I have lived in Los Angeles for seven and a half years, and I have never once been to a sitcom taping. Oh sure, I've seen shows taped live before (hell, I lost count of how many "live" episodes I was present for when I interned at the short-lived On-Air With Ryan Seacrest or even Ellen: The Ellen Degeneres Show), but I never attended anything that lasted more than an hour (an hour and a half, if there was an extra segment or promo at the end). For someone who moved out here to work on the next Friends, that is pretty much ridiculous, and I acknowledge it. And as of today, I have rectified it.
At four p.m. I arrived at the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank CA to watch a taping of one of my current favorite comedies (and one of the few left that actually still use a live studio audience), The New Adventures of Old Christine. I was pretty excited to see Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Clark Gregg, and Wanda Sykes, but I was even more excited to watch the creative juices flow behind the camera with on-the-spot line changes. It's been just about two years since I have done a production, and all my time on the set today proved was that I need to jump back in!
At 5:30, after the audience, which consisted of a couple on their honeymoon, a high school broadcasting class from Beaumont TX, flight attendants from France, and another high school group from Rialto, were all in our seats, we were screened last season's holiday (Thanksgiving) episode to give a little bit of background on the characters we were going to see live and in person, just a few feet in front of us, in just a few minutes. Of course Christine's house was the front and center set, and off to stage left was New Christine (Emily Rutherford)'s living room, but to stage right, there was an unfamiliar living space, which left room for intrigue and suspense...in the most comical way, of course.
Now, I won't give away too much of the episode (though after three hours of being in the studio, I had just about memorized every line). Warner Brothers and CBS TV didn't make me sign anything saying I wouldn't talk (or write, as the case may be) about it, but as one fan to another I don't want to ruin the surprise. All I will say is that as a fan, coming from where we left off with the gang last week (or more specifically Matthew and Richard), this episode to air December 15th had some HUGE spoilers.
The show opened with a pre-taped scene at a tree farm, and throughout the episode a few other Christmas related exteriors were rolled in. Wanda Sykes was not in the episode, unfortunately, and neither were the "Meanie Moms" (Tricia O'Kelley and Alex Kapp Horner), but instead we got an awesome guest star in "new" neighbor with a big secret, Molly Shannon! Michaela Watkins (who was just fired off SNL) also resumed her role as Matthew's patient-turned-girlfriend. It was unclear, though, if this was the first episode Watkins returned in or if she will be in the few between now and then.
Some laughs were had at the expense of Christine's drinking, as per usual, as well as her apathy towards others and her lack of a husband (Hap-py Holidays!), but throw in a kooky tradition of New Christine's (Kinderclausen; is that a real thing??) and an awkward moment under the mistletoe for Matthew, and good times were had by all!
The cast and crew managed to average two takes per scene, with a pick-up thrown in for good measure. Everyone mingled between set-ups, snacking on pizza and some amazing looking (perhaps birthday, for Greg the DP) cupcakes, but when the bell rang, they were all completely professional and "on." The show, already in it's fifth season, is more than a well-oiled machine.
As I watched, though, I couldn't help but find I still had that "vision" voice in my head making notes on continuity in the script (there is a line at one point where Christine says she should have saved some of what's in her flask for her new friend, implying it is empty, but then a few lines later she takes another nip, for example); I called for "one more for safety" in my head when I thought delivery was a bit rushed or anticipatory; and moreover, I found myself watching Kari (Lizer, show creator and E.P.) and Andy (Ackerman, the director) and thinking "I still want to do this!" I don't really like watching shows with laugh tracks these days because sometimes it seems forced and mostly I just don't like to be told what to think is funny, but I would still work on one: the rush you get from hearing the words come alive-- and then hearing real, unbiased people respond to them-- is amazing!
I guess that is really something that can't be turned off for certain people-- when it's all they know and is something about which they're passionate. I probably never should have stifled it by joining The Corporation, even as just a brief "time out" from the industry for which I moved out to L.A. in the first place. But at least that, too, is something I acknowledge now and can begin to rectify.