Saturday, February 07, 2009

Lateline

I once spent a month in New York directing a sitcom called LATELINE for NBC. It starred Senator-we-think 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.

There must be a senate seat somewhere for Allison Janney. Unlike Al, at least she has experience.

16 comments :

Aaron Barnhart said...

It never occurred to me that someone would release this on DVD -- I just assumed it was too obscure. Ken, I've got every screener NBC ever sent me of that, on VHS of course. I think I've even got the episodes that didn't air!

"Shepoopi" was the series' high water mark ...

YEKIMI said...

Damn, I thought I was the only one that remembered this show. I thought it was pretty good.

Anonymous said...

WV: endedlol. Ken Levine's blog.

Dave said...

"Shipoopi" is one of TV's highlights, not just "Lateline's."

My wife ran into Dick Gephardt in the San Francisco airport a few years ago and almost sang it to his face.

Verification word: "subbed" - "to have acted as a substitute for" (I got a million of 'em!)

D. McEwan said...

I'll have to run LATELINE through Netflix. I remember seeing and liking it as it aired. but never again since.

A_Homer said...

I recall Lateline. There was a problem with Franken's character in my opinion. Just watch the early Saturday Night Live shows he was on with his partner. His talent was in a kind of slow-witted persona that had to develop and come at you from an off-angle, a bit weird, and that needed a straight man to play off of, to use contrast and keep it going,like in the Abbott and Costello mold. Alone, the same feeling suddenly came off ... a bit lethargic feeling. Lateline should have been a hit, but...

CJ said...

is there anywhere online l could watch the bit with Allison janney in it?

Roger Owen Green said...

I too remember Lateline fondly.
Here's a question for Ken - what other good but obscure TV shows do you think needs to be brought back via DVD?

WV: canctr. Center where shows like "Lateline" end up, canned.

Anonymous said...

Funny that the imdb entry states that LATELINE was created by Al Franken, just one year after the Australian show FRONTLINE finished it's third and final year. There are far too many similarities between these two shows for it to be coincidence.

rob! said...

I remember being confused why Al Franken was playing (from what I remember) a dim-witted guy, when the reason you like Al Franken (if you do) is that he's quick-witted and sharp.

It seemed like the show was taking away the #1 element that made Franken popular as an author and political commentator, his intelligence.

Ben said...

I have to go along with the rest of the crowd (including the ex-Chief) in saying "Shipoopi" was absolutely fantastic--great television.

Kirk Jusko said...

I'm sorry to say I've never seen LATELINE.

As far as Al Franken having a slow-witted persona on SNL, I think when he and Tom Davis did their act, it was meant to be a PARODY of traditional comedy teams. As "straight man", Davis was playing off of Franken as much as Franken was playing off of him.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I like this show as well and I'm glad to see there is a dvd. I liked it beest toward the end of the show when the romance part between the ditor and the reporter got bigger. I guess over here in Holland we got to see more episodes (including those shot but not show).

Tod Hunter said...

I remember that show. I went to a tribute at the Museum of Broadcasting in Beverly Hills where the host said that he wanted to do another one for the 10th (or 20th or something equally optimistic) anniversary of the show and I thought "That's the kiss of death."

I look forward to watching it again.

--t
word verification
calyber. Alternative Australian spelling of "caliber."

TCinLA said...

Al Franken definitely has more experience than another actor who once was President. I've me both, and Reagan was - at best - an amiable dunce. You wouldn't use those words to describe Al.

I recall when he first showed up on-screen on SNL as part of the team of "Franken and Davis," they had the most astute political commentary I had ever seen on television.

Given the past eight years of "leadership" by a moron who would have been living in a cardboard box under a freeway onramp but for the accident of his birth, I can't waiot for Al to show up in the Senate. the combined IQ of the Republican side doesn't equal his (let alone the several other Democratic Senators who actually have triple-digit IQs).

Mike Barer said...

I remember the show. I loved it.