Filmed In Front of a Live Audience

Before my work­ing week­end, Pam and I were lucky enough to be able attend an event that was, at least as the come­di­an Simon Rakoff and ‘Mas­ter of Cer­e­monies’ described, the first time some­thing like this had hap­pened in 10 years in the Van­cou­ver area: the film­ing of a Sit­com pilot in front of a live stu­dio audi­ence.

Because of an email from the CBC that I answered (I don’t know how I end­ed up get­ting it; prob­a­bly from hav­ing signed up at the CBC web site at some point), at about 5:15 on Fri­day, Pam and I found our­selves shiv­er­ing in line at twi­light in front of what looked like a non­de­script busi­ness office, at the cor­ner of First Avenue and Gilmore Avenue in Burn­a­by. We had both just come from work near­by, so we were for­tu­nate that it was easy to get to. The con­ces­sion truck was feed­ing chili to the actors and crew (and it smelled good), but soon we were ush­ered in to a messy col­lec­tion of sets, cam­eras, and bleach­ers inside. After a few min­utes, Mr. Rakoff hand­ed out tick­ets for a bunch of draw­ings for door prizes that would go on as the evening’s film­ing pro­gressed, and explained our duties for the evening. “Peo­ple watch­ing TV aren’t too smart, he said, “so we want you to help out, and laugh so you can show them where the jokes are. Your laugh­ter is an impor­tant part of the process of bring­ing this show to life.” OK. Bring on the jokes. But first, the set­up.

The name of the show was ‘All the Com­forts’. That much we knew already. Here’s the gist of the sit­com that we were to see, cre­at­ed for us the first time that evening:

The Bunion fam­i­ly is head­ed by Mac and Bren­da, who, in their retire­ment years, are hop­ing to take off with their new motor home to cel­e­brate their gold­en years alone togeth­er. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, their plans are thwart­ed by their daugh­ter Susie, a ditzy 20-some­thing who has nev­er left the nest, and the recent return of their always opti­mistic and timid but né’er do well son, his pret­ty but abra­sive wife and their 2 kids (2 typ­i­cal pre­co­cious and cute sit­com chil­dren). Mac is a grouchy rub­ber-faced Jack­ie Glea­son type who just wants to be left alone to enjoy his massager/recliner, his sand­wich, TV and bot­tle of Snap­ple in peace. Soli­tude and space is to not be found. Through a series of phys­i­cal gags, jokes involv­ing aging and child-rear­ing, the cranky old guy even­tu­al­ly apol­o­gizes for yelling at his grand-kids and may even admit that there are advan­tages to hav­ing them around (one of them dis­cov­ers and turns on the ‘auto adjust’ but­ton on his hi-tech chair, end­ing his 4-year quest to find ‘the per­fect set­ting’). While they aren’t a per­fect hap­py fam­i­ly, they may just make it, although Mac will still be thrilled the day that all of his kids final­ly do leave, and he and his wife can hit the road togeth­er.

Before I get into any crit­i­cal appre­ci­a­tion, it was just kind of fun to see how you shoot a sit­com. This was a four cam­era show, with direc­tor call­ing cuts and cam­era angles, 3 dif­fer­ent sets (includ­ing the motor home), and a large crew, includ­ing a stage direc­tor, cam­era­men, sound man, grips, key grip, clap­per, a bunch of writ­ers doing rewrites of jokes down to the last moment, and bunch of oth­er peo­ple (who I couldn’t tell what they did). This was as close as we’ve got­ten to the film­ing of a real TV show, and it was a great edu­ca­tion about how this is done these days.

As for ‘All the Com­forts’, it sounds like pret­ty typ­i­cal sit­com fare, doesn’t it? On this evening, what the writ­ing of the pilot lacked, the actors made up for in pro­fes­sion­al­ism and ener­gy. They made the mate­r­i­al far fun­nier than it deserved to be, but will it be enough for this pilot to catch on? That’s hard to say. The theme of the return of kids liv­ing with their par­ents far into their 30’s is some­thing that many of us are uncom­fort­able with, to be sure. It used to be a stig­ma, but is becom­ing so wide­spread that it is clear­ly going to have to be re-eval­u­at­ed. Dis­com­fort often leads to humour, so this might have a chance. On the oth­er hand, if it just becomes anoth­er col­lec­tion of sit­com gags…

  • Mac attempts to return a stolen xxx before dis­cov­ery of the theft … Hilar­i­ty ensues.
  • Susie is giv­en the posi­tion of respon­si­bil­i­ty she can’t han­dle … Hilar­i­ty ensues.
  • Bren­da, tries to change her phys­i­cal appear­ance through an xxx … Hilar­i­ty ensues.

I hope that they reach for plots and char­ac­ter devel­op­ment that’s bet­ter than these stock sit­u­a­tions. Pam and I have both become real fans of Cor­ner Gas, a CBC Sit­com that con­sis­tent­ly pro­vides a big laugh at least once in an episode. I sus­pect that it’s the writ­ing staff, although that sit­com also has very good act­ing. So far, ‘All the Com­forts’ is no Cor­ner Gas, but per­haps it could be. I’m hop­ing it does, because to have been in the audi­ence at the pilot could be a bit of his­to­ry, if it is a hit.

7 Replies to “Filmed In Front of a Live Audience”

  1. David,

    How cool that you and Pam got to be in atten­dance — who knows: It could be a hit. (If schlock stuff like ” 2 1/2 Men” can make it .… )

    David and I are big “Cor­ner Gas” fans, also. Our trips to Van­cou­ver always include check­ing out a season’s worth from the Joe Fortes Library. I was flip­ping chan­nels one day and came upon an episode on WGN Super­sta­tion out of Chica­go. As it turns out, they broad­cast an episode each night (late) and an hour’s worth on Wednes­day evenings. Need­less to say, the video recorder is set to cap­ture all episodes! 🙂

  2. Hi Bob! Thanks for the info about Cor­ner Gas. We had heard that it might be seen in the US soon (although the time slot sounds pret­ty bad — you’d think with the writer’s strike that peo­ple would be look­ing for some­thing fresh instead of reruns!)

    Even if All the Com­forts doesn’t make it, at least we can say we saw how a sit­com is filmed, and it may help us in appre­ci­at­ing the schlock a bit more. Or…maybe not.

  3. It isn’t? I had always thought it was their only real hit since ‘Hock­ey Night in Cana­da’.

    Indeed, just checked the site and after some dig­ging, found this:

    Cor­ner Gas is pro­duced in asso­ci­a­tion with CTV by Prairie Pants Pro­duc­tion, com­prised of Vir­ginia Thomp­son of Vérité Films (Incred­i­ble Sto­ry Stu­dio) and Three Thir­ty-Five Pro­duc­tions Inc., a part­ner­ship of Brent Butt and David Storey. Cor­ner Gas was pro­duced with the sup­port of the Ground­break­er Fund, a strand of the BCE-CTV Ben­e­fits Pack­age. The Cor­ner Gas Web site is pro­duced by Pants Online Inc, Leif Storm Kaldor is the pro­duc­er, with Web­site Engi­neer­ing, & Imple­men­ta­tion by Basis Applied Tech­nol­o­gy, inc.

    CTV, Canada’s largest pri­vate broad­cast­er, offers a wide range of qual­i­ty news, sports, infor­ma­tion, and enter­tain­ment pro­gram­ming. It has the num­ber-one nation­al news­cast, CTV Nation­al News With Lloyd Robert­son, and is the num­ber-one choice for prime-time view­ing. CTV­globe­me­dia Inc. is Canada’s pre­mier mul­ti-media com­pa­ny which owns CTV Inc. and The Globe and Mail. CTV Inc. also owns radio sta­tions across the coun­try, and lead­ing nation­al spe­cial­ty chan­nels. Oth­er CTV­globe­me­dia invest­ments include an inter­est in Maple Leaf Sports and Enter­tain­ment, and in Dome Pro­duc­tions, a North Amer­i­can leader in the pro­vi­sion of mobile high def­i­n­i­tion pro­duc­tion facil­i­ties. More infor­ma­tion about CTV may be found on the com­pa­ny web­site at http://www.ctv.ca

  4. Thanks for shar­ing your account — I was in the audi­ence as well as I was a paint labour­er for the pilot. Haven’t seen any news of it since…

  5. That’s real­ly cool!

    Its too bad that it was yet anoth­er pilot for a show. With the econ­o­my forc­ing more fam­i­lies togeth­er because of tough sit­u­a­tions and the nat­ur­al dra­mat­ic ten­sion of these sit­u­a­tions, I’ll bet that this show (with a lit­tle work on devel­op­ing the son’s char­ac­ter so that he’s more than just a bum­bling dream­er and his wife more than sim­ply a bitch) would real­ly find a sym­pa­thet­ic audi­ence, the way ‘All In the Fam­i­ly’ did in the 1970s. It takes a vision­ary per­son doing pro­gram­ming to real­ize when they are in sync with soci­ety at large.

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