BETTER SHOP AROUND

Getting the chance to see the filming or taping of a television show can be an exciting and interesting experience but it's even more fascinating when you get to see a show you really, really like!  Finding out how it all comes together, from the technical side to the acting and retakes, can be very special.  And even if you eventually see many episodes of one show filmed, somehow you never forget your first time . . .

It was about a quarter to six in the evening on June 12, 1987, when my friend and I arrived at the gate on the Washington Boulevard side of Lorimar Studios (which used to be the old MGM studios and is now mostly Columbia studios).  After getting our tickets numbered by the pages, we had a bit of a wait ahead of us.  For a while it looked like we might not get in, as several bus groups were arriving and had priority over those in line.  Luckily we were taken in and seated on the far left side of the studio audience.

Having not seen a filming of a Perfect Strangers episode before and knowing only the first and second season shows up until then, we were in for a surprise to see the new apartment set.  Since the Chicago Chronicle set was not used in this episode, we were left wondering what the far left set was for (it was kept covered by partitions and we could only make out the top of the staircase).  In the middle of the soundstage was the new apartment set and on the far right was the supermarket set where most of the show would take place.

As we sat waiting for the show to begin we spotted Mark just backstage, standing alone and occasionally looking over to check out the studio audience but mostly just spending a few quiet moments in preparation.

The cast was introduced by the stand-up comedian and filming began.  The first scene took place in the supermarket and we soon realized how unfortunate we were to be seated so far left.  Since the show is shot on film there were no monitors for the audience and so most of the action on the third set could not be seen from our seats.  (Monitors were later installed solely for the benefit of the audience).

As the scene started there was some discussion about Ding Dongs that was cut from the final show.  Also cut from the episode that aired was what had to be one of the best lines ever left on the cutting room floor.  It was when the sample lady offered Balki one of the cheese franks to try.  He looked it over and asked "What this?" and she explained, "It's a little hot dog with cheese on the inside."  Amazed, Balki looked at it in wonder and exclaimed, "Oooh!  I'll bet they'd be good to step on!"

The scene continued as they made their way to the checkout counter.  The cash register voice was done by a person standing just off the set.  The part of the nasal-voiced, young cashier, played by Kimmy Robertson, was particularly amusing to the audience during this scene.  After they wrapped the scenes in the supermarket it was time to move on to the apartment set.

One funny blooper took place during the scene in the apartment.  It happened when Mark was supposed to grab Bronson and lead him to the map of the supermarket drawn on a chalkboard.  He grabbed Bronson's wrist and jumped up, pulling him behind.  But Bronson lost his balance and fell forward to his knees with Mark still pulling him awkwardly.  Laughing, Bronson got up and they went back to the couch to start over.  Director Joel Zwick recommended that they try it again, "And this time let's roll the film, not the actor!"  This blooper was shown as part of a blooper reel during a visit from Mark on The Pat Sajak Show.

The last scene in the supermarket when they go through the shopping spree was really difficult for us to see but we could catch parts acted near the front of the set.  One funny part cut from the show was when Balki was trying to get Mary Anne's shampoo.  He kept turning to her and asking "Is this the right kind?" and she'd reply, "That's for oily hair!  I have regular hair!" and then he'd ask what size and she'd answer, and on and on.  That helps to explain why Larry was so fed up when he finally knocked all the shampoo bottles off the shelf into the cart.  (It might also explain why the shopping spree is under three minutes in real life . . . time it yourself!).

After the filming of the episode the guys came out to greet the audience and say goodnight.  Bronson carried one of the fish he'd had in his pants up to the microphone as if it might say something.  The stand-up comedian informed us that all the food and items used as part of the supermarket set would be donated to the needy.

The shows are not aired in the same order they air filmed, and so it was quite a while before the episode actually aired on ABC.  But getting the chance to finally watch what we'd seen filmed and remembering what fun we'd had was well worth the wait.

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