Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Paramount Lot

Looking forward to seeing my peeps in Seattle today at 1:00 at F.X. McCrory's.
I often hear from readers asking me to talk about the various movie studios I've been lucky enough to work on.  For twenty years I was ensconced at Paramount. My fondest memories are of Paramount but more for the people and creative atmosphere than the historic landmarks. Although some of those indeed exist.

The motel-looking building that served as William Holden’s office in SUNSET BLVD. remains intact. And the huge mural of the sky is still there. It’s always sunny with a few wispy clouds at Paramount.

And there is the “tank”. This is a recessed parking lot that can be filled with water for shooting or purposes or flooding cars. The blockbuster TORA TORA TORA shot most of its exteriors there. All of the warships were toy models. How did we live before Industrial Light & Magic?

One night after a late rewrite I saw massive lights and activity going on at the tank. Remember the climax of PATRIOT GAMES? There was a big fight on a small yacht that was swirling around in a vicious storm? They were filming that. I sauntered over and watched. Everyone just assumed I was a member of the crew. How many tourists are on the Paramount lot at 2:30 in the morning with a dog-eared WINGS script? Harrison Ford is a nice guy, by the way.

The tank is used sparingly because it’s quite expensive to fill. We did employ it once for CHEERS. Sam and Diane are on a boat. I think it’s from the fourth season. For the rest of the run of the show whenever we were stuck for a scene I would suggest, “Fill the tank!”

STAR TREK filmed at Paramount. More than once I’d be standing in line at the ATM behind a Klingon.

There was never much of a backlot but their New York street is more like a New York neighborhood. Several streets of different vintage intersect. Westside meets eastside. I see that location in a gazillion films, commercials, and music videos. Half the AMERICAN IDOL Ford videos are shot there. When we were doing ALMOST PERFECT, our stage was adjacent to the New York street. One day I walked out of our stage and there was James Brown sitting on a bench eating a sandwich.

Celebrity sightings were frequent. Tom Cruise (before he became a nut bag) had an office right above the FRASIER writers room and was quite visible. Jesus, he’s short! I turned a corner one day and bumped into Sean Connery. Oh, and the twins from SISTER/SISTER were always around! Not to mention those two women who had an act called THE MOMMIES. If only I had my camera.

Paramount was not in a great neighborhood. Even in the 70s and 80s there were more drug deals made outside the lot than in.

But Paramount was more like being at a great university than a movie studio (or fort, which out of necessity is what it looked like). The Harvard of television comedy. When I arrived the Garry Marshall camp was in full force. HAPPY DAYS, LAVERNE & SHIRLEY, and yes, even BLANKSY’S BEAUTIES. Jim Brooks brought his MTM all-star team over to do TAXI and that begat CHEERS, FRASIER, and the various other shows spawned from those writers. Gary David Goldberg set up shop with FAMILY TIES. And of course there was WEBSTER.

And all of us writers from all of these shows knew each other. We’d help each other out on pilots. We’d work on each other’s series. At one time I was directing, writing, and consulting BECKER, FRASIER, and IT’S ALL RELATIVE at the same time. For years I worked on both CHEERS and WINGS.

When writers would bump into each other the first question always asked was, “How late did you guys go last night?” i.e. how long was your rewrite night? If you got out after TAXI than your show was probably in shit shape that week because they always stayed late at TAXI.

And then there were filming nights. This was the age of multi-camera shows. Most filmed the same nights (Tuesday or Friday). After audiences were sent home usually the directors had about an hour or so of pick-ups. There was nothing more boring. So writers would usually wander from stage to stage.  Talk about 3D.   Every show on television we saw live.

Sadly, the lot is a ghost town today.  Once CBS/Viacom bought it everything changed.   Very few shows are done there today.  CBS moved most everything to their Radford lot in Studio City.   I don't know the reason but I'm guessing to save money.  I know the Smithsonian will showcase sets from classic television shows from time to time.  And they're a pretty big place.  I wonder if they have room for an entire movie studio?

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

David Lee here. Thanks for this. So many memories of my 21 years there. But what of "Mingles?"

The Ames Family said...

My husband and I toured Paramount last spring. I had been to Warner Brothers, and thought he'd enjoy one as well. The history of Paramount is fascinating, and as you say, in many cases it still stands! But it was very much a ghost town. Even though the shows were on hiatus at the time, there weren't many high profile ones filmed there anyway. Dr. Phil? Really that's the best you've got? We did get see Angie Harmon! She waved at us. Made my day :)

(Go M's!)

Mr. Hollywood said...

I pre-dated you on the Paramount lot Ken. Garry Marshall brought my partner and I as writers on THE ODD COUPLE so we had the joy of spending many many days with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. Talk about pros. Talk about comedy!

Mike Barer said...

Ken, Hope you bring us(the M's) a victory. Wish you could stop somewhere on the Eastside. I'll be working today in Crossroads ... in Bellevue. (I had a feeling that you wouldn't want me plugging my store here) ps we brought out the sunshine for you.

Brent said...

Ken, I won't be able to make it, but glad to have you here. Was surprised to hear Dan Wilson on the radio instead of you last night. Are you going to be in the booth for the rest of the homestand?

Tom Quigley said...

Ken, great post to start off a relaxing Saturday. Though I only had the opportunity to visit the Paramount lot a few times, I always thought of it as still being one of the only old-fashioned "Hollywood film factories" left. The rest of them all had their decidedly (by the time I worked in the business) un-Hollywood look. Universal had become too much of a tourist trap, Sony (formerly MGM) was too corporatized, Fox was too dingy, Disney was too small, and CBS Radford was dedicated to TV. Only Warner Bros. and The Culver Studios (home of GONE WITH THE WIND, CITIZEN KANE, and the original KING KONG among others) could compete with Paramount for atmosphere.

In addition, after the HOLLYWOOD sign, the famous Bronson gate (along with maybe the Selznick building at The Culver Studios) is probably the most recognizable icon in the business. Nearby is the similar main gate on Melrose, which I always got a rush from just by driving through it.

Jonathan Groff said...

Hey Ken,

Jonathan Groff here. I loved hearing all this Paramount comedy history. I work there now (or, did and will, if the show I'm working on gets picked up for next season). I love that lot. It's clearly not the comedy campus it was 10 or 15 years ago, but I wouldn't say it's a ghost town--Happy Endings, Community, Bent were all shot there this year. We (Happy Endings) use the back lot all the time. New York street on an LA lot passing for Chicago. The hilarious (sic) Glee is on a bunch of stages. NCIS LA affords us frequent views of LL Cool J's biceps. And there's a ton of Nickelodeon stuff going on, so you can see the stars of the future, kinda. They did another version of that famous 50th anniversary photo with all the stars, just a couple of months ago. 75th anniversary. They had a huge red carpet rolled out in front of all the stages on the east side of the lot. Tons of big names.

It's a great place.

RCP said...

I could listen to these stories all day - especially when they involve the old studios, as I love Hollywood history. Whenever I visit LA and come across landmarks it still gives me a thrill - to the extent that I can ignore the (in some cases) surrounding squalor.

Today's the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, by the way.

Liggie said...

I'll be there at FX before the Sounders game!

Birdie said...

....and Bosom Buddies, Ken!:)

Cap'n Bob said...

The Titanic struck the iceberg on the 14th but didn't take her final plunge until the 15th. Likewise, Lincoln was shot on the 14th but died on the 15th.

Paul Duca said...

Actually, Ken...here is a link to Vince Paterno's blog (VP81955) about the 25-year plan to bring the Paramount Studios property into the 21st century, while honoring its history and heritage:

http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/2012/04/04/

As well as direct links:

http://www.paramounthollywoodproject.com

http://www.planningreport.com/2011/12/20/paramount-pictures-modernize-studio-while-embracing-its-past.

Tom Mason said...

Great post. My first time on the Paramount lot, I was heading to my meeting and passed through about 20 Coneheads extras on a cigarette break. Showbiz!

Bryan S. said...

I've been on the lot a few times. Ahh the Bronson gate, the Paramount Theater, magical stuff. But I knew something was happening with regard to less filming there when I read that the newest Star Trek was filming at Sony in Culver City. I was at Sony a few years back to take my youngest for a a Saturday audition with Martin Campbell and it's kind of sad how the old MGM is just a series of buildings. Still cool though as most of the "streets" are named for famous MGM stars... I hope these landmarks like Paramount and MGM survive, but knowing Hollywood, that may just be wishful thinking...

RCP said...

Cap'n Bob said...

"The Titanic struck the iceberg on the 14th but didn't take her final plunge until the 15th. Likewise, Lincoln was shot on the 14th but died on the 15th."

True. It would have been more accurate to write that the 14th was the anniversary of the Titanic striking the iceberg.

David said...

I enjoyed the tour a while back, the highlights were the Frasier set and of course the tank. Also Soul Train!

chuckcd said...

I used to park on Gower and had to walk into the lot. Worried about my car EVERY day.

roger said...

I was stopped at a light on Melrose Avenue once, thinking to myself, "Wow, what a seedy-looking neighborhood." Not being from L.A., I got the shock of my life as I turned my head and saw the gate to Paramount Pictures.

VP81955 said...

roger said...

I was stopped at a light on Melrose Avenue once, thinking to myself, "Wow, what a seedy-looking neighborhood." Not being from L.A., I got the shock of my life as I turned my head and saw the gate to Paramount Pictures.


Roger, I made my first trip to Los Angeles in June 1989, and Hollywood Boulevard was similarly seedy. It has changed a lot since then, and I'm certain the Paramount neighborhood will, too.

anne flett said...

Anne Flett

Miss everybody from those days so much. Working over her at Radford now. To borrow from Norma Desmond: "The shows are still big, only the corporate mind set got smaller." Love, Anne