Carole Lombard and co-star Fernand Gravet read newspapers as director Mervyn LeRoy has a smoke during a break in the action at "Fools For Scandal," the only film Lombard made at Warners and one of the lesser lights in her cinematic oeuvre. It was released in 1938, the same year the studio issued "Jezebel," for which Bette Davis (shown below with co-star Henry Fonda) would win her second Academy Award for best actress:
It's unknown on what stage Lombard made "Fools For Scandal," but we do know that "Jezebel" (which I saw at the Bing Theater at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art last Tuesday in conjunction with the ongoing "Hollywood Costume" exhibit) was filmed at Stage 20 -- it's among the movies listed on a plaque listing films and television series shot there. And this past Friday, I visited that stage to attend a filming of my favorite current broadcast network sitcom...
"Mom," presently airing at 8:30/7:30 Central Thursdays on CBS. I've long been a fan of Anna Faris (http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/260680.html), who continues the Lombard tradition of being both beautiful and funny, and Allison Janney is on anyone's list of talented TV actresses. (She captured her sixth Emmy several months ago for her work in "Mom's" rookie season.) Possessed of a blue-collar sensibility, "Mom" examines a struggling, dysfunctional family, headed by mother-and-daughter recovering alcoholics, and it successfully walks the tightrope between light laughs and dark humor through some perceptive writing.
It's always both fun and illuminating to watch a television production at work. Back in March 2000, I experienced the process at Paramount for a "Frasier" episode which guest starred Robert Loggia. Now, more than 14 years later, I was back to see the sitcom sausage made.
The "Frasier" ep I saw aired late in its seventh season, by which time the series was a top-tier hit and a fixture on NBC's Thursday night schedule. In contrast, while "Mom" has largely garnered critical acclaim, it's been affected by the current volatile state of network TV. Its second season was slated to begin Sept. 30, but less than a week before the season premiere, CBS pushed it back a month, following the end of its series of Thursday night telecasts of NFL games. A side benefit of the delay? Its lead-in would be "The Big Bang Theory," TV's most popular sitcom (and, like "Mom," produced by Chuck Lorre).
However, whereas the normal lag period between episode filming and episode airing is three to four weeks, the delay has drastically expanded "Mom's" lag time. This past Thursday's episode (a scene of which is shown above) was the third of the second season; the episode I watched made Friday was the 12th. Since the series is now on Thursdays, new eps probably won't air on Christmas and New Year's (both fall on Thursdays this year), and Thanksgiving night will feature a first-run ep. So the episode I attended likely won't be aired until January, possibly even early February.
And by then, "Mom" is scheduled to shift back to Mondays, exchanging "Big Bang" for a much weaker lead-in, the critically reviled "2 Broke Girls." (However, on Friday CBS canceled the sitcom "The Millers" four episodes into its sophomore season, and as a result "Mom" might retain its Thursday slot.)
Now that you've got some background on the show's status, some observations about the process of making an episode for those of you who have never attended one. (If you're already a "Mom" fan, don't worry -- no spoilers will be revealed.)
A warm-up comedian acts as a master of ceremonies before the ep and between scenes, getting the audience (about 200) into a good mood with jokes, audience participation contests and the like. Music is also played. (Near the end, each member of the audience even received a slice of pizza.)
Several sets for this particular episode comprised different sections of the stage; four cameras are employed for each scene (the three-camera format popularized by "I Love Lucy" and a fourth camera usually focusing on a particular character). Some scenes, using different sets or occuring in fantasy sequences, are pre-filmed (as are those with child actors, under state law regarding working conditions for juveniles), and both the live and previously recorded scenes are shown before the audience for laugh reaction. ("Canned laughter" or sweetened audience reaction, a practice decried by many sitcom detractors, generally is a thing of the past.)
Live and previously recorded scenes are filmed or played back in order; new scenes can have multiple takes in case a line is flubbed. (Not every re-take is necessarily filmed in its entirety, and the editing staff can use parts of more than one take from a scene for maximum impact.) In between takes, work is done on the actors' makeup for continuity, and sometimes the writers make minor changes to the script -- however, by this time, it's been pretty much honed through a variety of table readings, dress rehearsals and the like.
The "Mom" episode I saw made took about three hours to complete, and everyone from actors to crew was well-versed in making it an efficient operation. (Somewhere, Jack Warner is smiling.) You also could tell that they enjoyed what they were doing.
Once the episode was finished, it was announced that both Janney and Faris soon would celebrate birthdays (Allison's is this Wednesday, Anna's falls on Nov. 29), so a large birthday cake was wheeled out to the stage, accompanied by two smaller cakes with their names on them -- and naturally, they fired them at each other. We trust the show's Facebook site (https://www.facebook.com/MomCBS) will soon show pics of the event.
I hope all of you someday get to watch a TV series in action. If you're in southern California or will be soon, you can get free tickets to "Mom" and other shows by visiting http://www.tvtickets.com/