The sudden release of a mass of fluid in a channel generates a highly unsteady flow motion, called dam break wave. While industrial fluids exhibit sometimes non-Newtonian behaviours, the viscous fluid flow assumption remains a useful approximation for simplified analyses. In this study, new solutions of laminar dam break wave are proposed for a semi-infinite reservoir based upon the method of characteristics. The solutions yield simple explicit expressions of the wave front location, wave front celerity and instantaneous free-surface profiles that compare favourably with experimental observations. Both horizontal and sloping channel configurations are treated. The simplicity of the equations may allow future extension to more complicated fluid flows.