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Sunday, April 23, 2006

WHAT IT'S LIKE TO SEE A SITCOM TAPING

After a hike to Eaton Canyon Falls in Pasadena and an invigorating dip in the Pacific Ocean at Zuma Beach, nephew Sam and I met up with the wife at 20th Century Fox Studios in Century City. We had tickets to be in the studio audience for the taping of the pilot episode of My Ex-Life, a comedy directed by Kelsey Grammer and starring Tom Cavanagh (Ed) and Cynthia Watros. Here are some notes from our first experience as studio audience members.

• You are not there to be entertained. You are there to work. In exchange, you will receive a granola bar, a small bottle of water, and the opportunity to see entertainment professionals of varying degrees of celebrity. The biggest celebrity we saw was Hugh Jackman standing off stage.

• Your work consists of consistently providing realistic human laughter on cue over a period of several hours. Regardless of how many times you have a heard a particular punchline or seen a particular facial expression, you must deliver a believable guffaw of appropriate proportion. As the emcee (that's right, emcee) repeatedly reminded us, the laughter should be the best on take two since "we know where the laughs go."

• It was suggested that we "amp it up."

• Upon admission to the studio, audience members should be given a bundle of wood, some kindling and some matches so that small bonfires for warmth can be built every few seats. The temperature in the studio is kept at a crisp -14° F. I believe the Hollywood rule is that given enough BTUs, any script can be made funny.

• Kelsy Grammer is in charge of all things.

• The lovely Rena Sofer (who appears in this pilot as the single ballet teacher) is a true professional who has done enough of these to know the drill. She also seemed quite skeptical of the hypnosis portion of the between scenes entertainment by the emcee (that's right, emcee).

• As an audience member, most of your time is spent listening to the emcee, a comedian whose purpose is to keep the people distracted while they wait for the shooting to start and restart. This is done using a variety of impromptu audience participation activities including tattoo contests, dancing contests, barnyard animal imitation contests, copulating barnyard animal imitation contests, magic tricks, and, of course, the aforementioned hypnosis. This continues throughout the entire evening. The emcee is occasionally amusing, frequently distracting, and always loud. Bring Tylenol.

• Applause is another requirement, one that left my fingers and palms pained.

• Seeing the mechanics of mining the raw materials from which a show is assembled is fascinating.

• Tom Cavanaugh is funny.

• Kelsey Grammer is funnier as Sideshow Bob.

• Scenes are shot and reshot and reshot and then shot some more. Many audience members lack the stamina to keep their energy level up and bail early. The taping takes a long time. It's tiring to watch the same scenes over and over. We left after four hours and they still weren't done. Randy, the nice page that escorted us from the studio to the shuttle informed us that this was typical.

Read on in PART II: BRACE YOURSELVES, TV ISN'T AS FUNNY AS YOU THINK



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