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Welcome to the forum.
I doubt that you did anything wrong, well not really wrong.
Let's look at your source Audio first. Are the original discs done with AC3 DD 5.1 SS Audio? If so, they were remixed, as TV programs almost never have DD 5.1 SS, and those that do probably do it in post-production and not in the original shooting. If it IS DD 5.1 SS, it is very likely that "sweetening" was done in the editing suite, and certain effects were added. This is very common with things like the audience reaction, where the producers feel that it's not loud enough. "Laugh tracks" are often added, in just the areas that you describe. Also, I personally feel that background music in commercial productions are just flat too loud. [Note to producers: you are NOT doing a music video. Do not step on the dialog with your soundtrack, or your SFX!] With most commercial discs I have to do the same thing, and have set up my main home theater to feature the Center Channel more, as that is where most dialog is, or at least should be. Listen carefully to these same scenes on your purchased DVD-Videos. Do you observe some of the same behavior?
Now, PrE can Import DD 5.1 SS, but cannot output DD 5.1 SS, as there is no DD 5.1 SS encoder built in. Even in PrPro, it's a US$250 add-on. Any multi-channel source material is automatically mixed-down to stereo. Now, going to a DVD-Video, one can choose PCM/WAV, or AC3 DD (not 5.1 SS), IIRC. It's that way in Adobe Encore, the authoring program that comes with PrPro. Either is DVD-compliant. Sometimes in the mix-down, things do not translate 100%, but should be pretty close.
Since you are working with mixed Audio, and not the original master tracks, you only have one choice - work with what you have. You can go in and modulate the Audio levels, to tone down some of the applause-only areas. Where there is dialog mixed with SFX and music, you really have one tough task, apply EQ to the frequencies that do NOT contain human speech. This would mean dropping the dB levels below about 180HZ and above about 500Hz. Human speech is normally in the 125Hz to 500Hz range. One could assume that frequences above, or below could be modulated, keeping the human speech pretty much untouched. You might even pump it up a touch, but be very careful. With the music particularly, some of it will definitely be in that frequency range, and you WILL bump it up too. You cannot really separate things too much.
You can do the above in many ways, and PrE will allow some of it. For more work in the Audio, you might want to look at the free Audio editor, Audacity. Also Magix has several (not freeware) Audio editing programs. These are relatively cheap and most effective. I use several, plus Adobe Audition for this sort of work. Audition is neither free, nor cheap, but is highly effective.
Those are my thoughts. I might have missed something, so I'd let others chime-in.
Thanks much for the detailed response. I figured that my only main option was to EQ or otherwise fidget with the audio. Bummer that this is happening, but it's not a show-stopper. I compared the result to the original audio (origian DVDs) and the problem definitely is NOT happening there. And yes - you are correct - DVD decrptor says that the audio is AC3, 5 channel. (I believe dolby 5.1 SS)
Fortunately, the scene-transition music and laugh tracks occur mostly outside of the dialogue, so if I really cared I could go in and set audio levels for those sections.
Actually, manually adjusting the offending sections is not that tough. This recent THREAD discusses doing it with the Audio Mixer. This neat device allows one to make adjustments on an Audio Track. These adjustments are stored in Keyframes, and are automatically applied to that Audio Track.
I'd recommend a good set of headphones and a little time, and you'd be surprised how well you can modulate those offending sections.
I compared the result to the original audio (origian DVDs) and the problem definitely is NOT happening there. And yes - you are correct - DVD decrptor says that the audio is AC3, 5 channel. (I believe dolby 5.1 SS)
Thanks for testing. I would say that this is then happening during the mix-down to stereo in PrE. What can happen in such a mix-down is that the multiple channels can be summed, so that sound levels are added to for the resulting final mix. It will depend on the levels in all channels.
This is just my theory, as I do not have the full specs. on how PrE does the mix-down. However, one can hear about the same thing by placing duplicates of an Audio Clip on multiple Audio Tracks, one above the other and then carefully listening to the result. In your case, you will have at least two Clips, say the L and Ls, plus parts of maybe the C and even the LFE (depending on the DD 5.1 SS mix) into the L channel.