Saturday, March 28, 2009

In which we hit our Marks, our Stride, and the Lottery

This week's movie is an exciting noir classic from Producers Releasing Corporation. Actually, it was neither exciting nor classic, but it was from Producers Releasing Corporation. In fact, the next couple of months will feature a slogfest through the catalog of Producers Releasing Corporation, which according to Wikipedia is "one of the humbler studios along Poverty Row." In a way, it's kinda cruel to make mock of PRC; no doubt the employees were doing the best they could do with what they had to work with, and no doubt were pleased as proverbial punch that they had jobs n all in cruel times, and no doubt none of said worthies so gainfully employed thought for one minute that their work would survive down through the generations to be displayed with a heaping plate of 80s 'tude on local KY teevee; but honestly, if we weren't paid to sit through the thing we would have been out washing the car or chunking rocks at our neighbor's rooster or some other activity that would have been a far more profitable use of our time than trying to figure out how to wrap some alleged entertainment around an exciting noir classic from Producers Releasing Corporation.

In fact, watching the tape resulting in a remarkably pristine note pad as I recall ... no grist for the mill, nada, nil, naught, nix, ni. One or the other of us basically said, "Oh let's just trash the damn thing and be done with it." This seemed to yield enough grist to produce something that could be show-like, and at least get us out of the rut; if we didn't get out of the rut soon, we'd be phoning in the bad puns and saying buh-bye to teevee land after a few more weeks. So ... a show of Millie as a Hard Boiled Dick seemed promising enough, and the premise started to write itself sorta -- always helpful when you're writing in your spare time and to deadline.

We still didn't really have Millie's voice, but it was starting to emerge. Dick Cavett opined once that one can't write comedy without writing for a particular comic and that particular comic's delivery, and went on to demonstrate how a basic joke would morph for Bob Hope, Groucho Marx and somebody else. We found this to be true in practice: until we found Millie's unique voice, the rhythm of her words, the particular sounds and words that were hers, writing and performing the show was a wrestling match with the paper right up to the show close. For this show, I was "hearing" Millie channeling Phillip Marlowe, Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe; and it was coming out in a faster-paced torrent of words than normal. Rococo words, too; Millie was channeling S.J. Perelman channeling Messrs. Marlowe, Goodwin and Wolfe. The script was getting a little more interesting than the post-opening scripts.

The open called for Millie investigating a murder, with a stage heaped with victims: Millie would rattle on, we'd roll Keith's new opening sequence, we'd come back in with more victims heaped around, and then roll the first segment of the movie. When we dropped the scripts off Thursday, I talked Keith through this sequence because if we were going to heap the stage with victims we'd probably need a few camera guys as set dressing. Keith was fine with this, and pointed out that if this was going to be a noir bit then we probably needed noirish lighting. This was fine with me, you want some suggestions? let's try some stuff when we place the set. O-kay. Oh by the way, Keith added, do you have anything in mind for the opening sequence? Nope, that's yours, do what you think it needs. Keith had something in mind.

When we came in Saturday night, the studio energy level was definitely up. The guys hustled the set in before they broke for lunch, and there seemed to be a bit more clutter to it than usual -- not a bad thing, somebody's been set-dressing. Everybody, including Barb n Bob, came back in at 12:30, and looky here a ladder has appeared! there's somebody up on it! and he's -- moving a light! After looking at the monitor, Keith and I wonder what it would look like if we -- turned off a couple of lights? So we start turning off lights, Keith checking back with the engineer to make sure we aren't breaking any station rules, and after a few minutes we end up with something that's definitely ... different.

Keith has decided that this will be a locked down one-camera shot, so he lines the shot up and we start decoratively arranging camera guys as helpless victims around the set. The guys are quite insistent that Floor Manager Tracy be the most prominent victim, and that she be decoratively arranged so as to be visibly ... protruberant would be a good word. They compete to be decoratively arranged near Tracy, so that they can try to break her up during the shot; it would seem that Tracy is easily amused and has a distinctive giggle. We haven't seen this much interest n life yet for this show, so Barb ices the cake by telling Tracy that whatever she does, she must-not-giggle. This has the desired effect of Tracy manfully trying to hold it in through the camera rehearsal, but not quite making it. The whole thing looks very silly -- not at all what we had imagined, but very silly and very playable. The whole show is going to go in a different direction tonight than what we thought -- and then Barb gives Keith the cue for the New Open.

Oh, that scamp Keith! He has been very busy in the edit booth, and has swiped the opening titles for Miami Vice, editing in Millie shots culled from the fateful first camera runthrough and the first couple of shows and matting the titles for this week's show over the Miami Vice graphics. Apparently none of the floor guys were in on this; we're all seeing it for the first time and howling with laughter. Keith is beaming, until one of the poopheads in the control room points out that he really needs to start the countdown clock because we've got less than two minutes to air. So we hurriedly get everybody back into some semblance of the victim positions, remind Tracy most severely that under no circumstances can she giggle, Keith suddenly remembers that with everybody laying dead on camera he's got no floor manager to count into the show so I put on Tracy's headset and do the hand jive for everyone and we're doing it for real, Tracy merrily mph mph mphing through Barb's monolog.

It occurs to me that if we went from Keith's open back to the studio and then back to the movie, we're taking something away from Keith's open; so I mention to Keith that it would be OK with us if we just went straight from his open to the movie. He's locked and loaded with tape and film cued up, so he's fine with that; and so it goes. Barb asks why we didn't come back to her, I tell her, she's fine with that as well, and we're madly dashing for the next setup.

The rest of the show chugs along just fine. Everybody's having a good time, we're getting good suggestions for the bumps, everybody's contributing. Any semblance between the show we're broadcasting and the show we dropped off on Thursday is purely accidental. This calls for post-show pizza, and while we're celebrating it occurs to me that Halloween is coming in a couple of weeks, as is Fall Back Night. It also occurs to me that we'll be live at the time that humanity supposedly Falls Back. So while we're congratulating each other and thanking Keith for his open, I wonder how hard it would be to tape the open of the show and then play the tape back live later on in the show. Keith say this is fairly easy, and did I have something in mind?

As a matter of fact, I did.

Monday, March 23, 2009

In which we Reboot a Bit

I'm not remembering anything showstopping from Show 3 itself; but the thing from Show 3 or thereabouts was what we have come to know as a Fair, Frank n Open Discussion of the Issues.

Keith wanted to talk while Barb got out of makeup, and shared a little about the guys, WLEX, and his feelings about the enterprise.

Our studio guys were basically the newest production hires, fresh out of EKU's Radio and TV Production curriculum. As the newest production hires, they occupied the sub-basement of the production pecking order; and the only way out of the sub-basement was if one of the day-shift production folks moved on. Generally, this never happened: the only other places to go to in central KY at the time were WKYT and KET; and since those were the plum jobs, nobody ever left there. Unless they left central KY. Which was unthinkable.

So our guys were condemned to the Midnight Shift for the forseeable forever, with no hope of doing anything interesting in the next decade or two; the News was all robocameras, fergoodnesssakes, and the formats for the Sunday AM Public Interest shows were frozen in aspic. Then we came along, with our merry disregard for everything that anybody Knew about the Right Way to Produce a Show -- and it looked even more hopeless than before, except that a) we seemed to listen to them, b) we seemed to respect their work and c) we seemed to have fun and wanted them to have fun, too. This from Show 1.

So everybody gets all excited and starts psyching themselves up for the show -- and here we are, doing basically illustrated radio. All Millie is doing is sitting up there, cracking jokes and making faces. Where's the television? What happened to all that talk of a month ago?

For my part, my $.02 is that we were hitting nothing but "Can't do that," for reasons ranging from the legitimate n plausible to the oh, please. And for all our brave talk, the reality is that the tape from Show 1 showed that (hate to say it) Bill was more right than not: as a teevee show, it might have been a brave experiment and fun in the studio, but what went out over the air kinda stunk. So we've been kinda busy working on what we could control, which is the character.

We talk about the character: Millie is stuck in a Grande Dame Diva rut that nobody is particularly excited about, with the possible exception of Bill. And as long as she's tied to the chair, not moving around and not reacting to anybody, we can't do much more with her than write jokes that nobody understands. We've got to pick up the pace and get more Stuff going in the show. Which means, Mr. Writer, that you have to put more Stuff into the script that we can work with.

Up to this point, the scripts are just Millie's monologues. And I point out that our understanding was that Keith & Co. would take care of the teevee part, we'd take care of the talent part. So if it's boring teevee, we need Keith & Co. to step up as well: it serves none of us for any of us to get all Artiste-y with the Show. Right or wrong, the guys' attitude towards The Talent reflected their legitimate reaction to how The Talent treated them in the past; and we have had our little experiences with divas as well. We don't play that game.

So we leave each other with a challenge: Given the basic lines of responsibility -- we don't tell them how to stage the broadcast unless the scene is written to be staged a particular way, they don't tell us what to say or do -- what can we do next week to get out of the rut?

Keith is not in for Week 4; Audio Jeff is directing, and Doug shifts from camera to audio. But obviously our conversation has been shared, because we walk in to the studio to say our howdys upon arrival, and the mood is most def upbeat. Barb n Bob go off, pumped. Jeff, who has been very quiet for the past month, is willing to read the Director lines. The guys want to see Barb enter -- they want to move the cameras! Doug is playing with sound -- there are sound effects being dropped in here and there, more or less in logical holes in the script. There is talkback that isn't scripted, and Millie responds appropriately. Everybody's energy is up without the franticity of Week 1. This show is working the way that it's supposed to work. And it's coming together in Week 4, just like we thought. And Week 4 begins the ratings month. Oh, we love it when a plan comes together.

We're moving into a series of PRC trash movies at this point -- the next one up is some detective epic, with snappy patter n guys in fedoras that don't come off when the hard-boiled dick socks 'em. The writing is now falling into a pattern -- too bad we won't be writing after a few more weeks, we should be off scripts by the end of the month at this rate -- and I call Keith Tuesday night and ask: How do you feel about doing a hard-boiled dick show this week? If the show's full of detective movie cliches running around the movie? Could you come up with a special open for the show?

Keith say he's got an idea.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

In which we play a Kazoo Interlude

Projects, deadlines, too much workly stuff at this time. Plus I need to go up to the attic and try to find the Box O Tapes to start refreshing my memory. Tune in for next week's exciting classic, whatever it is.

O, yeah ... the Kazoos.

This being in the prehistoric, pre-internet times, and also being Lexington, we couldn't just you know google "Masterpiece Theatre theme" and get th' wisdom o' the ages delivered to our Sears Commodore 64 monitor in nanoseconds. If we strolled into the mall record store and asked, "Hey, you guys got the theme to Masterpiece Theatre?", we'd get the Thousand Yard Stare, which is what we did and what we got. This also being in the prehistoric, pre-home theatre times, we had kludged up an audio output from our teevee and ran it through the Other inputs of our fine fine Barney Miller's Marantz amplifier so's we could enjoy teevee audio in high fidelity n such. So the easier solution was to just rip the theme right off the air and dub it to a cassette. And then it was time for Midnight Audio.

Barb called our friend Doroth and asked if Doroth'd like to go out and do something different tonight. Doroth was always up for something different, so Barb told Doroth to meet her at the northwestest door of Ruckus Arenus on High Street in an hour. Since we lived a few blocks from the Big Gym, we walked over with our cassette and kazoos in hand. Barb went up to the aforementioned corner while I signed in at the famous Guard Condo. People in our shop were always signing in and out at all hours, so this was not unusual at all. I told the guard that I needed to pick up some gear out of the arenus sound booth for a show, and he nodded; whatever was on the guard condo teevee that Sunday night was pretty fascinating. Mental note: logical audience for MT includes guards on midnight shift. I stopped off in the shop, picked up a reel of tape and a couple of RE 20 microphones, and went up to the northwestest door on High Street, one of the thousands of doors that wasn't alarmed, and let Barb and Doroth in. Then, with mics tapes n kazoos we went to the Ruckus Arenus sound booth to record the Theme to Monsterpiece Theatre.

The Ruckus Arenus sound booth was set up as a recording studio for LCC and Opera Housus projects; so it had state-of-the-80s art Neve consoles, a couple of Tascam studio reel-to-reel decks, and a big ol' processor rack; way overengineered for the Ruckus Arenus PA system, but hey. Once in, if you didn't fire up the main amp racks to the cluster you had a very nice little recording studio; so I didn't fire up the main amp racks to the cluster, cued up the Masterpiece cassette, and set mics up for Barb n Doroth to tootle their little kazoos, just like 'at Slothrop the Singing Nincompoop kazooing his way across The Zone. We did a couple of dead takes trying to solve the problem of picking up leakage from the booth monitor, then decided it didn't matter anyway and added it as a sweetener into the dub; then Barb n Doroth kazootled their way through the entire cut in one take, interrupting themselves every so often with giggles. Figured that since it was in the bridge that too didn't matter, and besides it wasn't entirely unknown that the guard made rounds. So one take and we're done.

Audio editing at the time of course is razor blade n splicing block, with grease pencil and rocking the tape back n forth across the playback head looking for the right blurp. And of course it's a prime opportunity to space out and forget whether the playback head is head 1 or head 3. Which I did, as I cut off the head and spliced on the leader. So when we played the tape back, we lost the first note-and-a-half, which the kazoos had't come in on anyway because they couldn't hear the cue. Oh, well.

So we hand the tape to Keith, who plays it and asks, "Did you know that you have a false start to the music cue?" Well, yeah ... but ... does it matter? Keith gives me The Look: thought you Ruckus Arenus guys were, like, practically perfect in every way and you hand in this shabby thing? The kazoos are playing in the WLEX control room, and one of the regular newsies pokes his or her head in: What's that? We're thinking of this for the Monsterpiece theme. "Hey, that's pretty funny, what is it, kazoos?" Keith seizes the moment and runs the tape back to the beginning: Hey, what do you think about this open? and plays the blown edit. The newsie listens, shrugs, asks "Does it matter?" I'm thinking about it, wincing at the edit and about to say "Let's do it over," when Keith decides, "It's good enough for now. You guys will probably be making some noise or something during the opens anyway."

Yeah, probly.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

In which we do a Turkey that we Know Should Fold

Oh my, do we dislike this here movie The Sentinel. It's a dreary boomer-angsty haunted house movie in which a lovely but troubled (or is it troubled but lovely) boomette modelle has to give up her entire life career n everything on account of the mean old Catholic Church is making her babysit the entrance to hell. Which is through a brownstone in Brooklyn. Because if she doesn't, it'll be armageddon n stuff, which would ruin our whole day. Mom n Dad are so mean, making us be responsible.

We don't know yet how to channel our responses into a Show, and the clock is running, so Week 2 becomes pretty much by-the-numbers as I recall. Probly a Good Thing; we threw a lot of spaghetti at the wall in Week 1. Keith is right -- we need to give him and his group time to get with this program. Bill's right, which we'd prefer not to admit -- for all the high concept blather, what people saw on the air bounced around like a thousand crazed superballs. And we're right -- the outlines of what the Show ought to be are clear and soon-to-be very doable.

But we can't break this particular movie into a cohesive Show, not just yet. So as I recall we don't have much choice but to do a lot of Millicent Talking. And neither of us have found her Voice yet. Barb has a sound, but it's not refined; I haven't found the rhythm or the vocabulary yet. So we push through the required positions, but nothing's really happening. Oh well, time's up and we hand in the script on Thursday as promised.

Bill calls Barb on Friday. He thinks we're on the right track. That makes one of us.

Same drill Saturday night, except the set's up and facing the News Team, who seem to find it somewhat distracting, tee hee and too bad. Audio Jeff hands Barb the beltpack and mic as he comes out of the control room. The clock officially starts for MT at 12:30, and Barb is quickly connected and checked, since all Audio Jeff has to do is plug the cable in. Keith runs the open he's put together -- titles drift in from top and bottom, that's kind of interesting, the weekly movie will float in as well, he's thinking of assembling a montage of movie shots and Millie shots under it, okey dokey whatever. We run through the Approved Opening, mostly talk setting up the movie -- we are not going to do any Crypt Keeper groaner puns, no no no. Everything's good, we've got a little less than twenty minutes to go, so Keith Doug n Audio Jeff decide to work on the Bluescreen Issue.

The problem is that it's kind of a jury-rigged setup to start with. There are two or three lights that light up the blue wall, and three or four lights that light up the Talent; and electronically the deal is to balance the light between the foreground/Talent and the background/blue wall so that the electronics can blank out the blue and insert the image of choice. There will always be a hard black outline, given the state of the art electronics available at WLEX (but there's good stuff on order, will be here soon). If the light and the color are balanced electronically, then the insert will work without either dropping out sections of the Talent, or fringing the hard black outline around the Talent. Thanks to the zany costume, which breaks all the rules of the blue wall, the Talent both has image bleedthrough randomly throughout the costume and fringes the hard black outline. And while the guys take the point that a cheesy bluescreen might be conceptually just th' ticket for the cheesy show we seem to be hellbent on producing, they have also been informed in No Uncertain Terms by Oz the Great n Terrible Head Engineer that there will be No Cheesy Bluescreen Shots on His Watch -- and just to be sure, he'll be watching to make sure that they don't let Those People talk them into a cheesy bluescreen shot.

Let me state for the record that I have yet to see Management by Bullying work as a valid motivational tool, and I have worked for some world-class bullies in Our Nation's Capital.

Keith Doug n Jeff have been mulling this problem over as a thought problem during the week, and have concluded that the ideal solution would be to either boost the lighting on the blue backing or boost the lighting on the Talent, one. In essence, this would give just enough of a fudge factor that the video switcher could be tweaked just a little off the Approved Settings and generate a barely-tolerable shot. The problem is that they can't move the lights, they don't have any spare lights on sticks that could be set up as a temporary solution, and the studio lights are not on dimmers they're on on/off wall switches so they can't do a light level tweak. But if they gel the lights with color media, this would be definition change the red-green-blue balance and intensity of one or more lights; which might get the same result as the light boost textbook solution.

I'm impressed. They've apparently been quite serious in thinking this through. I have my odd bits o scavenged gel from the Opry House, and remark that we sometimes have the same problem on stage with trying to get a visual separation between foreground actors and background scenery, particularly lit cycloramas; and our classic solution is to use either a top light or better still a backlight, more or less 15 degrees off vertical, to rim the foreground actors and put a little edge of light around the 3-D stuff. Hmm, sez Jeff or Doug, and rummages around in the back to come up with a little garage clip light with a dinky little PAR 38 in it. While one guy's up on the ladder swapping gels, the other waves the light around Barb. Keith and the show's video engineer (who never comes out of the control room), keep up cryptic chatter that seems to suggest that the experiment is promising, but not yet good enough. The countdown clock and the SNL network feed both warn us that we're running out of time, so we get in position for the open.

The show feels more under control this week, but it also feels lethargic. Barb has pitched her voice down, and is using lots of elongated vowels; she's an actress and she's been given a note to pull the character back, and so she does; and in the studio the show feels slow. Nothing you can put your finger on, but the energy level is a little below acceptable. Nothing is memorable about this week. There are a couple more letters that came in. Hope they're still watching next week.

We're coming up on a sequence where the Basement Door to Hell opens and horrible fiendish persons intent on Grievous Naughtiness start piling out. We've watched the movie at home three or four times trying to break the show, and this sequence induces groans and Oh Puh-leezes every time. Say there, Keith -- could we just cut in a shot of Barb sticking her tongue out? She's not going to say or do anything -- it'd just appear in the middle of the scene. Let the movie soundtrack roll, it would be just for a couple of seconds. Keith is Skeptical -- why would we want to do that? I could tell you that it's because we think it would be funny -- but it's really because anybody who's still up watching this thing is half-asleep, and it'll wake 'em up. Somebody on the floor thinks that's funny, so what the hell. We line up the shot; Keith says he supposes I know exactly when I want to break in, and I allow that as a matter of fact I do, and I'll point at him when it comes. Which I do, which he does, which Barb does, which the movie rolls merrily on. Snickers all around; it seems I'm not the only one who thinks this week is a letdown.

Thankfully the movie ends. We know we have to do the promo for next week's movie, so I scribble a promo script and channel some of the collective frustration into the promo. We thank everybody for the night -- Mr. Metz told me as a young pup that no matter how bad the rehearsal or the show was, one always thanks people for their work that night. Somebody remarks it wasn't bad; somebody else remarks it'll be better next week. Nobody's leaving feeling bad about the night besides Barb and me.

In restrospect, this week was the Buy-In Week. Now it's no longer The Talent's Show; it's Our Show.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In which we are Constructively Criticized

Oh, that rascal Bill, the scamp. He didn't like it.

Too busy, too fast, Millicent is too big, too harsh, too ugly, too unlikable ...

All the guys are sitting around the table with us. The happy folks who sure looked like they were into it just a couple of days ago are sinking back into themselves. They were sporting what I have since learned to recognize as the BOHICA sulk (Bend Over, Here It Comes for you wee ones who should be reading Treasure Island). And while our own review of the show, watched Sunday night instead of loyally watching Amazing Stories or whatever the fine first-run NBC product was that particular Sunday night, told us that we weren't anywhere near the right balance of chaos and organization that we wanted to be, on the whole the show was entertaining enough ... there were some parts that were laugh-out-loud funny ... and the bits that fell flat fell flat because they were poorly thought-out.

The nice thing about being tagged as the Uncooperative Outsider is that once in a while you can live up to the tag. And this was as good a time as any, so Bad Intense Steve asked a few questions: Wasn't the brief to produce ... an improvised show? An unrehearsed show? An anything goes show? That was pitched to a cult audience who would discover the show, not a mass audience that needed to be unchallenged? Haven't we just finished up a month of being told that WLEX did not want a polished show? Or a structured show? And didn't we have your approval to produce a show that pretty much played the way it was scripted? Did we not just deliver the show that you asked for, nay insisted on?

And by the way, did we get any mail?

Turns out we did get a couple of letters. Which were, in fact, two more than anybody thought we would get, including ourselves.

And we looked at the letters -- fan mail, from some flounders. Postmarked Sunday.

So ... these folks dropped letters in the mail the day after the show aired. And sent it to the fake address. And they appear to be, not to put too fine a point on it, complimentary.

Well, pardon th' rant n all, and truth to tell when we look at the tape as a standalone record of the performance there is a fair amount of work to be done to polish this show, so we are inclined to agree with th' gist of your comments. But if polish is what's required, then we're going to have to have the kind of structure that a polished show requires.

Which means a script. And rehearsals. And an overall vision. And a crew who's willing to push things a little. And we have all that, at least in embryonic form. What we need is time for the pieces to come together. We made a quantum leap in a week. Now that we have one show down, and we know what we have to work on, whatever needs fixing is easy to fix.

Besides, the unspoken thought hangs in the air, what else ya got?

One thing we learned at good ol' Ruckus Arenus was arrogance and in-your-face-itude. We had a Master teaching us, our cranky old Head Rat. It was not the normal language of business or the arts in good ol' Lexington KY circa 1985, and it likely was not the normal discourse in that little boardroom. It was also not the way to win executive friends and influence people; it was the big fat pride talking, the noise of a young arrogant snot.

But it won the point. Bill backed down.

Keith fills the void. We asked for way too much teevee stuff on such short notice; we really needed to pull back on the video stuff. Let's do one thing a week and solve the production problems; then we can work in the actor stuff for the floor guys. We wanted crawls, animations, quick cut-ins, blue screen, sound effects, moving cameras, location shots -- all at once. Let's just do one or two of those a week for a few weeks.

Good point. No problem. What do you think we should work on this week? We decide that we'll only do crawls and cut-ins this week, we'll use some of the set stuff during the bits so there won't be any camera whippeteria, we'll camera rehearse everything before we air it, we'll only have one (well, maybe two) brief exchanges between Millie and Keith, and if we have downtime we'll try out an idea or two for solving the bluescreen.

Bill doesn't understand this bluescreen fixation. Why can't we just stand up there and tell jokes? Because as long as we do unexpected stuff, we'll have an audience. As soon as the audience can predict what we're going to do, they'll stop watching. Because why would they need to watch? if they can make up just as good a show in their minds, they don't need us. We don't want to do bluescreen for the sake of bluescreen, we'll always have a reason: we want to do a teevee show, so why shouldn't we take advantage of teevee technology?

Well, OK ... but no coming in early, or cutting meals short, to solve production problems. How long do you think it will take for this ... show ... to come together.

Four weeks, I say. Don't know where that comes from, but I know it's right.

What are you thinking about for this week's show? Turns out we watched the movie the night before -- an unfortunate and shabby piece of 70s faux deviltry called The Sentinel, which we hated hated hated -- and Barb and I do a quick rundown of our impressions. "So you're basically going to trash the movie," Bill says. We think about that for a second, and Barb says, "Yeah, pretty much."

Bill likes that. Go figure; it's closer to a classic monster movie host act, maybe it's closer to what he really wanted.

Keith still wants a theme song and a fixed opening. How about the theme from Masterpiece Theatre, played on kazoos? Bill thinks that's pretty funny. Where are we going to get the theme from Masterpiece Theatre played on kazoos? I has an idea, but it won't be ready this week. Keith will come up with something.

Well, all righty then. If things are slowed down a little, Millicent is pulled back a little, it's more jokey a little, then let's try that and see how it looks. Script for Thursday, see you Saturday night. Executive decisions executed decisively.

Barb and I hang back with Keith a second: thanks for the support and the constructive comments, much appreciated. Keith thanks us for the pizza -- nobody ever bought them pizza after a shoot before. Huh.

So ... honestly, now ... did you like the show?

"Now that we're past it ... yeah. Parts of it were pretty good. Others ..."

Same for us. We've got to do what we've got to do this week, but ... do you want to do a sitdown joke show, or do you want to do more like Saturday?

No hesitation. "More like Saturday, only better."


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

In which the Show Goes On

It's showtime, folks.

Here comes Barb, Bob, Nathan n Steve piling out of the car shortly after 11PM on a lovely Saturday night, there's that Elmer smilin' at us n wavin' us in, Steve signs everybody in while Barb n Bob go off looking for a place to change and make up. The News is on air, the control room door is open -- seems it's rather stuffy in there, so that's how they vent the joint out -- and Keith and a couple of others we recognize are pushin' them buttons, slidin' them sliders, and otherwise producing The News At 11. Mike n Mindy are reciting the day's woes, national n local, and as they wrap up the newscast I hear over the control room monitor, "... stay tuned for Saturday Night Live, and right after that a new show -- Monsterpiece Theatre. Sounds like fun. Later tonight." Then the cold open for SNL comes on, headsets come off followed shortly by studio crew guys, followed shortly by Mike n Mindy their own selves. They're taller than I irrelevantly thought, and they're wearing jeans n sneaks! -- well, we never see them other than waist-up, they're behind the News Desk in the News Set, of course. Keith introduces me as one of the Monsterpiece guys, and Mike n Mindy allow as to how they're looking forward to the show, heard a lot of good things, gracious chitchat yadayada. I mumble something hopefully gracious in reply but probly not because I'm counting down to show and to this day it's nothing but adrenaline and tension until the first minute of show when it's well and truly Out of Our Hands and Owned by the Audience. They go down the hall to the News Department, and behind me I hear a hoot, that's so funny -- guess we know where Barb n Bob are set up ...

Keith wants to go over the script, but not now: everybody's on lunch break. Another Little Surprise. Later, counting their shift hours on fingers n toes, of course it makes sense, it's after the fourth hour of the shift -- but damn, guys, how many more of these Little Surprises are out there anyway? Nothing to do but pace in the studio, which seems to be my place for now. At least the set is stacked along the wall, behind the cameras -- and it's stacked in sequence, first piece by the door is on top; The Chair, The Teevee and the Loose Stuff bring up the rear of the train.

There's a downshooter camera on a table, with some script pages. Some are ours, with notes -- good to see. Some are for a commercial -- typed on a bulletin typewriter. There's the minicam, standing on a tripod; the minicam is good news, the tripod -- must resist WTF impulse. There's a flipchart in the corner, with a fairly dry marker on the easel ledge.

Keith's back. Not many notes -- there are some crawls, he wants to know if these should be against a black field or across the bottom of the screen, I have no opinion that's his call; the blue backing gag might not work tonight, the Head Engineer came in to test something, can we do it as a cut-in if we have to? rather not, but if we have to and only as a last resort; he's okay with lines that he has to read, but he doesn't want anybody else on the crew to have lines -- he wants them to focus on their jobs, not act ... little late for this Little Surprise, but we shall zip our lip and ask instead what if we put a headset on Nathan and give the lines to him? that'll work .... about this fake address for the fan mail -- do you really want to use this? is anybody really goint to write in? well, if they do they the mail guy sure won't mix it in with the bills ... want that as a title? can we have it as a title? sure, why not ... that's about it. Keith goes off to fix the crawl, Barb Bob n Nathan come in, the studio guys come in, and the countdown clocks start on the cameras.

Head Engineer Guy and Doug white-balance the floor cameras (quick) and the minicam (not so quick ... takes about five or ten minutes). Head Engineer Guy and Doug want The Talent over at the blue backing wall, they want to fuss with lights n electronics. Audio Guy attaches a power pack to the small of Barb's back, threads a lapel mic through the layers of costume -- Barb asks if he wants, he could just give her the stuff when she comes in and she'll put it on when she dresses -- Audio Guy has to think about this one, apparently nobody's offered to do this before -- Head Engineer Guy concludes nope, can't get good separation, no blue backing stuff tonight, too much damn blue in the costume and hair, The Great Oz Has Spoken. Bob's got some red spray hair dye, starts frosting the wig and shpritzing bits of costume where the blue is poking through, I ask if I brought some gel with a lot of red in it and they backlit or toplit her would that help? Head Engineer Guy does the bobblehead Nope nope nope, Doug says aside bring it in, can't hurt, countdown clock is down to 5 minutes, Keith wants The Talent out in the hall to set up the opening. I tell Nathan he's going to be a techie, hand him his side, ask the rest of the guys if they know what to do ... nope, nobody tells them nothin' Oh please so I break the No Speaking to Crew Rule, tell them what's coming, and tell them feel free to crack as many Talent cracks as they want, but they have to do it on the air, and the countdown clock is counting seconds down from 120.

Out in the corridor, the shot is set up; Barb wants to know when to come in -- the floor manager is out on the landing with her, she'll cue her when they're live. Elmer wants Doug to get his good side, Barb walks down the corridor with Doug so that he knows where she's going, Keith wants everybody in place because it's ten seconds to air. Mad scrambling, Barb just gets back outside (no floor manager with; she jumps into the film room counting three ... two ... one ... and) ...

BAM! The door flies open, it's not Barb but Millie, in full rant and everybody who's left in the corridor gets out of the way in a hurry. Millie rants down the corridor, someone ducks down in front of her to get the door, she kicks the studio door open and rips into the floor guys. They're surprised, somebody remembers to say "huzzabuzza huzzabuzza Talent", Nathan reads His Line for posterity, the movie gets introduced, the floor manager makes the universal signal for Hold It and announces "We're clear."

Lots of exhaling, a couple of "yeah!"s n "OK"s, tension clear, and we've got seven minutes to set up the next shot. Barb apologizes to the crew for yelling at them, oh that's all right, ma'am, Keith reminds us that the clock is running and we've got to set the next scene up. He calls for the Designer -- guess that's me, folks.

I ask for the entry piece, half of the bookcase, want to see the other half creep in behind her during the shot; we set the chair in the light, throw some dressing around -- Barb wants an extra copy of the script just in case, we leave it on the teevee, floor manager announces we're live in thirty seconds, everybody jumps back behind cameras except for me who will do the flat move, we come back up and do the first in-show bit, which is to be punctuated by the flat falling down. It does not fall with a satisfactory thud: it's vacuformed, dummy -- it's got no weight or mass, it just kind of ... wafts down. Millicent explodes that she can't even get a decent noise out of her set -- where'd that come from? oh well, better than the close we had -- and we're out. Exhaling again here, boss except that the floor manager annouces that we need to set up the bump.

Is this another one of tonight's Little Surprises? Sure is, we need a bumper -- five to ten second shot of Something that the show title gets superimposed over. Doesn't matter what, but we're live in thirty seconds. We grab Barb n some stuff, do something, say "Do this!" just as the floor manager counts us back on the air ... and the Monsterpiece Theatre bumpers are born. Every bumper during the run of the show will be made up on the fly, and whoever's got the best idea sets up the bump.

We're counting down to the next bit, which will be the aborted blue backing insert -- just going to be a quickie, then on to whatever is next -- when I hear from the on-air monitor the cue for the cut-in. That ain't right -- it's supposed to be at least three minutes from now. Turns out there was an internal edit to the film -- guess somebody thought something was a Naughty Bit -- well, too bad, we missed it and we're moving to the next setup.

Barb asks me if I can cue her; I grab the flip chart, start writing her dialog bullets, and position myself with flip chartsnext to the center camera. That's where I will live for the run of the show: I'm now Cue Card Guy.

And so it goes. Millie reads her Fan Mail, gives out the first bogus address, Camera Guy next to me snickers at the address. Millie does Ketchup Theatre. Millie does Other Stuff. Bumps get improvised. Everybody's much looser than we were at 12:30. Some stuff is working, some stuff isn't; but for the most part most of the show will do. We aren't anywhere near where we want to be with this show, but the progress from last Thursday is clear, the breakneck studio pace doesn't let us worry about what just happened, and if we aren't amusing anybody else in teevee land we're amusing our collective selves.

We're setting up the outro, and Doug annouces that it's a full moon tonight. Keith wants to get a shot of the full moon for the close; well, good on you, Keith, that will most certainly work. Doug dashes down the corridor to set up the minicam in the parking lot, Millie introduces the next week's classic (whatever it is), the credits roll, and the floor manager tells us we're clear. It's something like 3:15AM, and there's applause from the guys. "We did good," Doug announces.

I have my Little Surprise for the night: a Domino's guy shows up with pizzas n pop. If we tanked, at least we leave on a full stomach; if we win, victory smells like pepperoni. Before we dig in, Keith reminds us that we have to do the Promo, and he promises that's the last of tonight's Little Surprises. We got nothing at this point, so we just reprise whatever Millie said in the outro over the clip. Now it's Domino's time. But before you go, pizza guy ... is this your shift? Do you do this every week? Ever deliver over here? Got a problem with ... oh ... delivering pizza on the air?

Keith's all smiles coming out of the control room. On the whole, it went pretty well. He hands me a cassette: it's next week's movie. Bill wants to do notes late Tuesday afternoon, they're all coming in a little early; did he talk to us about it. My turn: nobody tells us nothin'. Keith laughs: that is this place, all right.

We leave about 4. Some of the studio guys have to be back to do the Sunday AM public interest shows. Nathan left his car at our place, we drop Bob off at his place: Just think, Bob -- we get to do this again next week!

Bob say "Oh boy!"

Sunday, March 8, 2009

In Which a Star is Borned

Well, all righty. Counting down to show here, boss.

If we're going to submit a completed script to Bill in seven days, we need to write it in no more than six; and since we both have full-time jobs, we need to get busy tonight. We get home, pop the tape into the VCR -- note that this first work o art is some epic titled The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave, which just happens to be referenced in our handy dandy Psychotronic Encyclopedia -- and commence to watch.

About ninety or so minutes later, the truth is clear: this is incomprehensible dreck. I'm about to radically revise my long-held belief that nobody wakes up one morning and decides that he or she will spend the next twenty-four hours doing the worst job possible in his/her appointed duty for the day. As best as we can tell, this is some sort of revenge tale about assorted eurotrash cads of various sexes; but the movie itself is at least fifteen minutes shorter than its alleged run time, if the tape is any kind of faithful to the film image then the film stock has aged to the point that the colors are leaching out to a bluish muck, and I am damned if I can keep track of which unlikable pouf is doing what unspeakable deed to whoever irredemiable scoundrel, where said unspeakable deed is being done, or whether what we're watching is flash forward, flash back, flash sideways, or Flash the Wonder Cat. There is no way any half-awake person in his or her right mind would sit through the first reel of this nonsense. At least as far as this particular movie is concerned, it's of no help or use to us: we're on our own.

We watch it again Friday, with a notepad and stopwatch, scribbling notes and run times on whatever catches our attention positive or negative. We're holding on to the unready for sub-prime time framing story, and some movie-related stuff is sticking to this framework. On a whim, we decide that we'll throw in a viewer mail segment and lard it with fake letters: who knows, maybe someone will take the bait, and anyway it's knocked out quickly. Barb and I are basically talking trash back at the movie as it unspools, in the time-honored tradition of talking trash back at the movie as it unspools. I make no claim for anticipating MST3K, my high-skool buds and I did the same thing at the Rio Show in the late 60s, culminating in Uncle Rich Ungar growing so irritated at a Godzilla and the Teensy Princesses epic that he shot the screen and was promptly barred from the Rio Show for life plus the unfortunate incident being Duly Noted on his Permanent Record, the bullet hole allegedly prominently unpatched until the Rio Show fell to the demo crew in the early 80s and my brother-in-law rescuing the glow-in-the-dark clock over the exit, which it can still be seen in his kitchen. But I digress.

Saturday morning I fire up my trusty Commodore 64 and head the page: Monsterpiece Theatre/Show 1/The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave.

Fade in on Elmer at the guard entrance; shade the shot so that the outside door can clearly be seen. The door bangs open and MILLIE barges in.

Where does Millie come from? Not in any character backstory sense -- how'd this character suddenly become Millie? We've been calling her Millicent for the last three or four weeks. No matter -- once I start writing, I write straight ahead in two to three hour stretches, pausing to check the breakdown or refill my coffee. So Millie barges past Elmer, barges into the empty studio, starts barking into the empty air ...

And suddenly here are some words on the paper for Director Keith. And the camera has followed Millie into the studio to show some camera guys lolling about, and here are some words for them as well. And here's how this show is going to work, and the words start writing themselves bit after bit, and Barb looks over my shoulder at the draft and starts reading the written words out loud and adding more words and what-ifs, and this show is going to work because now we know what this show is about:

Millie is Teevee Talent. There is no backstory -- she exists only as a Teevee Image. Her frame of reference is a) her teevee show and b) herself. She blows into the real world of the real teevee studio, surrounded by real people, who have to deal with real things. Millie does not deal with any reality, nothing that refers to the real world except as it is revealed on television, she is not real, she is a teevee character who only knows teevee things. The teevee studio guys, and in particular Director Keith, are the audience's avatar: they don't have the luxury of Millie's self-contained and self-referential foolishness. Their goal is to get through the show without having to deal with Millie, the movie, or the show falling down.

And the show takes shape: Millie does this, Millie does that, Millie gives out misinformation, trashes movie, station, crew; misrepresents the scene in progress -- we time out a bit where we'll matte her into a scene to argue with a character, never mind that the guys say it can't be done, if it's in the script then we'll have to find some way to do it; blows off the movie entirely in Ketchup Theatre; the set falls down; Millie garbles the outro, which will be a Preview of Coming Attractions; Millie proclaims the entire evening a success, to the dismay of the studio guys. By midnight Sunday we've got a draft script; Monday night we read it back to each other, marking rewrites that range from tightening and tweaking to tossing pages out and putting in something new; Tuesday night we rewrite front-to-back, print out two copies, and insert them into two envelopes -- one for Bill, the other for Keith. I drop the envelopes off at WLEX during lunch Wednesday, and when we get home Wednesday night there's a message on the answering machine from Bill: he likes it, has a couple of notes that would simplify production, and approves it for broadcast with the revisions. He suggests that we arrive at the studio a little after 11 Saturday. No writer's credit, of course; but as long as it's kept loose it will look ad-libbed, and that's what the audience wants.

We are not going to argue: it's showtime, folks.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

In which we get the Final Pieces, and make a Trial Fitting

All in all, as we motor over to WLEX, we're feeling pretty good about the upcoming studio session. Costume works, makeup works, set folks are feeling good, there's a character starting to emerge, got a couple of fixed bits to build the rest of the show around, Bob n Nathan are in the car and everyboy's laffin n jivin n having a Good Time as we pull into the parking lot, troop up the steps to the night entrance

And we can't come in.

Seems that no one let Elmer the night guard (okay, I don't remember his name after all this time, but I always thought of him as an Elmer) know that we were expected. Therefore we aren't on his list. And if you're not on the night list, You Shall Not Pass.

We are not going to get all diva about this. Well, some of us are thinking about getting all diva about this, but others of us who have some experience with rent-a-guards know that about all a rent-a-guard is going to get for a post order is "show up here at 1800 hours, go home at 0600 hours, don't fall asleep". So if we aren't on the night list, one certain n universal truth is it's not Elmer's fault.

So after a huddle, we decide that the Cute One is the best positioned to smile, bat eyelashes and ask if perhaps he might check with Mr. Bill and see if we are expected? Nathan proposes a quick round of Rock Paper Scissors to determine who the Cute One is, but Barb's beat him to it and is charming Elmer. I don't know how she does this, and honor her for it; I can spend a week in Baltimore without any Charm City lint rubbing off on me. It doesn't take long for Barb to convince Elmer to check his sign-out sheet and by gum Mr. Bill still is on property but he's not answering his phone there. One of us manages to wonder if perhaps he could be paged? and by gum he can be and by gum if Bill doesn't bust out all over from the studio profusely apologizing for the mixup, secretary was supposed to leave word, this isn't the way he hoped to get started tonight, well no harm done, glad to see that Security's doing their job (Elmer very proud with this last one), and if I'm not very much mistaken that there studio door is only about fifteen or twenty feet behind that there Elmer. Anyway, after establishing that Bob is here to apply makeup only at no additional charge to Bill, Barb Bob n Bill are off to find some privacy for changing and makeup and Nathan and I step into El Casa de Monstrepiece.

It's cold. And it's not just the AC, which is cranked down to meatlocker mode ("It's the lights, you know. They're very hot," Bill explains. "Ah," I respond). The studio guys are on the floor, watching us, and I would not characterize this first meeting as friendly.

We came to find out later why, when we were all happy family. This evening, we are squarely in the category of Them, which is not the place to be on this fine September eve. I attempt to engage folk in What We're Going to Try Tonight; I would probably have had more luck talking to the weather map, except that we're not supposed to acknowledge The News Set, remember? So, let's look around and see what's what: there's the chair and it looks pretty good; there are a couple of the bookcase flats behind and doctored a little, good enough; there's the console teevee and it's a nasty piece of work, excellent; there's some interesting junque I didn't expect, very nice. There are the three pedestal cameras and hello! here's a minicam, didn't expect that. Got a triax cable dork hanging out the back of it that approximates a garden hose. Nathan's a photographer, he wants to try some lighting on the set; no chance, monkey boy, it is what it is. This seems, well, incomprehensible to Nathan: lights are meant to be moved around, but no one will have any of that. I mutter that we need to pick our moment, lost that one already, and then remark that the set looks pretty good.

One of the guys allows that they really didn't know where any of this stuff went, so they just put it together as best they could. I'm surprised: I left plans, elevations and a painting with Katie n Jerry that showed where everything goes. Katie n Jerry, oh well, that explains everything. Stepping in doodoo here, boss. Well, I just happen to have another set of the drawings here if you'd like a production copy -- but really, this looks better than what I thought and we're certainly happy to work with this. It's just a working rehearsal, right?

A little easing of tension. Oh, you're the Designer. I'm the Director. My name's Keith. Having a label is better than Not Having a lable. The rules are that it's Keith's studio, we don't touch anything, if we need anything we talk to Keith and he talks to the crew. Fair enough, we play by the house rules. The Designer thinks everything looks Fine so far, let's see what it looks like once Barbara gets on the set --


Barbara. My wife. She's the host.

Oh. You mean the Talent. I get the distinct impression that "Talent" is not a Nice Word in this Environment. And on cue, Barb sweeps in, Bob in tow, with cigarette in cigarette holder that has appeared from somewhere (Bob thought it would add a Certain Something, so he scored it on his own personal wherewithal during the week). Sudden paleness, and it's not because the guys are overwhelmed by star power: the Studio is a No Smoking Zone and if Bill sees her smoking there will be Hell to Pay. "Oh, he's a poophead," pronounces Millicent. Bob snickers, and so does one of the studio guys -- the biggest guy, and sure enough on cue Bill sweeps in, zeroes in on the cigarette and announces in the tone of voice that is normally used for very small children and very smiling foreigners that we probably didn't Know that the Studio is a No Smoking Zone and we might Hurt the Cameras if we Smoked. It's Nathan's turn to snicker, Millicent waves the holder and announces that of course it's not lit, darlings, so no cameras will be hurt in the taping of this show. I point out that if she's only going to use it as a prop, well then the Actor might need the Prop to Improvise, and we don't need to actually have a cigarette in the cigarette holder. Bill's not so sure; Whatever the Talent Wants comes from one of the guys, but I don't think there's the same edge that was there earlier; I for one am starting to get a little tired of whatever game we're in the middle of, but I remember the house rules and ask Keith: So, when do you think we can get started?

Studio Guys leap into action. The big guy, whose name is Doug, picks up the minicamera; seems the thing weighs around forty pounds, and he's the only one strong enough to carry it. One guy is eyeing Barb critically; seems he's audio and he can't figure out where to put the little lapel lavaliere mic, finally decides it looks like one of the necklace geegaws and puts it there. Two others plus Keith are also eyeing Barbara critically: huzza buzza huzza buzza bluescreen. I'm interested, come over and mention to Keith that I had some ideas for using the blue backing in bits ... Keith cuts me off: No way, there's too much fringe from the costume. Huh; seems to me a remarkably fringeless costume. Keith explains: the black lace trim plus the particular blues used in the foundation make it impossible to get a clean separation from the blue wall, either there will be a hard black line around the image, like a bad Japanese monster movie, or parts of the inserted image will bleed into the costume, or both. In any case, very bad and not gonna happen. Well, there goes about half of what we could have done. Nathan's turn to sidle over and murmur Pick your battles; I'm sussing out the battlefield when big Doug says, "Oh, I don't know, Keith; I've got a couple of ideas. Let's try it." They go off to consult.

Fussing ends; Bill, Keith, and a couple of others retreat to the control room, the rest disport themselves behind cameras except for a young woman who announces Clear the set, Talent on set. And counts down, Three -- two -- one -- and -- Action.

Barb/Millicent sits there. Nothing.

There's an audible snap from the little speaker, and then Keith's voice: We called action! Barb: So? What, no warmup, no warning, no preparation for me? Just -- act? It doesn't work like that, I need a couple of minutes. Keith explains: Basically his production clock is governed by his needs for prepping the broadcast; they assume that the Talent is doing whatever he/she needs to do while they're doing whatever they need to do. As far as they're concerned, if a light doesn't blow up, a microphone buzz, or a camera fall down they're good. If the set or the Talent falls down, that's not their problem. The exchange is professional, no diva tude, just tell us what the rules are and we'll cope; I'm thinking simultaneously This is not going to go well and Hmm. That little exchange is interesting. We could use that. And If the set falls down, that's not their problem. Well, it wouldn't take much to knock the set down ...

We're rolling tape for about an hour. In the first few minutes, what we were trying to tell Bill all along became obvious: Barb, and very likely no trained actorperson, cannot be spontaneously zany on her own without interacting with someone or something. The little toys and greebly set things help; Nathan and I start handing things to her, and Bob gets into the act as well, and gradually the character starts to emerge. At one point Millicent gets up and starts to move around, and Doug follows her; his camera goes up on the floor monitor, and he's got a pretty good eye, he's finding some interesting compositions. Millicent heads for the News Set, Bill comes on over the talkback system Remember -- don't go on the News Set, Millicent heads to the control room window and makes a face at everyone. The floor guys laugh audibly. Keith calls a wrap, asks how long it will take Barb to clean up, and Bill calls a meeting in the conference room. Off go Barb n Bob to clean up, off goes the set to the rear storage area, off go we all to said conference room.

Bill is not happy with the evening. It wasn't zany enough. Before we can speak, Keith says he thought after we got going he got some good stuff. Camera guy Doug and audio guy Jeff both opine that they thought whatever problems were not insurmountable, and they had some fixes. Allies. This is a Good Thing. Barb said that she's not entirely comfortable with being completely on her own, she felt better when she could talk to people and interact with people. Bill allows as to how that was, well he wouldn't exactly say Good but ...

Pick your battles. I'm in. I allow, and probably descend into Intense Steve mode, that this was a Rehearsal, and Rehearsals are supposed to disclose what works and what doesn't. It seemed to me watching the monitor that we got more good out of the interaction between Barb and the crew; maybe we could play this. Maybe we can hit the spontaneity that WLEX has seen all along (looking at Bill) by playing off of Millicent's ill fit with the teevee professionals. Maybe what we have for the first show or two is a Bad Teevee Show, where everything goes wrong because the Talent doesn't cooperate. Maybe the Crew tries to direct her and she won't take direction.

Keith jumps in. That's all well and good, but he's going to be too busy directing and his crew are going to be too busy crewing to have time to Act. And they wouldn't know what to say or do, anyway.

Doug and Jeff: But it's not like there's anywhere she can go. If it's limited, and we knew what's coming ...

Time to break through the defensive line: If there's a rundown, or a script, at least for the first few weeks, that breaks down what's going to happen in the scene -- and we run through it a couple of times -- and we keep it simple, so that nobody who's got a "part" would have to "do" anything beyond what they would already do -- nobody has to memorize lines or learn blocking, just do what they would be doing, the only difference is that we'd see them doing it.

Bill: No script! No script!

Keith: You know, a script would make it a lot easier for us.

Steve: It's not for the run of the show. It's just for the first few weeks, to settle everything down and establish the direction. We all have real jobs with real commitments, I don't have time to do this beyond October anyway. (To Bill) We all want this show to succeed, right? At least for thirteen weeks. Tonight was good, we all know what we need to do now. And we all know we've got a Show, we've just got to work some kinks out. That's what we do, we're all professionals here.

Bill allows that he was seeing some Showlike stuff after everything started to sync, sorta kinda. So he sets some rules: He wants advance script approval; we'll go with script for four weeks only, but no credit; we'll have a debriefing after every show where he'll give us notes; and if it doesn't shape up after four weeks, we'll go to the Old School format.

We can do this.

Let's wrap up; let's talk about the opening. Keith wants to do a real opening sequence, I like the idea of a cold opening. Keith really wants to do a title sequence, I like the idea for the first few weeks of viewers being supremely puzzled by what they're watching. We go back and forth, and realize that we don't have enough material for an opening sequence anyway, so we'll table this for a few weeks while Keith thinks through what he would put together; fair enough. Bob doesn't like the way the makeup looked on camera, it looked too much like street makeup; he's going to push it a little. Bill doesn't want anything too weird, somebody chimes in with How can you be too weird with a monster movie show? Keith wants to know what our theme music will be. Theme music? We'll get back to you. A couple of other housekeeping things, and we're done.

Keith comes up after the meeting, hands me a videocassette: it's our first movie, he thought we might need it. Well, thank you Keith, this will be very helpful indeed. He tells me there are seven positions in it; say what? The crack sales team has sold seven commercial breaks, and he hasn't figured out exactly where they're going to go. I ask if I can indicate where they could go in the script; he'll take it under advisement; I say the only reason is that we might want to tie certain script bits to certain scenes in the movie; Keith say oh, I see, okay, if you do that we could work with it but I have to know by Wednesday -- we're going to format the movie on Thursday.

I tell him I hope that we didn't offend him or get off to a bad start tonight; he and his people are professionals and we're not about to tell him their jobs. Keith say he had heard from "some people" that we were Difficult to work with, but after we got going that didn't seem to be the case so he wasn't worried. I ask if the minicam would be part of the regular camera complement; Keith not too sure about that, it was assigned to the news truck usually, had to put in a reservation for it, can't really say if it would be available ... I say I have an idea for the opening: what if we recap what actually happened tonight? what if Millicent is locked out of the building because no one knows she's coming? And she starts in a blank studio, rags on people, starts the movie in a huff, and pieces of set come in through the whole show and they're not right, upside down, doesn't work, fall over, whatever? Doug is with us, he likes it: they could light the hallway, do some location shooting, it would be fun. Keith doesn't know, I press on: we could have the same interaction with Elmer, it would be fun. Keith say: Elmer would never do it. Doug say: He would, it'd be fun. I say: If Elmer agrees to do it, would you try to get the camera? Keith make up his mind: If Elmer agrees to do it, he'll do it.

We collect Barb Bob n Nathan, and all of us head for the parking lot: the guys have to get ready for the 9:30 "Details at Eleven" news cut-in into the network programming. Elmer's all smiles, Well didja do your little show? Sorry about th' mixup there when ya came in. We're all smiles, Yeah it went pretty well, don't ya think Keith? Oh, by the way, we were wondering ... ya know, it really was pretty funny that we couldn't get in. We were thinking ... would you mind ... if we did that for the actual show? Barb would come up to the door in costume, she'd try to get it, you'd say she's not on the list, she'd just push right past and go into the studio? It'd just be a real quick thing, and if you're not comfortable with it that's okay ...

Elmer thinks it over, and allows as to how if it was just the one time, and he didn't have to get all make up n such, he'd probly do it.

I look at Keith. Keith smiles. Doug say, Told ya. This could be fun.