ASSERTIVE TRAINING

Like most television situation comedies, Perfect Strangers is filmed before a live audience, usually anywhere from late July to mid-February.  Since many fans don't live in the Los Angeles area, attending a filming can be a real treat!  But for everyone who can't attend a filming, we have included this section in our newsletter to take you behind the scenes of some episodes and give you an idea of what happens when they film a show.  Our first installment will cover the routine of attending a filming and the strange incident when 400 audience members witnessed an accident on the set.

It was late afternoon, around 5:30, on September 23, 1988.  There were more people showing up now, as audience members with tickets have to be at the studio by 6:00 to get their tickets numbered.  Seasoned audience members know to get there early: there's an order of priority that leaves ticket holders on the bottom.  Guest list people get in first, then turn-aways (people who tried to get in the week before but couldn't) then bus groups (some pre-arranged group trips, some from Universal Studios and Audiences Unlimited), then booked groups, then priority ticket holders (from Universal Studios) and finally general ticket holders.  But the seating is about 400, so if a ticket holder plans to get there early and wait, there's still a good chance of getting in.  (Tickets are given away free in excess to guarantee a full audience . . . it is like this on every show).

6:00 comes and goes and the pages are keeping extra busy.  The show is scheduled to start at 7:00, but there is a delay.  From where we stand in line on Washington Blvd. (nowadays audiences wait inside the gates on Overland) we can see the studio [on the MGM Studios lot in Culver City where the show was filmed], and the red light by one door is flashing.  This means work is going on, and it would appear they are rehearsing late.  Since audience members cannot enter the studio, busloads of people are standing inside the gates, waiting.

This was not strange considering the state of the entertainment industry at that time.  A long writer's strike had delayed the fall season and now that it was settled everyone was rushing to get back into production.  It was late September and only one show had been filmed so far for the year (The Lottery).

After a longer wait than usual they start letting bus people in.  We are still not sure if any of the general line will make it, but after priorities are seated we are told some of us will make it.  For those of us in the front of the line, this is good news.  We get taken in.

The studio set is large.  A long row of seats face the stage, and the sets are blocked by partitions for the time being.  When they are removed later on, the Chronicle building set is on the far left.  Situated center stage is the apartment.  And to the right is a makeshift set for whatever setting they might need (at the time, the stairway for Piano Movers is there . . . the third stage won't be used this time).

The warm-up comedian [a substitute for Robert Lee this time] goes through his paces and explains what will happen.  Finally the lights dim, the theme music comes up, and the cast is introduced.

After Bronson and Mark take their bows, the partition for the newspaper set is pulled away and the filming begins.  The show usually take about an hour and a half to two hours to complete (P.S. has a reputation of being very fast with filmings, often only needing one take per scene!).

Everyone's looking in good shape . . . not many mistakes.  The character actor playing the part of Doug Perkins is having a little trouble with his line.

"Stop, don't tell me . . . you're in my spot, right?"

Mark pauses and looks perplexed.  "No, you're in my spot!"  They take the scene again.

Later Mark has trouble remembering one line.  "Better check his batteries," Bronson kids.

For the most part the filming is going smoothly.  Between scenes the comedian keeps the audience's enthusiasm going, even though no one seems to be restless.  They are into the apartment scene, and this was where something happened which no one expected.

It was the scene where Larry was trying to make Balki mad to show he needed to follow the Stop! assertiveness method to get his raise.  It was the first take, so no one in the audience knew what was supposed to happen.  Bronson grabbed Mark by the shoulders to shake him.  He pushed Mark back, then forward, when pow!  Their heads connected and Mark literally hit the floor.  A few seconds later, Bronson followed suit.

The audience was laughing . . . of course.  We thought it was supposed to happen.  The crew was even laughing, since Bronson and Mark often kid around on the set.  But after a few moments it was apparent something was not right.  Neither of them were getting up.  The crew ran forward and stood around as people tended to the guys.  The audience really couldn't see anything because of the crew but when they moved away Bronson and Mark had been taken from the set.

Even the comedian was quiet for a while, not sure how to deal with this strange turn of events.  No one seemed to know how bad off they were.  But less than fifteen minutes later both Bronson and Mark came forward to show they were all right, and finished the show.

A special part of attending a P.S. filming is the fact that Bronson and Mark come out after the show and answer audience questions.  Even after the accident they answered questions, although Bronson held the microphone (Mark usually does, but he was obviously still dazed).

It wasn't until Bronson talked about the incident on Good Morning, America and Mark touched upon it in TV Guide that we realized how badly hurt they had been.  Bronson explained that they had not rehearsed the scene since they'd done something similar before, but when their heads connected his tooth went into Mark's forehead.  Bronson said that for the rest of the show, whenever his tongue hit his tooth he saw stars.  They went to the emergency room right after the show (where people bothered them for autographs) and Mark had one stitch while Bronson later needed to have a root canal.  [Note - the crew did an excellent job of staunching the blood on both actors so the audience members would not be frightened.]

It's amazing to think after all that they finished the show and came out to answer questions (Bronson commented in one interview that the producers made them finish the filming).  It just goes to show what real showbiz troopers they are!

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