"So we made a conscious effort at the very beginning to find a way to substitute for that sort of easy energy that laughter provides. We ended up doing an awful lot of quick cutting. We did a lot of music stings, a lot of sound effects and things that added energy to it.
"For the kind of humor we do on Malcolm, it has to be a single-camera show, because of the storytelling style," Boomer said. "But I don't think you could say that a single-camera show is automatically better. I don't think we're better than Mary Tyler Moore, which had an audience and a laugh track. I don't think we're better than Taxi, which had an audience and a laugh track. I don't think we're better than Raymond, which has an audience and a laugh track.
"If you throw up all the great comedies, there are very few that don't have a laugh track."
And that's a problem for Karal Ann Marling, professor of American studies and art history at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
"Most critics think that the laugh track is the worst thing that ever happened to the medium," Marling said. "Because it treats the audience as though they were sheep who need to be told when something is funny - even if, in fact, it's not very funny.
"It's probably changed comedy, particularly situation comedy. I mean, anything can be passed off as hilariously funny, at least for the first two or three go-rounds, if you've got people laughing like maniacs in the background.
"It's as though during a drama show, suddenly a voice in the background goes, `Ooohh, this is scary!' or `Oh, he looks guilty!' It seems like the next logical step if you're going to have laugh tracks."
For proof of the intelligent power of a non-laugh-track show, look no further than The Simpsons, Marling said.
"It's wonderfully written. They work for their laughs. And audiences sit there and wet their pants. That's a great example of why not to have a laugh track. Let me be the laugh track."
Marling is mostly concerned about canned laughter as a symptom of a larger social willingness to accept things uncritically. That would include political messages as well as commercial messages.
"It's a kind of decline in American feistiness and an ability to think for yourself," she said. "It certainly is embedded, but that doesn't make it a good thing. There are a lot of things that we do every day of the week that aren't good things. And this is one of them."
But that just doesn't track with laugh-track guru Douglass.
"We've been around a long time, and it fills a need in the industry," he said. "We don't expect to be the main ingredient in a show. It's just part of the puzzle that puts together the shows that make for great television."
What Charlie Douglass began 50 years ago - offering the sound of laughter to encourage laughter - won't go away, his son said. But the technology will evolve.
Potentially, Douglass said, the Internet could provide a linkup for viewers at home to be part of the real-time audience response to a sitcom.
"It might be more interactive," he said. "They could log on and be part of the audience [laughter] on TV."
Don't laugh. It could happen.