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January 21, 2013

Package Deal a Great Deal for the Live Crowd


Bill Brioux / TV Feeds My Family

VANCOUVER–Four-camera sitcom tapings can sometimes be a bit of an endurance test for studio audiences. You go in thinking you’ll whiz through a live taping of a half-hour sitcom. Five or six hours later, you swear you’ll never watch television again.
This was definitely not the case Friday night in Burnaby, B.C. as Package Deal taped its second-last live studio audience show of the season. The upcoming Rogers/City sitcom stars Harland Williams, Jay Malone and Randal Edwards as three goofy brothers. Julia Voth plays Edwards’ character’s hot girlfriend who accepts them all, for better or for worse.
The taping last Friday was advertised as three hours and that’s exactly how long it took. The final taping is this Friday and may be sold out but if you are in the area and looking for a way to squeeze in (and you should), try emailing here for more information.
There happened to be a lot of aspiring young actors in the bleachers Friday night, so notices must be posted at schools and universities. I attended with a few other press cats. Breakfast Television Vancouver’s Riaz Meghji and his brother Zain (How to Look Good Naked Canada) were also in attendance.
The sound stage is one of those stealth studios tucked inside an industrial park. Outside it looks like any other soulless suburban factory zone. Inside, you could be on the Warners’ or CBS Radford lot.
Stand-up comedian Dave Dimapilis, who also works tapings for another Thunderbird Films series, Mr. Young, warms up the crowd. Witty and quick on his feet, he does a terrific job, getting the audience involved in all sorts of fun shenanigans, offering prizes for trivia games and generally helping to make the breaks between the scenes zip by.
About half way through the taping, the entire audience was treated to pizza. That was new to me. I’ve been to dozens of series tapings in L.A. and N.Y. and never got fed as a member of a studio audience, not even by Martha Stewart. One drawback: hard to clap with greasy hands.
Director Steve Wright–still in the business despite having directed me a few years ago when I snuck onto Puppets Who Kill–grabbed a couple of takes of each of the live scenes shot that night. It was fun to watch each member of the cast improvise on succeeding takes (Williams never does anything the same way twice), or just try to crack each other up after a muffed line. Malone and Voth especially shone in a bit of physical business involving a confrontation with a picked-clean chicken carcass. There was a lot of good energy on the night, with Edwards admitting later he was channeling Ferris Bueller at times as the episode’s “Sick Puppy.”
Showrunner Andrew Orenstein (Malcolm in the Middle, 18 to Life) would also huddle with his co-writer on this episode–Denise Moss (The Wonder Years)–and tweak the script after every take depending on the live studio audience’s reactions to the dialogue. Big laughs got left alone. Little laughs got replaced.
Much of the action in this episode took place in the large loft where Edwards’ character lives and everyone else hangs out. Between the live takes, scenes that were banked earlier in the week were shown in sequence on large overhead monitors to the studio audience. Other standing sets include the neighbourhood bar, a courtroom (Edwards’ character is a lawyer) and the tea room where Voth’s character works.
Afterwards the cast members and producers took a bow and mingled. They all said there is nothing like show night to pump energy into a scene.
Cast and crew headed to a popular Vancouver bar later to unwind. The owner of the Canucks, Francesco Aquilini, happened to be there, leading to invitations to the cast to join him at Saturday’s Canucks home opener. Now that’s a package deal.The sitcom will premiere in the spring on City.