“The Office” has become America’s darling marking its intensity over the past couple years. To be able to see the set per se is a study in the new element. The shooting location buried in a corner of would-be considered Van Nuys at the Valley Chandler Studios lives up to the non- descript, below-the-radar permutation of the actual show. Entering into the back loading area, it could very well be a Home Depot delivery staging spot or even a storage center. The lighting scheme plays into this as well with very natural inflection.
Walking out into the parking lot, the small sign detailing Scranton barely peeks out above the wall daring you to make eye contact. Aside from a small amount of passenger vans, the license plates of a couple cars, especially an aptly placed PT Cruiser, are adorned with Pennsylvania license plates. Walking past the craft service truck, you enter the holy grail currently of comedy shows: the main office. Right next to the reception, Kate Flannery, who plays the undeniable Meredith on the show, finds us with her fire red hair.
As we stand and listen, the picture of Pam & Jim on Pam’s desk wisps out of the corner of the eye, abundantly clear. As we take pictures in Michael’s chair, you understand the organic nature of what the set is. Michael (played by Steve Carell) can see Jim’s desk directly from his point of view which is right next to Pam’s. Any specific point has its eye line direct although sometimes it is interesting to say which way the camera would actually be looking when we see it on TV. Unlike most sets the lighting here is done via florescents so the actual keys for shooting are interesting across the board.
Kate takes us through the kitchen area and the undeniably pink bathroom of lore. The vending machines which some characters rudimentally beat the crap out of are there as well, just steps away. Meredith relates that all the cast and crew end up eating a boatload of potato chips so the food never goes bad. The prop department, which we got a good look at when we went through the back aspect of the set (which is the first time you actually you get a sense of its construction), has some great cast and crew photographs based on the wall and there is a lit up sign of Room 728 which begs a question.
Entering back into the main base hall, the entire cast files in as each of us is given our own Mifflin desk appliance. Paul Lieberstein, the exec producer, jokes at the beginning of the session that the Buffalo office was closed because sales went down. It was a toss up between there and here in Scranton. In terms of the new season, he relates that the main storyline will be following Jim & Pam when they going back and meet their families Michael was obviously the antagonist the first season but now has softened a bit which will continue to unfold. In the new season, we will find out that Andy likes Erin but Erin is unaware. But, in all aspects, it might be a rough year for Michael Scott. To this, Steve Carrell retorts rather intently: “Delicious!”
Carell says that the evolution of Michael from the pilot to the first season is that he lost 20 pounds because he did “40 Year Old Virgin”. Carrell jokes that he became extremely changed yet he says that he has always seen Michael as a sympathetic character. With people who are obnoxious and get in your face, there are always gray areas, he explains. With this guy, his intentions are good and his heart is in the right place but he has emotional blind spots, according to Steve. In the first couple seasons, he, as an actor, had to be more willing to guard the character and not show everything. As that happens, the other characters will let their guards down as well.
The next aspect brought to point is the famous “glance” courtesy of Jim (played by John Krasinki). John says that nobody has ever named it before. It came up in the pilot. He says jokingly that he has convinced the powers that be that he will be able to shock the audience with one of these at any given moment so he can get down to business. He says, of course, that all of this comes down to the writing. In terms of his favorite moment so far on the show is on the booze cruise when he is on the top of the ship with Pam. He likes this because there is a moment of silence that allows the gravity to breathe and sink in. He also says that the aspect of having Pam be pregnant before the wedding was a great stroke of genius. In terms of his perception of Jim’s ambition, John says the guy does the work but definitely tries to keep his head low
For Jenna Fischer who plays Pam, she is just surprised by all the attention, especially when she went to Europe recently. She jokes that her relationship with John as Jim started off rough. At first it was unrequited love. When they finally got together, she started to see from her fan mail that the fans were growing up with them and wanting to know when they would get married. Now the aspect of kids has set in. Jenna says that Pam will be walking down the aisle very soon since she is pregnant in the show and that there need not be time to wait. The consensus is that the wedding will be in Episode 4. Jenna was also excited because she got fitted for Pam’s wedding dress literally a couple minutes before we arrived. She says it was a very special moment for her personally. This girl, when she was first started playing her, didn’t know who she was and was with the wrong guy. Now she is with the right guy. She has seen part of the wedding episode and thinks it is really funny.
Greg Daniels, who was the brains along with Ricky Gervais, in bringing the aspect of “The Office” to America originally told NBC that, like the British version, it might take a couple seasons to establish an audience and the ratings on the show. Why this concept seemed to work is that it had the energy of a reality series because it was in a mockumentary format but that structural angling and writing made all of the difference. Daniels jokes that to keep Jim and Pam from moving on and evolving in the show in terms of not leaving the company, he conspired to have the economy destroyed so they could stay.
Lieberstein, when pressed for ensuing story lines next season, says that Michael will meet with an Italian American gentleman the week after Jim and Pam get married and are on their honeymoon. The thought that starts to permeate around the office is that Michael is meeting with the mob and setting up an insurance scam. Liberstein also alludes that there will be a shareholders meeting that occurs sometime this season,
The essence of the entire cast in this would-be playhouse is an embarrassment of riches. A thick and vibrant sense of humor seems to run through the whole cast and crew led by Carrell and exec Paul Lieberstein which seems to infect the whole cast. What also seems apparent is that the show works so well because of that synergy in that it creates a sense of symbiosis. In a show that is all about the problems of the workplace, it seems to create a complete paradox in its actuality making the show as original and funny as it is.
As the center of TCA approaches the essential question is the aspect of longevity of shows. The key is creating a progression that people can gestate into. With ABC’s portion of set visits, they highlighted both the newly christened with possibility and the proven formula which continues its dominance but with a balance of what made it great while branching out.
Castle This series starring came out of nowhere but has a levity and structure of chemistry that grows on you. Shot at Raleigh Studios In Hollywood though set in NY, the narrative follows a successful novelist shadowing a female detective as a subject for his new thriller. As a concept it is a pretty simple but it works because the dialogue is sharp and the actors especially the two leads,Nathan Fillion (as Castle) and Stana Katic (as Beckett) are so likable.
Entering the soundstage which less than two years ago housed the LA set for “Ugly Betty” is like deja vu since the initially staging area is for a fashion show stage which will be part of the current episode for the fall that they are shooting on this day (Episode 2). After sneaking a quick look at the precinct set in the back of the stage, Seamus Dever, who plays Det. Kevin Ryan, lead us back up to the main stage as we discuss the finer points of smoking on-camera. He quit a while back but he still has to smoke the herbals once in a while for their show.
In the white expanse of the fashion set, Nathan Fillion in true form as his Whedon protege element does his catwalk move in full ham mode out into view. The shenanigans of course must continue off screen, Andrew Marlowe, the creator of the show, comes out and talks about the new season which starts airing in late September. They got an order for 13 for Season 2 with the possibly for the back nine.
At the end of last season, Fillion’s Nick Castle was on the outs with Stana Katic’s Kate Beckett. Their chemistry is great but needs to definitely be upped but the balance as I later discussed with Katic is one of those very specific things, She has the hardest job which she understands but first, the coolness of the peanut gallery.
Walking into the back of Castle’s loft which is filled to the brim with books and macho slick, we sit down at the bar near the dining area. Seamus and John Huertas (who plays Det. Javier Esposito) are a bunch of cracks-up who know what makes the series work but also what they need to do. The only thing lacking in the back as we chilled out was mojitos. The great balancer on the show they agreed was comedy. Their little in-jokes with Castle at the expense of Beckett is what gives the levity to a lot of the precinct scenes which could get bogged down in analytics (but don’t).You can tell they throw off Katic the best they can since she has to maintain that steely exterior. It just seems a fun time for them.
Heading over to the cusp of the fashion set, Katic sits utterly comfortable, out of her detective’s uniform. Without her glasses, she is quite beautiful with a touch of Sarah Palin which simply comes from that paradox of her deliberateness. Her awkwardness at times is what creates those grand moments, sort of like Maggie on “Northern Exposure”. You get that same kind of feeling. When I ask her about a moment when she (Stana) peeks through Beckett for a moment, she has to think about it. I speak about the comedy and she smiles a couple minutes later as she cuts in. That “moment” is when her ex-beau Sorenson comes back and they are standing at the car. He seems to leave and at that moment, you can see her there looking back. Even though we dont see it alot, Katic has a genuine and beautiful smile that radiates when it comes onscreen which is why they use it sparingly. She has to play the straight man and she knows it. She is a little goofy she says.
She relates about how during hiatus she had gone to Europe to see family and promote the show and then she went to Bora Bora with friends. She especially liked talking about Italy and just the aspect of characters and family in the old world, especially with the men and women. Interestingly enough these concepts of family are both in the minds of Katic and, by interesting extension, Fillion as talked to a couple minutes later but from a separate pereception.
Point taken though is the great radiant smile of Katic which is totally here which hopefully will get its shine again this season. There is a couple bits in the first season in Episode 8 where she gets to be very feminine which she really liked. She seems like the sweats kind of girl and loves to go hiking here in LA. Her, Seamus and one of the other cast members are currently training for a local triathalon so physicality is always something on their minds.
Heading into the study, the man and the myth of Castle stands behind his desk. The pun by extension is that on the desk there is a big bowl of heavy balls, which has its intended connotation. Fillion is dressed in a maroon shirt and is every way into this guy. You really see him living in the skin. He knows that he is the more immature one. You can also see that he has a really cool relationship with his onscreen daughter Molly Quinn as Alexis. She keeps him in line.
Nathan speaks about his ex-wife on the series Martha played by Susan Sullivan. When asked if the different masks have to permeate through him (like if he acts different around different people in terms of the character), Fillion says that he tries to keep him honest across the board as to who he is. He might be working the situation as Castle but the character never denies who he is.
He says that he bases certain elements of the character’s structure around his mother and father’s relationship. In his mind, parents drive you nuts but you love them nonetheless. He sees that as the attraction in the series with the ex-wife Martha.
Making the point that this might be what drives the chemistry between Castle and Beckett, Nathan denies that in time. But actually on a subconcious point, that might be the case. He says that his mother was a worrier, maternal and tries to be protective which is very similar to how (when Castle isn’t looking), Beckett reacts.
The great thing about the series (which maybe as a performer he is withdrawn from) is that in the cut away scenes of Katic, you see those moments which we as the audience may only be privy to (which is a great tell). There is a great layering here that seems to be happening organically which is simply spurred on by the uniqueness specifically of these actors in this situation. It can only get better. “Castle” has legs.
Private Practice Across the parking lot and past the satellite dishes, the set for the “Grey’s Anatomy” spinoff is ready to go. Having never gotten into either “Grey”, or by extension, “Practice”, the connection for me was perhaps undirected. However, entering in, the perception became aware simply by the layout. The doctors who can do their own thing collide by sheer chance and will.
Shonda Rhimes, the force behind both “Grey” and “Private”, still goes through every script. Sitting at the conference table surrounded by her producing team, she admits to last season ending a little dark but that they are looking to bringing a lighter element. She speaks of next season in the movement of Dr. Addison played by Kate Walsh and the essence of Violet (played by Amy Brennaman).
Shonda doesn’t watch other medical shows so their influence is negated although she loves “Project Runway”, She says a lot of medicine in the show is just in the everyday lives of the people. This is none more connected in this way than Taye Diggs at the current moment. The most life changing element that has affected him and, in turn, informs his character has been his real life marriage and specifically the wedding to his wife. Presently she is pregnant and is expecting. Diggs knows that this will completely change his life and is affecting how he looks at work. People keep telling him having a child will change everything. He is excited but you can tell that he is both elated and scared by what to expect. This kind of human possibility seems to infuse the show.
Talking to Kate Walsh in a plush hangback chair in the practice’s waiting room, she seems chill in her countenance of what will motivate her character as well as within her character’s family, which is a continuing but powerful motif, The question is the angle at which you hit it.
Shonda, in point, gives an apt and visionary conclusion which seems to be indicated and vindicated in many ways sheerly by the structure of the set. Shonda says that she can be claustrophic as a person and relationships here speak to that. It is all about forced proximity and desperate separation. This is a good formula for exacting and reactive dram
With both “Castle” and “Private Practice”, the angle seems to the thought process of the characters, their reactions and attractions and their eventual weaknesses which propel the series. In seeing the lives within the sets, the progression of these lives becomes ever more clear.
The next adventure unfolded in earnest as the bus curled away from Hollywood into the cusp of Century City making its way onto the Fox Lot for a diversive selection of moments that held both laughs and serious business.
Bones Having not followed the series and knowing it only by its marketing, the one thing that could always be told (like Maggie and Joel from “Northern Exposure) is that Emily Deschanel who plays Brennan and David Boreanaz who plays Booth have chemistry. The series itself, of course, indicated by the title is about dead bodies. The impromptu gathering was held in the FBI Office set with the lighted mattes of the city outside lit in earnest. Trying to plug my computer into the outlet on set proves that the scene is real in every specific way but not in others. David had not been working that day but Emily had just come off shooting a scene where she is try to talk to her adopted daughter about sex.
The series itself got picked up for two additional seasons which, for co-creator Hart Hanson, allows them the ability to mold stories into a timeline. The essence, according to the two stars, of last season is that it ended with them supposedly in bed together. However, it existed more apparently in their minds. Brennan was buried in a book and Boothe was in a coma. Some people apparently claim that the connection wasn’t real but it was real enough to them. Emily says that what she has heard from fans is that they half want them to get together; the other half doesn’t. That of course is the rub of all such romances. Best thing, of course, to do is to draw it out as long as possible. David thinks that he and Emily have great chemistry and it translates on screen but it lies within the characters. Brennan for example, even admitted by Emily, is very naive. According to Emily, Brennan barely knows who Stewie is from “Family Guy”. Hanson makes the point that he is glad they moved from Friday night to Thursday at 8pm. It is not the greatest move but it is better than where they were before.
Looking around the set, there is defintely a little bit of a modern “Catch Me If You Can” vibe with the deep oak shadows behind the actors while a glass wall sporting the FBI logo dully shines in its translucence. In the essence of Booth, Boreanaz says his character, who is still dealing with the effects of being in a coma, is learning to do things again. He has to learn how to plumb in the most recent scenes he shot. There are now all these new little nuances to discover. Emily and David are also producers now on the show. David explains how into detail with casting and photography he likes to get. Hanson says he’s happy because the actors now get to share the pains of production logistics with him. Emily says, for her, it is a natural extension of collaboration on the show. In terms of new additions next season, Brennan and Booth are still revolving through assistants. Hanson says that all the guest runs are great but committing to a series regular hasn’t happened yet. Boreanaz teases that it might be interesting to bring in a purely FBI and CIA based guy to up the ante. That means more brain power to use.
[Bones returns Fall 09]
Dollhouse Curling up past the Star Wars mural and slithering behind the new administration building, the new Fox soundstages I had not seen (as they were built after I worked on the lot in development) came into view, hidden away but obviously decently big in their breathe. Hugh Laurie nonchalantly rides past on his bike. As we turn up a little ramp and around a corner, the full reveal of the entire main “Dollhouse” set comes into play. The sleep sarcophoguses are in an adjoining room but the main foyer is a beautiful set, even more so when you are standing completely within it. Water is actually flowing beneath the floor. The doctor’s viewport is directly where it is supposed to be and the catwalks are laid out in real time.
Dichen Lachman, who plays the silky crisp and beautiful doll Sierra, told me later that she was able to throw a football across this wide expanse. This is when the Doc gave her the memories of his friend and they were chilling out. It was a nice release. “Dollhouse” sometimes works like that but the character work seemed to take a back seat in the general thought. Despite best intentions, an overwhelming weight was placed on creator Joss Whedon’s creative wrangling (especially involving the series renewal) which seemed to overshadow the set visit. Whedon however took it in stride.
As this is being written, it is a Friday and they were finishing up Episode 1 (Eliza with Joss directing was shooting a scene in the adjoining set as I ran out to catch the shuttle back to the TCA HQ in Pasadena). They start Episode 2 two days from now on Monday.
Whedon says that he has a much clearer view of where everything is going. “Epitath” which is considered the “lost pilot” using future footage has become almost the Trojan Horse, but despite anything to the contrary, Whedon tends to revel in it. He is the first to admit that he didn’t think he would be sitting here for this season. But he says that “Dollhouse” was merely an idea before. Now it is refined. The studio now gets it. But Whedon knows enough not to go too futuristic. He points to what happened to the other future show (“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”]. Of course, the question is how can you keep making a possibly 2-million-dollar-an-episode show and still bring in enough viewers?
“Dollhouse” is cult for sure but gets big numbers on DVR and on ITunes. It is a bonafide hit within that structure but how does the studio perceive that? And more important, what do the advertisers think? These are the questions being asked of Whedon in this forum. He knows expectation is high but he seems to brush it off in a healthy way, His most important question is how to build Echo. Locking eyes with both Eliza and Dichen while sitting in the front row, you get how game this cast is.
From what Dichen and Enver Gjokaj (who plays Victor) told me after the panel, they don’t get the script until two days before they shoot so it is more about sinking or swimming in the scenario. Enver says that, at times, it is absolute fear that drives him in terms of his characterization. My question, of course, is about the physical strain as well as emotional since it can be trying to be these different people at times. With Dichen, there is a coolness at times in the characters that her doll takes on but, in real life, Dichen is very still and almost shy with a wonderfully delicate nature about her. Talking to them both together on the cusp of the brook bubbling underneath the Dollhouse was almost surreal in its nature simply because the arena is the embodiment of a metaphor and specifically a construct of Whedon Mythology.
Dichen admits she is scared sometimes when she does one of the dolls because she doesn’t know if she is hitting it right. The thing is that more often than not she hits the nail sometimes with more viciousness than Eliza. The reality is that Eliza gets to be more sexual in some of her doll experiences. Talking at the event, Eliza said she would rather take the risk and do it than not. She likes being girly. She says she was a tomboy growing up and the paradox of this show allow her to revel in her sexual side as some of her alluring and seductive scenes attest to. But she is always empowered and in control. We would want nothing less.
Jumping back to Whedon lore in terms of where “Dollhouse’ will go, it is now life after Alpha. Ballard, the detective, is also now within the Dollhouse. My question, of course, is about the primal nature and the power struggle of these people and how it will evolve but Whedon won’t reveal his plan. Even when Enver asks him what is going to happen, Whedon teases him and says “Wait and see what you will have to do in Episode 2!”
It seems that the actors gets to fly by the seat of their pants as well, especially in terms of the dolls. Dichen says she trained a little bit with kickboxing for this but that is all. Enver had been in “Taking Chance” with Kevin Bacon before this started but you have to keep on your game physically since you don’t know what might be coming your way,
In summation as the sun sets, Whedon says that the “Epitath” puzzle serves two masters. He promises that we will see the future shown in the lost episode by the end of the first episode. Whedon’s path is anyone’s guess but it always has possibility. As I bid Enver and Lichen farewell, the soothing calmness of the Dollhouse main set disappears down a corridor into the darkness of night.
[Dollhouse returns September 22nd]