Join me for a SINISTER SITCOM CAPER

Carpenter photo_WEB gifSally Carpenter is native Hoosier now living in Moorpark, Calif. She has a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school her plays “Star Collector” and “Common Ground” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. “Common Ground” also earned a college creative writing award and “Star Collector” was produced in New York City. Carpenter also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do. She’s worked as an actress, freelance writer, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain, and tour guide/page for a major movie studio. She’s now employed at a community newspaper. Her initial book in the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol series, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” was a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel. Her short story, “Dark Nights at the Deluxe Drive-in,” appears in the anthology “Last Exit to Murder.” “Faster Than a Speeding Bullet” was published in the “Plan B: Vol. 2” e-book anthology. Her short story “The Pie-eyed Spy” appeared in the Nov. 23, 2013, issue of Kings River Life ezine. Sally is here today telling us a little about when she worked as a page. Be sure to also see the excerpt from her book. Welcome, Sally.

THAT’S SHOWBIZ! BACKSTAGE AT A SITCOM SHOOT

By Sally Carpenter

Growing up in the Midwest I loved TV and movies and thought that I’d like to work in Hollywood. Some years later the opportunity arose that I could move cross country and try my luck in show biz. I had the good fortune to arrive in Los Angeles when Paramount Pictures was hiring the new class of pages.

During the day pages conducted two-hour walking tours of the 55-acre lot in Hollywood. During the evenings pages ushered in audiences for the live sitcom shootings. Working the shows inspired me to write my new cozy mystery, “The Sinister Sitcom Caper.”

Studios shot the sitcoms either on Tuesday or Friday nights. The soundstages had bleacher seats where the guests sat. The sets and cameras were on the floor below. Microphones hung over the bleachers to record the audience laughter.

At 4 p.m. the day of the shoot the cast, crew and pages had an early dinner provided by the studio (I thought “The Hugleys” show had the best food). At 5 or 5:30 p.m. the pages got in place near a studio entrance to let in the audience. We’d check names off the reservations list and line up the non-RSVP people for “standby” in case extra seats were available. In hot weather and in the rain, we were on our feet and walking (this job kept me in good shape!).

At 6:30 p.m. we escorted the guests into the soundstage. The VIPs—friends and family of the cast and producers—had reserved seats in the front rows and were seated first. Then came the people with reservations and finally those without. The goal was to fill all the seats—around 200.

The warm-up guy (and in one case, a gal) had an important job. Making a sitcom is a long, tedious process that takes three hours or more. Scenes were reshot several times, often with breaks of 20 minutes or more. Sometimes lines were added or revised between takes. Audiences got bored and the warm-up guy kept the guests entertained during the lags.

The warm-ups were charismatic, charming guys who worked well with all types of people. They stood in the front row with a microphone. They described the show and the production process, told jokes, interviewed the guests, gave away merchandise, and led audience participation games. One warm-up guy had an act of “hypnotizing” the guests. Really. He’d put some people under and have them do silly stunts.

The warm-up had to stop instantly when the show resumed shooting and then pick up again. He had to coax the guests into laughing at the same jokes during retakes. He had to stay “on” for the entire time. Each warm-up had his own style of patter. It’s a tough job.

Some shows, particularly those geared for younger viewers, brought in a DJ play music during the breaks. Two shows, “Becker” and “Frasier,” had an in-house band to perform (the band was a holdover from the “I Love Lucy” show).

Also on “Frasier,” during the long breaks for costume changes, the animal trainer amused the guests by having Eddie, the dog, do tricks.

To keep the actors from sweating beneath the hot camera lights, the soundstages were kept freezing cold. I told guests, even on hot summer days, to bring a sweater to a shoot.

The pages watched the audiences to make sure nobody was taking photos or recording the show. We directed guests to the restrooms and made sure nobody sneaked backstage. We also stood outside the stage door to keep people from walking in during shooting.

An important element of production was the craft services table, tucked behind the set and out of sight of the audience. To keep cast and crew happy and alert during the long night, the table was stocked with fruits, snacks, chips, desserts, sodas and coffee. My least favorite show to work had the worse craft services table—nothing but protein bars!

When shooting finished, the cast members did a “curtain call” and took their bows to audience applause. The pages then escorted the guests to the studio gate. Pages could not leave until the last audience member was off the lot, but fortunately, at 11 p.m. or later the guests didn’t linger. Then the pages clocked out and drove home for a good night’s sleep.

In my book, “The Sinister Sitcom Caper,” former ‘70s teen idol Sandy Fairfax finds that making a comeback can be murder. When he guest stars on the sitcom “Off-Kelter,” one of the actors drops dead at his feet and he investigates with the help of a dwarf and an animal actor.

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Sandy Fairfax, former teen idol and star of the ‘70s hit TV show “Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth,” is now a middle-aged recovering alcoholic who realizes that making a comeback can be murder. He’s the guest star on “Off-Kelter,” a corny family situation comedy, and the lowest rated TV show of the 1993 fall season. Before rehearsals barely begin one of the actors drops dead at Sandy’s feet. He investigates, enlisting the aid of two of his new cast mates: a dwarf and an animal actor. During his snooping, we meet Sandy’s ex, his parents and his teenage son, all with their own “situations” going on. During rehearsals Sandy also encounters a beautiful choreographer—could this be love? Will Sandy solve the murder before the Friday night taping of “Off-Kelter” or will the elusive killer cancel our hero before the final credits? This book was inspired by the author’s experience working as a tour guide/page at Paramount Pictures in Hollywood.

MY REVIEW

Sandy Fairfax is a former child star and recovering alcoholic. In other words, washed up. But ya gotta love his optimism – that doesn’t stop him from constantly referring to himself as a star. It is during one of his comeback attempts, as a guest on failing show, that he falls into a murder case and adds sleuth to his resume. It’s all very light and the dialogue is snappy and the pace is fast. In other words, a perfect cozy. You will enjoy this one ♥♥♥♥♥

EXCERPT

The culprit had lashed me to a sturdy wooden chair with no armrests and a back of horizontal slats. My wrists were tied together behind the chair back; each ankle was bound to a chair leg and a rope across my chest held me in. I tugged on the ropes but they didn’t give. I tried to scoot across the floor but the chair was too heavy to budge. My fingers couldn’t undo the tight knots on my wrists. Whoever did this knew what he was doing.

I studied my surroundings. I was inside an empty soundstage, dimly lit by a single work light. The cavernous room had no set, which meant nobody was using the stage. I might have to wait hours—or days—before someone found me. Maybe my assailant planned to return to finish me off, in which case I needed to escape immediately.

In the corner something moved; was it a rat? I was so dazed from the conk on the head that I was hearing noises; I thought I heard a dog barking. Wait a minute—I did hear a dog barking. Maybe the dog had a person with him who could help. Or maybe my assailant had a pit bull that would finish me off. I could see the headlines: MANACLED MUSICIAN MAULED BY RABID MUTT.

I shouted, “Hey! Is someone out there? Help me!”

Scruffy trotted into view, dragging his leash on the ground. He must have slipped away from Frances. For the first time this week I was ecstatic to see the mangy cur.

“Scruffy! Come here, boy! Over here!”

The critter sat on his haunches before me, his fat tongue lolling out of his mouth as he panted.

“Scruffy! You remember me, don’t you, boy? The man on the show you like to kiss?”

The canine wagged his tail and gave a couple of friendly yaps. As a trained animal actor, maybe he could carry a message for me.

“Scruffy! Listen to me! Go get help! Fetch Frances! Bring your trainer here! Go on, boy! Go! Get Frances!”

The ditzy dog merely stared at me and barked. I repeated the command but he didn’t move. What rotten luck. Just when I needed Lassie to save the day, I was stuck with Scooby-Doo. Then Scruffy recognized me. He jumped up on my lap and started licking my face. The confused cur thought we were filming the show. With my hands tied I couldn’t push him off. I turned my face away from his slobbering tongue and he slurped my ear with gusto.

“Scruffy! Get off! Bad dog! Get down!”

The dog sat in my lap and barked happily in my face. I nearly died of asphyxiation from his doggie breath.

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5 thoughts on “Join me for a SINISTER SITCOM CAPER

  1. Loved the memories about being a page. I imagine lots of us wonder how all that works so seamlessly. Excellent excerpt as well. I enjoyed it all. May the dragons watch over you…

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  2. Pingback: The Sinister Sitcom Caper by Sally Caprenter – Great Escapes Virtual Book Tour » Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book

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