News Column

'Hot in Cleveland' prepares for live telecast

June 17, 2013

YellowBrix

AKRON, Ohio _ When the comedy "Hot in Cleveland" begins a run of new episodes at 10 p.m. Wednesday on TV Land, it will start with some extra drama. The first episode will air live.

No film. No tape. No retakes. Excellent opportunities for on-air bloopers, unscheduled bursts of actors' laughter, and maybe a curse or two. Just look at blooper reels from the show, especially those times when Betty White's reactions set off other performers.

But that's part of the potential fun, isn't it? Even though the days of mostly live presentations of scripted shows are long gone, shows still dip into the process to amp up excitement and bring in viewers. For example, "ER" started its 1997-98 season with a live show. Two years later, "The Drew Carey Show" _ like "Hot," a show set in Cleveland _ went live. "30 Rock" did two live episodes, in 2010 and again in 2012.

The live format allows for considerable spontaneity; "30 Rock" in particular made whimsical changes between its East and West Coast versions of live shows. ("Hot in Cleveland" will go live just once, for a 10 p.m. airing, with a taped replay three hours later for prime time out west.) It still has to work on a basic level, including whether it gets on and off in time. So for "Hot in Cleveland," there is ample pressure on Andy Cadiff, director of Wednesday's episode, "Buying the Pharmacy."

Cadiff is long and comfortably experienced with directing comedies. He has done hundreds of episodes of "My Two Dads," "According to Jim," "Home Improvement" and other shows, including 36 "Hot" telecasts along with many recent installments of "The Exes" (also returning to TV Land on Wednesday, at 10:30 p.m.) and "Anger Management." And doing a live show, he said, takes a little different mental approach from taped efforts.

With regular tapings, he said, "We always have the sense that there's a live audience there, but we have two, three hours to tape our show. We have fun with the audience. If we screw up, we have fun with it. We can always go back." For the live show, he said, "We're doing a play. The curtain goes up at 7 p.m. (West Coast time) and we're doing the play straight through."

Still, he said, "These ladies are so talented, that once they set their mind to what the goal is, they're going to accomplish it."

The ladies are, of course, Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Jane Leeves as three West Coast women who have relocated to Cleveland, and White as a local resident with a smart mouth and a colorful past. The regular cast certainly knows its way around comedy; Bertinelli's career includes "One Day at Time," Malick's "Just Shoot Me," Leeves' "Frasier" and White's "The Golden Girls" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," not to mention her starting in TV when it was still mostly live.

Wednesday's episode, which also includes William Shatner and "The Office's" Brian Baumgartner as guest stars, continues a previous story about an illegal business Elka (White) and her friend Mamie (recurring player Georgia Engel) have been running. And extra care was taken in preparation.

"We're going to rehearse a little bit differently," Cadiff said during a June 5 telephone interview. "We'll probably do more rehearsal than we usually do. We'll do the kind of rehearsal you do with a play when you're preparing for an opening-night performance. Which means we'll do run-throughs straight through."

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That's an extension of something Cadiff said began a few years ago, "which we call the A-scene mentality. Usually there's a 7- or 8-page scene which kind of sets the stage for the whole episode, and I said, from now on, we do perfect A scenes, we get out in front of the audience, no one screws up, and we'll go through it once clean. That says to the audience we know what we're doing. ... And everyone rose to the occasion."

Now, it will be as if the entire episode is an A scene. But the production on the episode is also structured for live TV, and Cadiff thinks the logistics are more of a challenge than seeing if the performers remember their lines.

"Everything has to be possible in terms of transitioning from one set to the next, one costume change to the next," he said. If, for instance, Malick is in the living-room set and then, 40 seconds later, enters the pharmacy set, something has to be happening in the pharmacy scene for those 40 seconds. And, unlike in a taped episode, where the cameras would move between takes, for the live show "we'll have four cameras in the living room _ and another four cameras waiting in the pharmacy. We go right from one set to the next. We don't have to (reposition) our equipment."

It is, after all, the logistics that work against some shows going live. "30 Rock," for one, had to make radical changes from its usual single-camera approach to shooting for its live shows. With something like "Anger Management," the cast would be up to the challenge but, Cadiff said, "the way they're set up right now, the rhythm that they're in, they couldn't do it.

"They use a lot of sets ... they have two different stages, They're shooting all day long _ I don't want to say in a relaxed way, but time is not of the essence. They don't even shoot in front of a live audience at all."

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But live or not, "Hot" has been a special experience for Cadiff.

"I've been very, very lucky in my career to work on some really great shows with great people. But this show is kind of an embarrassing luxury of riches. The four ladies are as talented as any women in television. ... It seems like a cliche to say that they love each other, but they're the most generous of women. They truly like each other, sincerely. They have each other's back. They're so skilled that, for me, it's like, stand back and stay out of the way.

"People who guest-star on the show always comment that ... it's so much fun, it's a very welcoming show. And we have a cast that trusts our writers. If there are some bumps along the road, something doesn't seem to be working, nobody panics. They always trust the writers to fix the problems in the script."

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What, then, makes an unhappy set? Without naming names, Cadiff said, "The problems come from various places, I've been in situations where the writers have no regard for the opinions of the actor or director. It's almost dictatorial blindness. ... And the worst situation is usually when the star is the kind of person who is not a team player. Not a generous person, and so wrapped up in themselves that everybody has to adjust their rhythm to this person's quirks, personalities and just basic selfish behavior. It hasn't happened a lot, but when it has happened, it's something I've extricated myself from very quickly."

Yet he said the audience rarely picks up on when there is a lack of off-camera chemistry. "When the bell goes off, everybody shows up and does their job," he said. "But I would like to think that the real chemistry between the ladies on 'Hot in Cleveland' just makes the show that much better, that the real chemistry I saw on shows like 'Cheers' or 'Friends' made the shows that much better."

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Rich Heldenfels: rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com

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(c)2013 Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

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