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.