table turns up in a play, because the position of the audience in a theatre is fixed.
  • Proscenium staging essentially requires this for nearly any scene with three or more characters who have dialogue and aren't constantly moving. On the other hand, it flat out can't work in thrust or in-the-round staging.

Webcomics

  • The roleplaying gamers in Knights of the Dinner Table only use half of the titular furniture, since the head and foot of the table generally mark the borders of a panel.
  • Dork Tower does this on occasion, usually when the game involves miniatures. The trope was intentionally invoked in issue #17 of the comic in a parody/ShoutOut to Knights of the Dinner Table; the odd arrangement is justified because the table on the reader's side is unpleasantly sticky from a spilled soda.
  • Full Frontal Nerdity does this as well.
  • A Yamara strip featured the title character (a halfling in a D&D gameworld) having a dream in which she sees the gaming groups from KoDT, Dork Tower and Commissioned and wonders why they're all on one side of the table. The answer: "Because the other side ... is for people like you."
  • Ten characters in one frame (five of them the eponymous Living Toys), all on one side of a table in this Fuzzy Five strip.
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