One Day At A Time: Live Taping

One of the weirder parts of living in California is that you can go to live tapings. That’s right, when they tell you “This show is filmed before a live studio audience” what they mean is really people can ‘buy’ free tickets to the show, come to the set, and watch. After thinking about it for a while, my wife and I decided to see what it was like. Naturally we picked a show that had good reprsentation and was something I could write up for the site.

This entire review is spoiler free. Even if they’d said I could, I wouldn’t. I know the episode won’t air till January 2018, but I don’t want to ruin it for everyone. Trust me. You’ll enjoy it when it does air.

This is it!

Have you ever seen the shots for the Sony Entertainment gates? You know this one:

Sony Pictures Studios Overland / West Gate, Culver City, Los Angeles

That’s what you drive through to get to the show. They check your IDs and your tickets, check your name against a no-fly list, and then send you in to the parking lot. At this point, you have to leave your phones in your car, unless you have a visitor pass. I didn’t (dear Gloria and Mike – can I have one next time?) so I actually have no more photos to share with you. The one above isn’t mine. I’d dropped my phone in my rush to dig the tickets out of my purse.

Once you park, you go down to the ground floor and check in again. This time you exchange your tickets for a number stub (56 and 57), go through a metal detector, go through another security check, and then finally you go stand in a line just inside the studio. They tell you to get there an hour before filming, and I recommend 90 minutes. It makes for a long night, but if you want good seats, it’s worth it. Remember I mentioned visitor passes? They get the best seats. You don’t.

This is life, the one you get

The taping started at 5:30 PM and at about 4:30 we were led to the set. There was a final bathroom pitstop. Once the show starts taping, you don’t get to leave, and the show often goes until 9:30pm. After that, we went to Stage 25, got one last reminder to behave, and in we went. We lucked out and got great seats in the second row, looking at the kitchen/dining area.

Because the show is a multi-cam setup, they have the sets arranged in a row. On the far right and left are the least used sets, or the ones they won’t use regularly, and as you move inwards, you get the more regular sets like the living room and the doctor’s office. On that day, the far right and left were special sets for this episode only. I sat next to a couple people with Visitor Passes, and frankly they were not great people. The woman directly next to me complained the whole time and actually left half-way through. She was replaced by a nice young woman from Anaheim who was there for her film class. We chatted some between takes.

So go and have a ball

After we all sat down, there was music playing from a DJ in the back, and we were grooving to some cute ’80s songs.  The MC came out to explain how the show worked, what we were expected to do, and to give us some feedback and answer questions. The gist of it is that you’re the laugh track. Those ‘awww’ and ‘Ooooooh’ and even ‘hissss’ moments you hear on the show? That’s us. So if you know me and hear my rather distinctive laugh on episode two, yes, that is me. Sorry sound people.

To warm us up, the MC told jokes, got some people to show stupid human tricks, and so on. It was certainly a strange experience, and I absolutely did not volunteer to be publicly embarrassed. Finally they showed us a quick 6 minute clip of the show to catch us up on plot points we needed to know for the episode to make sense. I can’t give you spoilers, so I won’t tell you what was deemed important for that night, but I can tell you the credit sequence they showed had some new shots in it.

Straight ahead and rest assured

At 5:22 (I had my watch on) Norman Lear came out to say hello and talk to us about the importance of the show. Given that Netflix had just canceled The Get Down and Sense8 (still mad about that), him talking about how important a show with Latin representation was a big deal. I realized that the more of us who come to the tapings, the better it is for the show. This is a way Netflix has to gauge popularity.

Next the cast came out and we all cheered. By which I mean we may have all lost our minds cheering. The MC pointed out everyone, from writers to camera people to directors. He made some pretty bad dad-jokes about one of the camera men, and during one break he did a whole running monologue of what the camera man was thinking. They could totally hear him, and started making fun back.

You can’t be sure at all

The filming experience was interesting. Unlike the other TV shows I’ve seen filmed, they did the whole thing in order, front to back. This makes sense since some of the jokes were even funnier because of the setup. I’ll explain about that in a second. First of all, every scene is filmed at least twice, straight through. Now I say that, but in reality if an actor flubs a line, they may actually reset themselves and fix it, trusting the editing process. Sometimes the gaff is too big and they have to go back a few lines to reset. This mostly happened with scenes that involved a lot of physical motion.

Depending on the reaction of the audience to the show, some lines were totally re-written. Others were changed by pacing and enunciation. Quickly we learned if Rita didn’t like how she did a line, she’d ask for a reset. Most of the other actors only did if they forgot a line, which rarely happened.

So while you’re here, enjoy the view

In between scenes and takes, we were free to chat and the MC kept us engaged by asking people to do stupid-human-tricks. At one point. “Woomp! (There it is!)” played, and we saw Rita and Marcel (Alex) dancing to it on set. At some point there was a crazy mashup of “Single Ladies” with the Andy Griffith theme “The Fishin’ Hole” and we all laughed and sang along (or whistled) because really, why not?

An R&B singer, who was studying film, sang for us, and Isabella (Elena) danced along. She even grabbed her phone and set it to flashlight so she could wave it like a lighter. The singer didn’t notice at first until we all pointed and then he too delighted. A young man salsa danced for us, and Rita cheered him on. Of course.

Keep on doing what you do

There was one very long scene which took a long time to get through. They had to do multiple takes because a line didn’t work, or a joke wasn’t right, or allergies (poor Justina had bad allergies that day), and then it happened. Everyone, cast and crew, got the giggles. It started with a couple normal bloopers, like a flubbed line, but then it transcended into one of those things where everyone just had to laugh. Something fell in the background, someone made a face at themselves, and it took a little while to get everything under control.

Once they did, however, the scene was amazing. It reminds me that while I often think of Rita Moreno as a comedian, I do her a disservice. She makes you feel what she wants you to feel, and it’s clear she is the mentor of the cast in how she acts and how she recovers from her own blooper. Like calling Elena “Ellen” which resulted in them doing a ‘bit’ where Elena introduced herself.

So hold on tight, we’ll muddle through

Once they got that scene finished, we got to eat. Oh yes, they fed us! It was vegetarian sandwiches for us, and they were pretty mediocre since they’d been sitting and waiting for an hour (so they got soggy) but it was very welcome to have a break and nosh. Some of the cast came up to say hi. Isabella’s friends all congregated where she was. Rita thanked the DJ for playing one of her songs.

After ‘dinner’ there were two more scenes, both very short compared to the mammoth we’d just seen. Again, they reshot a few times to get blocking and pacing right. And to take a joke from good to me laughing so hard I honk-laughed. I know, it was embarrassing, but the joke hit me in the funnies perfectly. We also got another repeat of Dre, our R&B singer, singing a ‘dramatic reading’ of a book another audience member had written. The book was called “Hidden in Egypt” and I don’t know anything about the plot, because somehow we all ended up singing “Hiiiiden! In Egyyyyyypt!” and it became a thing. We were singing it as we left the set!

One day at a time, one day at a time

Then it was all over. It was a wrap and we cheered and the cast came out for curtain call and we cheered even more. We hooted and hollered, and it was, sadly, time to go. But then… My wife turned to me and pointed out Mike Royce was right over there. We’d had an opportunity to chat at Paley Center, and I wondered if he’d remember me, but I did want to tell him we’d made it and enjoyed the show. So I stepped to the railing and called his name. He looked around, confused, and then spotted me. I asked if he remembered me from Paley Center and his face lit up! He did!

We had a very brief chat where I told him we’d had a great time, and would try to come again. The episode was amazing (seriously – second episode of season 2 is great!) and I was going to write it up. “No spoilers!” I thanked him again and made sure not to take too much of his time, as it was getting late and I didn’t want to be the creepy fan.

It’s a Wrap

What can I say but how fun it was? It was great to see the magic happen, and while I now know the whole plot, I’m sure I’ll laugh at it again when I see if for real. If you come out to LA, you should see if you can catch a live taping of a show. It doesn’t spoil a thing for you, and you’ll come out of it with a deeper admiration for people who put on a new 30 minute play every week, with only 5 days to do it all.

That’s right! They get five days to go from table read to filming. That’s crazy. They memorize and then forget everything. And they do it amazingly well.

Hopefully I’ll get to go a couple more times.

About Mika Epstein

Mika has been deep in the fandom world since she could say 'Trekkie.' With over two decades experience in running fansites and organizing communities, she's taken on the challenge of delving into the recesses of television for queers long forgotten. Making this site with Tracy is nothing short of serendipity. Mika lives with her wife and their cats in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.
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