Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Memories of Lateline

Still in frigid New York. I am reminded of the month I spent here directing a sitcom called LATELINE for NBC. It starred Senator Al Franken and aired in the late 90’s.

The show was filmed in Queens at the Kaufman-Astoria studios. Next door was SESAME STREET and it was not uncommon to see guys walking down the hall with Muppets on one hand and cigarettes in the other. I hung out one lunch break there with Big Bird and guest star, Peter Jennings.

We filmed on Tuesday nights and began rehearsing the next show the following day. In LA, after the show wrapped on Tuesday night, crews would strike the swing sets and start setting up the new ones. Not in New York. They would strike the sets on Wednesday when we were rehearsing. As inconvenient as this was I was told this was still far preferable to the all-night crews. I don’t even want to know why. But that meant in order to wheel out the big unwieldy set pieces they’d roll back the huge stage door that opened right out onto a city street. So anyone walking by could just stop and watch us rehearse. Also, since this was November, the open door permitted the first blast of winter to enter the studio. We all rehearsed in parkas.

There aren’t too many multi-camera shows filmed in New York. So there aren’t a lot of cameramen familiar with the form. Of our four cameramen, two primarily covered Mets games on Channel 9. If a character reached for a phone they zoomed in on his hand. I had to tell them, this was an actor not a shortstop.

But my favorite times were the studio/network runthroughs. These occurred after the third day of production. In order for execs back in LA to see the rehearsal a satellite hook up was employed. LATELINE was a behind-the-scenes look at late night news program a la NIGHTLINE so our main set was this huge honkin’ newsroom. The satellite feed was hooked up to one camera. This poor cameraman who looked like Don Knotts only more frightened, had to just follow the action the best he could. And of course he would miss lines, be fishing around looking for people, crash into desks, etc.

After one such ragged runthrough we got this network note: How come there are no close ups?

How do you even begin to answer that?

The DVD of LATELINE is available and worth checking out. Some very funny episodes. One in particular with Allison Janney and I’d like to think her performance was what first caught NBC’s attention. The next season she was cast in THE WEST WING. But on LATELINE she was hilarious! And thanks to that network note, there are quite a few close ups.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Senator Al Franken indeed. I'm from Minnesota and I am going to vote for who ever is running agaist the republican.

Thanks for the tip Ken, Lateline is now in my Netflix queue.

Television's Kynan Barker said...

"One in particular with Allison Janney and I’d like to think her performance was what first caught NBC’s attention. The next season she was cast in THE WEST WING. But on LATELINE she was hilarious!"

Ken, I hate to break your heart, but I believe Aaron Sorkin has said he wanted Ms Janney after spotting her in Primary Colors.

But I'm not posting just to disagree with you and make you sad: I also loved LATELINE, and Allison was definitely not the only cast member who was hilarious.

I would also like to request more stories involving Big Bird.

Anonymous said...

Senator Al Franken? That's all Minnesota needs. One More joke.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Thanks for the tip, Ken. I buy a lot of dvd's on amazon, but typically they haven't alerted me about that one. I thought it was a great show with a unique voice and Miguel Ferrer and Ajay Naidu were very funny in it. I even tried watching Crossing Jordan for him. The only thing that didn't really work for me, was Al Franken himself. He was just not enough of an actor to pull it off in my opinion. Later on in the series I got the feeling it should have been about the woman reporter and her boss with Franken in a supporting role.

Darren Mitchelstork said...

Wait, was Allison Janney a regular, or a one time guest star? Cause I only remember seeing one Lateline episode, and she was on it.

But yeah I had no idea it was on DVD... I did enjoy that episode. To the Netflix queue it goes!

LA Guy said...

"Senator Al Franken? That's all Minnesota needs. One More joke."

Yeah, because he only has a BA from Harvard in Government, so what does he know?

I'm a conservative leaning independent, but even I've seen enough of him to know he's intelligent, thoughtful and articulate. (Not that any of those are required skills for working in congress.)

I doubt if I would agree with many of his positions, but I'd trust his integrity over the vast majority of people in congress right now.

Gail Renard said...

I'll see you and raise you on Muppety stories. I started my writing career (as a teenager, honest) at the ATV Elstree studios, just north of London. For about five years, it was home to the Muppets who filmed their shows there thanks to the far-sighted and canny Lord Lew Grade. My favourite moments were Kermit and Miss Piggy in one studio; Tom Jones in another; while in a third, Bing Crosby, in the twilight of his years, sang "White Christmas" while using idiot cards.

Noah said...

Hey, I attended a filming of a LATELINE episode. I seem to recall an African American director, but I could be wrong ... the one where Al went to jail for refusing to divulge a source? Was that one of yours?

Mr. Peel said...

All due respect, I always thought that the Al Franken character should have played as more of a straight man and less of a schmuck--it felt like the second season tried to rectify this issue a little, but I could be wrong.

I do have fond memories of the Buddy Hackett and Conan O'Brien shows, though. Maybe I'll have to check out the DVDs.

Mike Barer said...

I remember the show. I loved the show. It had some great bits.
I'm amazed that you were able to get righty politicians in a show that would ultimately skerer them. I remember clearly the one with Pat Shroeder and Jerry Falwell.

Toby said...

My favorite memory from the show involved G. Gordon Liddy. Who knew he could be so funny?

Ken Levine said...

Allison did guest on only one episode, "the Minister of Television". She may have attracted Sorkin's attention in Primary Colors but NBC got excited from this LATELINE appearance.

Prior to WEST WING she was well known and highly respected in the NY theatre community. I could not be more thrilled with her success.

Ken Levine said...

Allison did guest on only one episode, "the Minister of Television". She may have attracted Sorkin's attention in Primary Colors but NBC got excited from this LATELINE appearance.

Prior to WEST WING she was well known and highly respected in the NY theatre community. I could not be more thrilled with her success.

Anonymous said...

Lateline is one of those shows that isn't nearly as funny as it thinks it is - just like its star, Al Franken. As for Al's politcal career: he may be smart, but he's awfully vitriolic towards those who don't share his views, and we don't need more of that in Washington (not to mention more childish name-calling, which Al also tends to resort to). He has a undergrad degree from Harvard? Big deal - Bush has a graduate degree from Yale, and just look where that's gotten us.

Will Teullive said...

Don't forget Allison Janney was in Howard Stern's 'Private Parts'.. The movie that is.

This bring to mind a question that may only interest me... Why is someone "in" a movie, but "on" a TV show?

Cage Free Brown said...

"vitriolic"
I hear that a lot. mostly from people I think do a fair amount of that themselves.

me, I know I found his radio program a little on the boring side just because he spent SO much time talking to people who didn't agree with him. in one case, a nearly daily segment with someone who will NEVER agree with him. vitriolic? maybe if they keep saying it. it's used to describe HIM often enough. "the vitriolic Al Franken", like he's the Real Don Steele or something.
I liked that show, I thought it was very promising and from the womb untimely ripped. I also like Al Franken. 'Stuart Saves His Family' will live long after people who hate him forget who he was.

Bobarino said...

If I were a Minnesotan, I'd vote for Al Franken in a heartbeat. At least he's intentionally funny (although I have to admit that the "found" humor of Ted Stevens is pretty amusing).

steve said...

Of our four cameramen, two primarily covered Mets games on Channel 9. If a character reached for a phone they zoomed in on his hand. I had to tell them, this was an actor not a shortstop.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'd LOVE to see an entire episode filmed like this!

sephim said...

Interesting idea for a show... oh wait, we already had that show in Australia.

Created by Al Franken? I think not.

http://imdb.com/title/tt0108780/