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, this 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.
- Jesus and His apostles all sit on the same side of a long table in Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper (and in other less well-known paintings of the subject).
Leonardo da Vinci: "OK! Everybody want to be in the picture? Get up and get to the other side of the table! Come on!"
- Spoofed in Mel Brooks' History of the World Part I, when Leonardo interrupts the supper to paint their portrait:
- There's a joke where Jesus enters a restaurant and asks for a table for 26. When the waitress points out there are only 13 of them, He says, "Yes, but we all want to sit on the same side of the table."
- Used in The Breakfast Club, during the scene where the teenagers are sitting on the floor and opening up to each other.
- A staple on I Love Lucy, which pioneered the three camera method and filming in front of a live studio audience. A typical dinner in the Ricardo's apartment would see Lucy and Ricky seated at opposite ends of the table, with the Mertzes seating side-by-side facing the audience. In the Connecticut episodes, they would all tend to crowd along one side of the circular dinette table. Oh well, the Mertzes were close friends after all!
- Sometimes readily apparent on Our Miss Brooks. Our Miss Brooks was filmed in front of a live studio audience at Desilu Studios, using the same camera equipment as I Love Lucy.
- One example is found in the episode "Spare That Rod!". Miss Brooks, Mr. Boynton, Mr. Conklin, Walter Denton and Stretch Snodgrass are crowded along three sides of a cafeteria table.
- Another example is in the episode "Madison Mascot", where Miss Brooks, Mr. Boynton, Mr. Conklin, Harriet Conklin Walter Denton and Stretch Snodgrass are meeting in Mr. Conklin's to discuss the a mascot for the Madison football team. Mr. Conklin sat at the head of the table, with everybody else either placed at the foot or along one side.
- Averted in "Hobby Show" and "Thanksgiving Show" in scenes taking place at Mrs. Davis' dining room table. Mrs. Davis, one supposes, had little tolerance for Social Semi Circle Seating!
- Averted in Friends at Monica's place but played straight as an arrow at Central Perk, and we never see what the rest of the palace looks like but the cast is always conveniently on one couch or some nearby chairs facing the camera.
- 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 two chairs in an approximate L-shape. Justified by the television in the apartment, since it (conveniently) happens to be placed where the audience would be and it would make sense for everyone to 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. On the few occasions where they sit somewhere else, it's at a corner booth in the back which again naturally justifies the angle.
- 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.
- That '70s Show does this any time a group sits down at the Foreman's kitchen table.
- Averted, though, in some scenes in the basement, where the characters are presumably sitting around a table. The camera is in the middle, rotating to face whoever's talking. This also servers to keep off-camera whichever character is supposed to currently be holding the joint being passed around.
- This was Lampshaded on one occasion (specifically during a Last Supper parody) when Jackie questions why everyone is sitting on the same side of the 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.
- Roseanne averted it, but only slightly. Much like The Golden Girls, it was sort of implied that the kitchen table was pushed up against the fourth wall, or at least very close to it. Whenever all five members of the Conner family would sit down together for dinner, Roseanne and Dan would sit on the two short ends of the table, with Becky and Darlene facing the camera, and DJ with his back to it (since he was the Out of Focus youngest child, he didn't have much to say except for the occasional one-liner anyway.)
- Star Trek: Voyager did this frequently in the briefing room, where the far side of the table is never used.◊
- Star Trek: The Next Generation had a similar set up with briefings in the observation lounge. Picard sat at one end, and since he rarely had more than six or seven officers in a briefing with him at any time, the chairs at the opposite end tended to stay empty, save for guest stars. Justifiable in that it'd be rude to deliberately distance yourself from your commanding officer.
- It was also done on occasion in Star Trek: The Original Series; the page pic is one such instance; though there are people seated at all four sides, the two women seated in the foreground are turned more toward the audience than toward anyone else at the table, and the standing men flank the table in such a way as to prevent anyone being obscured.
- The sofa is the indispensible prop in Les Filles d'à côté. The three girls and others are often seen interacting or having in-depth conversation while sitting on the sofa in their apartment with the camera angle directly in front. Of course, this is also an aspect of Ms. Fanservice, as The '90s fashions tended towards short skirts and bare legs. the occassional Panty Shot was not edited out of the final show. one wonders why this was not spotted in editing. Discussions in the boys' apartment tended to be around the dining table and shot from the waist up - but also stuck to this principle.
- The artwork for the pinball machine Alien Poker depicts one side of the rectangular table completely unoccupied, not even by onlookers—naturally, this is where the camera would be.
- 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.
- On an ordinary theater stage (proscenium) this is an outgrowth of a more general rule known as the "one-quarter turn". If actors spoke to each other like real people their faces would be obscured and their voices difficult to hear. Instead a "face-to-face" conversation is held with each actor a quarter turn away from the audience.
- 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.
- 60 Seconds!: The family is all of one side of the table and they're all facing the screen.
- 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/Shout-Out 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.
- ... and averted and Lampshaded here.
- David Morgan-Mar alludes to this trope in his commentary for this Irregular Webcomic! strip, which uses it, whilst confessing to not know its name (he does now).
- The author comments in this page from Gunnerkrigg Court lampshade his own use of this trope.
Margo and John were so surprised they had to walk all the way around just to be in that panel.
- Narbonic strips featuring Dave's gaming group has them, as the Director's Commentary puts it, "lined up along one side of the table Knights of the Dinner Table-style".
- Tabletop does this so that the gameplay is easily visible to the viewer. The tradeoff is that the players on the ends of the table are awkwardly far away from each other.
- Used in the karaoke episode of Regular Show when they sit down at a table at the karaoke bar. Justified as the table was against a wall and was designed to save room while letting everyone talk to anyone else at the table.
- Sociological studies have shown that when two same-gender friends are allowed to choose how to orient themselves while sitting and talking, two women will usually avert this trope by orienting themselves directly toward one another, while two men will usually play it straight by orienting themselves in the same direction. Interpretations for the significance (if any) of this phenomenon vary.