THIS OLD HOUSE

People attending the taping (or filming) of a television sitcom can usually look forward to several hours of sitting on studio bleachers watching the actors take and retake lines until a mysterious voice says everything is okay.  Perfect Strangers is known for being very smooth at live filmings, often wrapping in two hours or less!  But once in a while an episode calls for a little extra work and a little extra patience from a studio audience.  However, just such an episode can give insight to the great amount of work that goes into putting a series together, and really makes your admire the talented crew as well as the cast.

We had no idea what we were in for as we took our seats in the bleachers.  We strained to get a glimpse of the third set behind the partitions.  It was hard to tell whether or not it would be used this time . . . a ladder was barely visible and it looked unfinished, but perhaps that would be part of the show.  We had to wait to find out.

Comedian Robert G. Lee appeared and started the evening.  He was suffering from a cold but gave the audience a good, initial warm-up nevertheless.  The cast was introduced, the partitions were rolled aside, and the first scene began.

The first scene, involving Dimitri getting a "bath" and Larry explaining his latest scheme, was done once straight through, then a small pick-up was taken.  Bronson lost his composure at the end of the pick-up and burst out laughing.  We could tell we were in for a good-spirited night.

The third set was uncovered and indeed we could see how we'd been confused.  The house set was impressive; fairly large and realistic.  Mark took his place to start the scene, holding the fold-out set of wallpaper swatches.  When the clapboard person approached him to mark the scene, Mark imitated the person, using the swatches as his own clapboard.  This got a good laugh from the crew and audience.  Joel Zwick yelled "Action!" and the scene started.  Rebeca and Melanie also appeared in this scene, and Rebeca's wide-eyed exclamation of "It's so big!" in her tiny voice made Bronson fall apart with laughter, and the audience followed suit.  As they started again, Bronson asked Joel, "Can I hear her say that again?"

They finished the scene and the crew immediately got to work, busily changing the appearance of the house for the next scene.  This involved peeling away part of the wall to expose blue wall underneath, giving the impression the set had been painted!!

Scene C was filmed smoothly with Mark flubbing only one line and a few pick-ups done.  As the director okayed the scene, the crew once again went into action.  It was then we had an idea of what was going to happen as a gigantic chandelier was wheeled in on a dolly.  This took quite a long time as Robert kept us entertained.  He explained that the chandelier was connected to a wench in the rafters above, and every time it moved up and down we would hear the wench, but the sound wouldn't be on the show so we should just ignore it.  Finally the chandelier was hooked up and ready to go.

The scene again went very smoothly, considering Mark was hauled into the air and Bronson had to climb the stair banister.  Whereas the filming of the scenes took only a short time, the work on the set took at least twenty to thirty minutes, and once again the crew set to work, this time on the most ambitious part of the show.

As Robert continued his routine, now in his stride and with little signs of his cold, we watched in the background as the crew hammered and worked feverishly.  They were constructing what looked like a huge section of wall, completely covering the house set.  It appeared to stretch clear into the rafters above the set.

After some time, Joel Zwick took the microphone from Robert and explained to the audience what was about to happen.  The following scene would be filmed in front of the audience with the guys hanging onto the chandelier just a few inches above the ground, then during the after show pick-ups they would actually do the show 25 feet above the ground with safety nets and precautions, something much too time-consuming to do with an audience present.

Finally the work was finished and only the lower part of the newly constructed set was visible to the audience.  Mark and Bronson climbed the ladder and prepared for the shot.  It was filmed without any problems, then retaken.  If, while dangling from the chandelier, one of the other had lost their grip they only would have fallen a few inches.  Neither of them fell during the course of the shot, however, and it was soon finished.

They prepared for the next scene and Bronson and Mark took their places, seated on the chandelier (which could not have been comfortable!).  The wench slowly raised them into the air for the shooting, and once in position, Joel directed the wench operator to lower them just a little.  They slowly started descending to the right height, and once there someone threw the brakes on the wench just a little too hard and gave the guys a good jostle, which certainly woke them up!  Fortunately there were no mishaps during the filming.  Once again the chandelier was actually only a foot or two above the studio floor for the audience filming.

They took the scene, then did a retake of the entire scene again before they were lowered to get off.

The set changes and building had taken at least two hours so far, and several audience members had already left.  But a majority stayed, intrigued by the episode.  The crew set about taking down the huge wall they'd worked so hard to build to once again expose the house set.  During this time, Bronson and Mark surprised everyone by doing their "questions and answers" session so the audience wouldn't fall asleep.  Ad they even climbed into the bleachers to answer the questions up close and personal!

One person asked them how they felt about having a spin-off series (Family Matters).  Both agreed they liked it fine, but missed Jo-Marie.  When asked about hobbies, Bronson explained that he collects the letters of Charles Dickens and Victor Hugo.  And the guys did a spirited Dance of Joy in the bleachers for one audience member!  The crew were almost finished taking down the walls, and so the guys excused themselves to go back to work and climbed back over the bleacher railings; Mark in particular flipped himself over the railing in a very strange fashion . . . for a few seconds his feet were sticking straight up in the air!

The next scene was probably a very nervous one to film for all concerned.  The girls enter the house looking for the guys, who are still seated on the chandelier 25 feet in the air.  This was actually filmed in front of the audience this way, with the guys seated 25 feet above the ground and the girls below.  The scene went smoothly, but they did several retakes.  At one point, Joel called for another take, and Bronson heard him and said, "Again?"  "Yes," answered Joel, to which Bronson nervously commented, "Get us down from here!"  To make him feel better, Rebeca repeated "It's so big!"

The last scene didn't require any stunt work or set rebuilding.  One small part, taken several times, was edited out of the final cut.  It took place when Mrs. Henderson lost her contact lens and the cousins were debating looking for it.  At first Balki insisted looking for it himself, but Larry refused to let him, saying that if anything happened to him he'd never forgive himself.  It was then decided both of them would look for it.  The falling chandelier was not filmed in front of the audience.

When the shoot was finished, about one third of the audience had left, but the rest that stayed thoroughly enjoyed the show.  It was definitely an interesting episode to see filmed!

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