The plan was to fly into Atlanta on a Tuesday, tape the wraparounds for all seventeen movies on Wednesday, and then fly home on Thursday. I was given a per diem, but in Confederate dollars.
Since the Simon tribute is over five Friday nights I had to bring wardrobe changes. I didn’t want to be like Lori Greiner on SHARK TANK who, for all her millions, seems to have only two dresses. I assembled a suit, several sports jackets, lots of slacks, seven shirts, and eight ties. I boarded the plane with a giant garment bag and asked the flight attendant to please hang it for me. She said, “Are you going away for two weeks?” I said, “No, two days. I have trouble making decisions.”
Got to Atlanta and it was 20 degrees. Hot-lanta my ass.
The next day was driven out to the studio somewhere in the suburbs. I kept looking for Tara. Never found it. The first thing I noticed was that the craft-services table was way better stocked than most sitcoms. Southern hospitality exists!
I took great pains to pack so there’d be a minimum of wrinkles. But much to my delight, they had a wardrobe person who had an iron and a steamer. This was way more first class than I’m used to. A makeup person was also provided, which was helpful because I’m terrible at applying my own makeup.
Was led out to the set, which was just a cool blue backdrop. There were two cameras and a crew of about twenty. I have no idea what ten of them were doing. But they all looked busy.
I’ll never say anything bad about Ryan Seacrest again.
But my feeling was that as long as I could see it I was essentially just reading radio copy, and I’ve done that for years. The teleprompter is attached to the front of the camera so when you’re reading it you’re staring right into the lens and making direct eye contact with the viewer. Offstage, an operator adjusts the speed with which the text scrolls. Your first impulse is to speed up for fear that the sentence will be gone before you get to read it. But with a good operator (and this woman was fabulous), they adjust to your speed. So if you slow up, they slow up. It took me a few intros to really get comfortable with this process. Still, I couldn't dawdle. I had a ton of info packed into each intro and outro and a limited amount of time to deliver it.
Thank goodness I had written the script. I was able to make out enough of the words to figure out what I was trying to say. But it was tricky. Especially at first. It’s not good form to be squinting. As the day went on I got better.
I was also very aware that all eyes were on me. Like I said, there were twenty crew members, and I know the drill. The more I screw up; the longer everyone has to stay. Fortunately, everybody was incredibly nice, supportive, and fun to be with. If I ever get another sitcom I want to steal half of them (even though I don’t know what some of them do).
Now everybody screws up. Actors go up on lines all the time. The director yells cut, they have to reset, re-slate, and do another take. Still, it’s a little embarrassing to screw up your own name in front of an entire crew.
But things ran pretty smoothly, thanks in large part to the crew. Every few wraparounds I would change outfits. (It doesn’t take that long, Lori. You really should do it.). And in about five hours we were done.
All in all, it was a spectacular experience. My sincere thanks to Anne Wilson and everyone at TCM for giving me this extraordinary opportunity. And best of all, I love that I can share these Neil Simon movies with everybody. His work has inspired and guided me throughout my career. I often re-read Neil Simon plays just to be reminded of how to do it right and what to strive for. That I’m the one who gets to introduce these movies to an audience of longtime fans who relish them, and hopefully a large number of younger viewers who are being exposed to his brilliance for the first time is a true blessing. I hope you’ll join me this Friday and every Friday this month. And again, I can say that because I didn’t look fat.