Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What makes a good Warm-Up Man?

A key component to any multi-camera taping is the warm-up man. It’s a tough job. I did it the first year of CHEERS. Tapings can take four hours or more (I think they’re still in the middle of taping a FRIENDS episode from season five). You’re expected to fill a lot of downtime between scenes. And then there are costume changes that can take forever. (Again, I think Jennifer Aniston is trying things on for that FRIENDS taping that’s still going on.)

(Seriously, FRIENDS tapings took so long they literally had two audiences. The first came in at about 4 and the second around 9. No one wanted to stay for the eight or nine hours it took to film a single episode.)

You need to keep the audience focused on the show and in a heightened state of excitement. They have to be in such a good mood they’ll laugh twice or even three times at the same jokes depending on how many re-takes of a scene there are.

And God forbid the air conditioner goes off.  I've had that happen.  I've also had a power blackout.  Fun fun fun. 

A good warm-up man can have a major impact on a sitcom taping. A good crowd energizes the cast and performances can really be lifted.

But a bad warm-up man can have the opposite effect.

Different warm-up men have different styles. Some are stand-ups, some are just high-energy cheerleaders, and a few are dynamo entertainers. I hate the dynamos. I mostly hate the high-energy dudes. Why? Because they upstage the show. A recent warm-up guy I saw had the crowd dancing wildly in the aisles and was giving away prizes. and when the bell rang signaling it was time to film a scene, the entire audience groaned. The show became an imposition to the party that was going on in the bleachers.

As writer/blogger extraordinaire Earl Pomerantz so accurately says – the audience is not there to watch a television show. They’re there to watch the MAKING of a television show. (I passed on the CHEERS warm-up baton to Earl in season two.) The unique experience of watching a TV taping is to see all the behind-the-scenes shit – the cameras, the director, the confabs with the actors, the bustling going on on the stage. Writers huddle and suddenly new jokes are introduced. Based on instructions from the director, actors make acting adjustments. You’re privy to live bloopers. Actors go up on lines. How do they handle it? You’re on the inside. Create the “drama” behind-the-scenes. Have them watch a confab and be curious to see what the outcome is. Bring them into the loop. And remind them that they’re PART of the show because their laughter is recorded and becomes a permanent part of the soundtrack.

To me, a good warm-up man is a tour guide, explaining exactly what is happening down on the stage – who all those crew people are and what do they do? People can dance and win silly coffee mugs anywhere.

Before each scene Mr. Warm Up needs to recap where they are in the story. There may have been a ten-minute break since you saw the previous scene. He should know the cast’s resumes. He should know the history of the series. He should know the producer’s background, what shows he’s worked on in the past. Same with the writers, same with the director. Again, THE SHOW is the star; not the warm-up man because he can balance a table on his nose.

He should budget his time. If he's whipped up the audience into a mad frenzy at 7:00, what shape are they going to be in at 9:00 when you’re on the final scene? They’ll be gassed. Regulate the enthusiasm.

And finally, warm-up men have to be spontaneous. They can’t just rely on their forty-minutes of stand up material. They need to converse with the audience. Their patter should be humorous but more importantly, be engaging. They must put the audience at ease. Create a good mood. Convey the idea that the audience is getting a real treat. Very few people ever get the chance to see how a television show is made. It’s a rare privilege. And just like when you go to a baseball game you never know if you’re going to see a no-hitter; if you go to a TV taping you never know if you’re going to see the best show of the year, or the Pope makes a guest appearance. Bottom line: make the audience feel like they’re participating in a special experience (which they are).

So junk the hula hoop contest, leave the magic tricks at home, and turn around. There’s a television show going on behind your back. Tell the folks about THAT.


MikeK.Pa. said...

Never been to a taping, but hope to one day if/when I get to the West Coast. These look behind the scenes are what make this blog so interesting. Just curious, Ken, what type of warmup were you, and did you have any background as a standup? Also, thanks for the plug on Earl. I've bookmarked him and will check him out.

VP81955 said...

Want to go see a "Mom" ep (does anyone know whether they film on Tuesdays or Fridays?) Since its second season debut was pushed back a month at the last minute, I would think that would further add to the disconnect between Warm-Up Guy and audience (obviously, there's always going to be a few weeks' lag time between filming and airing).

Tom said...

I think I remember Paul Simms saying that the reason most episodes of NewsRadio unfold in less than a day, almost exclusively within the office, isn't a deliberate stylistic choice or anything to do with the budget, it's just that he and the writers were always reluctant to put the live audience through the delay necessary for costume and set changes if they could avoid it.

Bill Jones said...

Very interesting, Ken, which leads to two (totally different) Friday questions:

1. Do you think FRIENDS was such a well-made, well-crafted sitcom (at least, until the last couple years) because they put in so much time into taping--meaning, everything presuambly was worked out to the last inch, and it showed on-screen? Or is there no correlation between "hard working" and "great product"?

2. I'm curious about long taping days--are the crews who (presumably) are union crews allowed to work that long? Are there cutoffs that must be honored? Are they typically honored in the breach?

Anonymous said...

That explains a lot. I was at a taping where the guy COULD balance a table on his head. He also juggled, and rode a 10 ft unicycle.
The director walked by a few times and was staring daggers at the comedian, and even made a rude remark, and I couldn't figure out why.
It's true though that when the show got going, it was hard to focus on the players, since they were about 60 feet from us, a very large set, and large audience, and the comedian was right on top of us when he performed. With all his energy and tricks, it was hard to get engaged with what was going on further away, along with all the other confusion.
Truth to tell, his show was better than the show behind him. I never put that all together until now though. I just thought the director was an asshole.
The show was cancelled after a few episodes. I just thought that was a HELL of a lot of money spent for a chaotic pile of shit.
But the comedian was good!

- Audience Dude

Jesse said...

@Bill: At the FRIENDS taping we saw, they seemed to be doing all their rehearsing, blocking, etc., as they were shooting. It was disconcerting to see that the cast didn't even appear to have even bothered to learn their lines.

Fastest taping we ever saw was THE GOLDEN GIRLS. Those ladies knew every line and hit every mark. I was impressed by their professionalism.

Fastest taping we ever saw was THE GOLDEN GIRLS. Those ladies knew every line and hit every mark. Impressively professional.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

About ten years ago, Ken was kind to invite me, my daughter and the kid I was mentoring to a Becker rehearsal. A small rehearsal as I remember. Just Shawnee Smith, Ted Danson, the writer and Ken as director.

I want to share one moment with everyone that I thought was unique, and maybe very telling about Ken's professionalism.

I'm no TV guy but in a rehearsal, I expected a bit of controlled chaos and quick decisions. That sort of thing...

Well, Mr. Danson stopped the rehearsal and asked Ken a question. I expected Ken to respond with an answer fairly quickly and move on. But the question really got his mind working and must have contemplated his answer for about a minute, which is a very long time. (Go ahead, start counting.)

What Ken was doing, I think, was contemplating the effect that the answer to the question would have on the show. He seemed to be visualizing the whole process. The actors waited. And waited.

When Ken responded, they were pleased with his answer, and the rehearsal continued.

Of course, I might be wrong about what was going through Ken's head.
After all, Ms. Smith was wearing a killer, form-fitting, peak-a-boo little black dress. Woof.

...and the kids? Their favorite part was craft services snacks.

But I was a huge fanboy and had a wonderful time.

Jesse said...

Sorry for the repeat. My phone hiccuped and appeared to have lost the second paragraph.

Jim S said...

Friday question Ken.

How do you know if an actor has "it" that x factor that makes actor A better than actor B?

For example, Maverick. James Garner was chosen as the lead, but Warner Brothers couldn't film new episodes fast enough to meet the schedule. So they hired Jack Kelly to be Bart Maverick and the two leads alternated, with the two them co-starring three or four episodes a season.

Even Kelly had to admit that Garner was Maverick, while he played Maverick's brother.

Assuming no network suit is interfering, how do you pick between two or three good actors who have shown promise for a part? Have you ever pick wrong?

Michael said...

I've given up on Craig Ferguson's show recently in part because got tired of him coming out every night and talking about what the "warm-up comedian" said to energize the crowd and making the same joke 'we call him the warm-up comedian, but he is really not a comedian'.

Ray said...

Absolute WORST show I ever saw taped was for a pilot that -- proof there is a merciful god -- never got picked up. Basically a smutty variation on FRIENDS, with women who spent a lot of time in bikinis and hunky guys who took their shirts off a lot. The script was double-entendre overload. Just an unending stream of them. We (the audience) were encouraged to be very enthusiastic and "vocal." It was awful. Truly awful.

The warm-up guy was good, though. Very funny.

The show? Solid excrement.

Thomas from Bavaria said...

Is it really worth all that effort to have a live studio audience? It seems a lot easier just to use a laugh track or use a not-that-live audience like HIMYM supposedly did.

Cap'n Bob said...

I saw a taping of The Match Game in New York. The warm up was done by the announcer--maybe Johnny Olsen. Mostly he just talked about himself. I also saw a Seattle talk show broadcast lie from a theater in Bremerton. The only warm up I recall was a woman making sure everyone clapped on cue before the breaks. She stood at the side of the stage and started the applause. To this day I can tell when there's an applause leader on a show.

D. McEwan said...

The warm-up guy at Jay Leno's Tonight Show was one of the high-energy guys, firing a T-shirt cannon at the audience. This meant three or maybe four people got T-shirts and everyone else was disappointed and disgruntled. Then out came Jay with that evening's lame monologue.

At The Nanny, they fed the audience, and had a very loud band at one end of the bleachers. At least they did until Fran Drescher decided to go with paid audiences, who had to laugh, whether it was funny or not, to get paid. I think Fran just didn't like having people in the building she couldn't fire, so she went with audiences she could fire.

At Dame Edna's Hollywood they had a good comic, Eric Boardman if I remember rightly, but for the pilot of Edna Time, Edna went with one of her post-modern Dada gags, and the warm-up guy made them literally warm up. He was a hot guy in a skin-tight Lycra wrestling outfit, who made people stand up and do warm-up exercises, while Edna sat behind him with her feet up, watching. ("I could watch him all day.") I was seated/standing directly in front of Sir Patrick Stewart in the audience, and after about two minutes of Edna's warm-up joke, he announced loudly, in that magnificent, stentorian voice of his: "I'm tired!" and sat down.

But at every TV taping of a Dame Edna appearances I've been to (And I've been to a lot of them), the real warm-up person is Edna herself. She/he habitually prowls the front of the stage taking questions and ad-libbing. This even holds true when she's on other people's shows. I remember going to five Hollywood Squares tapings where Edna was the center square, and Edna came down for every commercial break and prowled the stage apron, talking to the audiences.

Sometimes the funniest things Edna would say all evening were to the audiences during the breaks. At Edna Time, Roseanne Barr and Tom Arnold were guests. During their segments they'd talked a lot about their "Loose Meat" restaurant, and about their attempts to get Roseanne pregnant despite Tom's low sperm count. There was a lot of talk about Tom's sperm (Mostly so Edna could look hilariously grossed out.) After Roseanne and Tom were finished and had gone home, during a break, Edna told the audience: "I don't think I'd want to eat at a restaurant run by a man so obsessed with his sperm; I certainly wouldn't trust the bouillabaisse."

Chris said...

I heard that the late Ray Combs (of "Family Feud" fame, among other things) was one of the most sought after warm-up guys in the business, and that nervous network execs insisted that he be hired for the taping of high-profile pilots. Can anyone confirm that? Thanks.

James said...

Which took longer: an episode of [b]Friends[/b] or an episode of [b]Barney Miller[/b]?

Tom Si said...

Ken, How do you feel about Steven Brody Stevens? He was the warm up guy for Chelsea Handler for a time, and had a show on Comedy Central where he kind of lost it for a second? Did you enjoy his show (if you've sen it)? I'm assuming since he is more of a dynamo he wasn't your cup of tea. His comedy Central show with Zack G. was really interesting my opinion.

JoeyH said...

I was just a kid, but I'll never forget the experience of a Jackie Gleason Show taping in Miami Beach. Johnny Olson was a hoot.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

I was spoiled by the crew of the first film I was an extra in: Rocky IV. They had a very professional warm up guy, and they had a steel drum band for our entertainment between shots. But, most of us weren't paid for our work, but we got a decent lunch, Churches Chicken, and all the Pepsi we could drink, and Basin and Robbins Ice Cream!

BTW, before Sly would join us on set, we had to chant "Rocky, Rocky Rocky!", in a "Russian" accent.

No other film set could ever measure up since then.

Albert Giesbrecht said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Willis said...

I tried out to be the audience warmup on "Frasier," and after my first time on the show as a tryout, the exec producer came up to me and said "We like you because you don't shoot your jokes out of a cannon." I went on to do the gig for a couple of hundred more episodes. I agree with Ken on every point.

I don't do audience dancing, I don't do crowd karaoke -- I tell jokes, interview people, and tell the audience stories. I also sometimes run around the set playing with things like an errant unsupervised child. This seemed to amused the audience.

And I knew the history of that show: the actors, the dog, the dog trainer, the Emmys, why the production company was called "Grubb St. Productions," how to introduce Kelsey's adorable mom, when to banter with the actors and when to let them work, what a Key Grip is, who that guy with the clap stick it, etc. I had info about all of it.

It was the best damned gig of my life, with the best people yu can imagine.

BTW, Ken always wore a sharp-looking suit on shoot night, and he looked very dapper indeed.

DBenson said...

Seriously? There are paid audiences? Whatever happened to laugh tracks?

On shows like "Married With Children", where the audience WHOOOOOOOed every sex reference and every entrance by a pretty girl (particular Katey Segal and Christina Applegate in their obligatory slutware), was that a natural crude response or were audiences prompted to WHOOOOOOO?

David Willis said...

Oh, I also worked on "Friends" one season. That show took 8 hours minimum to shoot. (Not the actors' fault. The producers just wanted a looooot of takes.)

And sometimes audiences are paid, but not on hit shows. On hit shows, it's booked up months in advance.

And yes, a live audience is worth it! The energy of that laughter coming from the crowd is very, very valuable to the actors. It gives them timing, and is a morale boost, too. If you've been rehearsing the same jokes for days, it's nice to get confirmation that it's funny.

David Willis said...

DBenson: On "Frasier," the producers specifically did NOT want an audience "whoooo" when something sexy happened. The method was: we'd let them make the noise on the first take, then I'd ask them not to do it on subsequent takes.

Why not simply ask them not to do it in the first place? Because telling the audience NOT to do something before they've done it is too negative. We want those people to be in a good mood, so I was never negative with.

Speaking of sexy moments, Anthony LaPaglia was on the show once, and I introduced him to the audience, but I pronounced his name as "LaPaglia" with a hard "g." A guy in a suit in the audience immediately raised his hand and said "The G is soft! The G is soft!" It was, of course, his agent. I corrected myself and pronounced if "Lapallia" after that.

Then Anthony did a scene where he was macking on Roz, kissing and rubbing against her in the kitchen. Very hot and heavy. And very funny.

When that hot scene was finished, I said to the agent (and on mic): "I bet Anthony's G isn't soft any more!"

Jim said...

On SEINFELD, the producers didn't want applause on character entrances. All the same, you can occasionally hear very scattered, quickly suppressed clapping from here and there in the audience, particularly for Kramer.

I have a friend who just hates audience reactions (applause, cheers, etc.) at character entrances because he says it takes him out of the show when the actors just have to stand there, marking time in a very unnatural way, until the audience settles down.

Re: the question about whether or not a live audience is worth it. The guy who started the whole "filmed before a live audience" thing was Jess Oppenheimer, producer and head writer of I LOVE LUCY. CBS wanted the show done either live from New York or on film -- single camera -- from Hollywood. The Arnazes were adamant about doing the show from Hollywood. Oppenheimer was equally adamant that it had to be done in front of an audience. He had been producer and head writer of Ball's radio sitcom MY FAVORITE HUSBAND and knew from that experience that Ball absolutely had to have an audience to play to and off of. She needed the energy she could only get from playing in front of an audience. He thought is was worth it enough to work out how to film a show in front of a live audience in a way that no one else had ever done before.

David Willis said...

Historical note: the Marx Brothers used to go on the road with their movie script and do it before live audiences in order to get the timing right. Then they'd duplicate that timing when they shot the film.

They got the best of both worlds that way.

VP81955 said...

To David Willis: Were you the warm-up for the "Frasier" episode filmed in March 2000 with Robert Loggia as guest star, playing the owner of a "Palm"-style restaurant? I was there that night and had a ball.

David Willis said...

Yup, I was the warmup that night with Robert Loggia guest starring. I'm glad you had a good time!

Danielle said...

Though different to a taping of a series, I'm sure, my experience going to see The Daily Show (the only thing we really wanted to do on our one day in New York - from Australia) was almost ruined by the warm-up guy. He was so incredibly rude to the audience - who had stood in line for four hours to get in, by the way so we were already fans. I mean I know an audience is important to a performance but you tell them that they are PART of the show, you don't tell them that they were RESPONSIBLE (his word) for the energy of the whole show, that we had to give Jon what he needed or the show won't come across well to the TV audience. He pointed at individuals telling them how to sit, now not to sit because apparently Jon is such a fragile snowflake it might put him off (the man does stand-up for goodness' sake). Then there was the applause and cheering rehearsal which felt like we were performing seals AND, more importantly, that Jon and the show itself would not be capable of inspiring such applause or laughter.

The show itself was pretty good but it was dampened by the start and when people say "Hey how was going to The Daily Show in person?!" I tell them I like "having been" to the Daily Show and I'm glad I went but I didn't enjoy the experience at the time and I'll never go to another taping of another show.

Breadbaker said...

The dialogue about the Robert Loggia show is what I love about this blog. We break the fourth wall. There are no walls.

Ken, may they break their legs tomorrow night. Or by now, tonight.

Anonymous said...

David Willis said...
"Historical note: the Marx Brothers used to go on the road with their movie script and do it before live audiences in order to get the timing right. Then they'd duplicate that timing when they shot the film.

They got the best of both worlds that way."

Actually, they did that later in their careers. Earlier stuff was either from their successful broadway shows, or they had the likes of SJ Pearlman, and others, writing the script, in which case one didn't really need to "try it out" in front of an audience. They had some writers with literary minds, and some serious writing chops, unlike a lot of sitcoms. Highbrow writers trying to write lowbrow is far more interesting than lowbrow writers trying to write highbrow. The stuff those men wrote seem contemporary today.

In the latter part of their careers, those writers had moved on, the Marx brothers were well into middle-age, making their brand of humor harder to pull off, they were stuck mostly with hack writers more interested in getting a job than writing for the Marx brothers, so "trying it out" at theaters was a very good idea for them to cover their asses.

Lou H. said...

When a multi-camera sitcom episode needs to use multiple sets, is it still shot in sequence, with everybody moving from set to set, or are things optimized a bit so that, say, all the scenes on one set are shot in a single batch, even if that makes the story a bit harder for the studio audience to follow?

David Willis said...

To Lou H: shows with live audiences are shot in chronological order. Moving from set to set only takes a few seconds, or a few minutes if it's on the other side of the stage.

Those cameras got wheels.

Oh, and the lighting is already ready to go on every set, they just have to push a button to recall the settings.

Johnny Walker said...

The warm-up guy who was working BECKER (on your episode "AFTERGLOW") all those many years ago (long before I knew what a "Ken Levine" was), kept all of our energies up. I remember he gave away prizes (although it was just candy -- it wasn't like there were iPods being dished out). I don't know if he crossed over into upstaging the episode, but for me it was just switching between two highly entertaining things.

That said... as I type this it just struck me that I would have probably been engrossed no matter what. My then-wife had a part in the episode, plus it was my first time ever watching a real Hollywood production. So thinking about it, a tornado probably couldn't have upstaged the taping for me.

D. McEwan said...

"Danielle said...
Though different to a taping of a series, I'm sure, my experience going to see The Daily Show (the only thing we really wanted to do on our one day in New York - from Australia) was almost ruined by the warm-up guy."

When was this? Because when I was in the live audience for The Daily Show, Jon Stewart did the warm-up himself. Everyone had a great time. I had brought a book Jon had written (Naked Pictures of Famous People, which is its title but not what it contains), and Jon came up into the audience to shake my hand ("So you're the guy who bought a copy."), sign it for me, and told me that "Doug" was "A good, solid masculine, guy name. You don't hear 'Doug' much anymore." I then got a big laugh, from Jon as well as the house, by saying: "I hear it every day." We'd gotten cold soft drinks and snacks. (It was mid-summer, so we'd been outside in vicious heat while we waited to come in) And I got to meet Steve Carrel and Stephen Colbert (Both were still on the show then) after the taping. It was a wonderful experience.

The Marx Brothers only did tours for four of their movies. And I wouldn't call Irving Brecher a hack, nor would Groucho.

Mark said...

I saw dozens of CHEERS episodes filmed during those early seasons, as well as seeing other sitcoms shot in the 1980s. And even experienced the effect various warmup guys had on a short-lived sitcom I worked on.

There was one popular guy in the "dynamo" category who worked a whole lot of shows (including mine) who always whipped the audience into a frenzy of hyenas. He made the audience contribution to the show sound stupid and cheap... laughing at pauses where a joke should have been but wasn't, hooting at a kiss, over-laughing mediocre jokes, cheering plot turns, groaning "awwww" at sad moments, etc.

In my humble opinion, he sucked. His warmup actually made the show worse.

But producers (of certain kinds of shows) LOVED HIM because the audience was HOT, HOT, HOT and had "great energy!" (Decades later, not coincidentally, few if any of these shows are even watchable, let alone funny.)

On the other hand, if you listen to the audience track on CHEERS it sounds WARM. Laughs fit the size of the joke. The audience never draws attention to itself.
(Some of this is good producing with tasteful audio editing and mixing. But mostly, it's the warm-up talent.)

I remember Ken being very funny doing warm up and taking very good care of the audience.

But - sorry, Ken - I have to say the very best warmup work I ever saw on any show was Earl Pomerantz on CHEERS. I can't recall a single joke... not sure he ever told an actual joke. He just talked with the audience, asked and answered questions about the show or them or whatever else came up.

Earl was smart and warm and funny. And somehow everything became funny. He made us laugh -- and then the people in the audience he talked to made us laugh. He made us all warm and funny and smart together.

And then he'd settle us in to watch them film a CHEERS scene that would be REALLY funny and smart - with actual jokes -- and we the audience just laughed naturally.

Saw him do warm-up many times and if he had prepped material, it never showed as such. Just seemed like a very amusing guy having a good conversation with a smart and amusing group of people in the audience and helping us pass the time together while we waited to see a great show.

CHEERS always had good warmups. (Jimmy Brogan was particularly hilarious.) But usually there was noticeable space between "comedy material" and guiding us through boring hours of a sitcom shoot.

No one I ever saw do warmup did it nearly as well - or with more natural humor - than Earl Pomerantz. He made the show better.

MikeN said...

Why did Friends take so long to tape? Did Rachel forget her lines?

David Willis said...

To Mike N: No, she didn't forget her lines. The cast was great on the first take, every take.

The exec producers just wanted many, many takes. You'll have to ask them why.

Jabroniville said...

Hah- nice stuff there. I noticed in a lot of early "Frasiers", there's a lot of woo-ing, but it settled down within the first year. It really helped class up the joint. "Frasier" just wasn't right for that kind of a reaction.

Johnny Walker said...

Thanks for sharing that, Mark. I finally get why you don't want the audience to be "too" hot. Overreacting is definitely not pleasant when you're watching at home -- sometimes you wonder if they're pumping nitrous oxide into the audience.

Also, way to go, Earl.

cadavra said...

Fastest taping I ever went to was "Bob" (the one where Newhart played a comic book artist). Started promptly at 4:00, finished at 5:45. The explanation: Newhart insisted on being done in time for him to go home for dinner.

And he did his own warm-up! How cool was that?

Anonymous said...

David Willis, one poster above suggested the whole cast didn't know their lines.

D. McEwan said...

"Mark said...
CHEERS always had good warmups. (Jimmy Brogan was particularly hilarious.)"

To be expected. Jimmy, who's been a friend of mine for 35 years, is a great, relaxed comic, and his act was always chatting with the audience, at which he is a master. Jimmy once wrote what I think was one of the most-perfect jokes ever: "My father lived in a mobile home and worked in a stationary store."

Danielle said...

David Willis said: When was this? Because when I was in the live audience for The Daily Show, Jon Stewart did the warm-up himself.

Wow, that would have been fantastic! It was end of April 2012 - I know the name of the comedian who did the warm up but I didn't want to ID him in case he was just having a bad day - though he sounded like he was repeating a script he'd said a thousand times and was, frankly, really bored by it - he did make sure to tell us where we could see him do his stand-up though, that bit he was enthusiastic about...)

It was a real shame since it was the focus of the few days we had in New York. It was a good show, but we enjoyed it more when we re-watched it on the TV. And the rest of the trip north was fantastic! :D

Greg Ehrbar said...

"...if you listen to the audience track on CHEERS it sounds WARM. Laughs fit the size of the joke. The audience never draws attention to itself.

I noticed that when watching the DVD set of THE MOTHERS-IN-LAW. It was astonishing, given the roars that seem to accompany every amusing line on newer sitcoms and talk shows, that the IN-LAW audience only roared or applauded when the moment DESERVED it. They tittered mildly if it was only mildly funny.

This used to be the case with Letterman and SNL. But now, according to last week's STU'S SHOW (10/15), the network insists the audience applaud every joke for Letterman. And on SNL, the audience goes into fits of hysteria for everything. All in the cause of "energy."

Randy said...

Great subject and enough thought-provoking comments to motivate my chiming in.

Quickly, yes... Ray Combs was that good and more. Very funny and energetic while always following the "Ken Rule" of making the show (and the shooting of the show) the star.

I can help clarify what was happening at "The Nanny" as I was one of the paid laughers, one of the best gigs ever. We were a small troupe of ten or so (sometimes augmented to maybe 20) that didn't just come on tape days, but were involved in the episodes from the first runthrough and through rehearsals. Fran wanted to work to a live reaction even in runthroughs (it helped her find the beats and was emotionally encouraging.) The writers relied on us for honestly motivated laughter which they valued when it came to re-writes of weaker lines, as judged by our reaction at run-throughs. We'd notice the lines were changed the next day, always for the better. Finally, Fran loved us sprinkled throughout the audience to subliminately cue those around us for reaction - nothing begets laughter like laughter.

The wildest tapings were when we were used for timing only - timing for the performers and timing for believable sweetening (we weren't on mic) for scenes done without an audience. These included scenes on location (the car breaks down at night on a dark street) and when special effects precluded having an audience (on Maid of the Mist with water splashing from Niagara Falls, etc). Fran was wonderful to us. We went to the cast parties, got the logo swag, we played a few tiny on-camera roles, and were overpaid using scale for a loop group.

I've done 20+ years of warm-up as an outgrowth of my announcing work on game shows. I've done very few sitcoms, but these days games shows are being shot like sitcoms with stopdowns and retakes. Yech! I've announced/warmed-up for Barker, Wink, Eubanks, Dick Clark, Woolery, Seacrest, etc. and it is a great gig with civilians in the seats and a live-to-tape zeitgeist. It's an especially great gig if you love people and can fake sincerity.

In my limited sitcom experience, producers seem to get very nervous when the audience is quiet between takes. Perhaps that's why there is so much manic screaming, dancing and shooting of T-shirts from cannons. The cannons (and the guy who fired one nightly at NBC) are out because of a settlement to someone who claimed to be injured. The dancing is stupid and is a liability issue waiting to happen, especially on shows where the audience is not in the bleachers but on the stage floor. The only audience participation that I use is the "joke off" (just the name gets a laugh).

I learned the biz from Johnny Olson who generously mentored me. And yes, after "You're In The Picture," Gleason never went before a TV audience without Johnny's warm-up as his opening act. He flew Johnny to Miami and Atlantic City for years.

Cheap plug: Johnny's 400+ page bio is a great read. You can't put it down... because there's crazy clue on the cover. At Amazon and at
Thanks Ken, we still have to do that lunch or I'll next see you at the annual xmas radio lunch. Love the blog, buddy!

D. McEwan said...

"Danielle said...
David Willis said: When was this? Because when I was in the live audience for The Daily Show, Jon Stewart did the warm-up himself."

Actually, I wrote that, not David. My Daily Show live taping was 12 years before yours, so I guess Jon tired of doing them.

Randy, fascinating posting from you. I'm surprised but pleased that you had a positive experience of Fran. One of my closest friends on earth was a writer/producer on The Nanny for five years, and her tales of Fran are all of "Psychobitch."

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

After all these years, this may have been the best thread on this blog (and that's saying a lot).

The Bumble Bee Pendant said...

I saw several episodes of the "Cosby SHow" and "Kate and Ally"

For me, who loves those to peer into the back story, it was great.

For other people I was with, they were bored...just wanted to see the show filmed and couldn't wait to leave.

It takes all types.