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A Day In The Life Of Tv

August 17, 1986|MORGAN GENDEL

What follows on these pages are glimpses into the agonies and oddities of making television.

At the end of a single workday, last Monday, a team of Calendar reporters called TV production companies all over the globe to try to get a glimpse behind the slick veneer into the real world of humming word processors, threaded videotape and rolling cameras.

We were looking for the interesting stuff . Pages of freshly typed script flying through the air, camera crews hastily moving to beat the rain or fog, producers racing to put out fires and soothe egos, costumes hurriedly sewn or cleaned in time for a scene that was to be shot an hour ago.

Most of the shows are based in Hollywood; most are destined for network prime time. Nearly 100 shows were contacted, among them 23 new ones, plus returning shows, syndicated shows, game shows, soap operas and miniseries.

Once word got out that we were calling shows, our phones started ringing. In an era of advanced telecommunications, word of mouth is still a powerful force, and publicists representing studios, networks, producers and actors tried to see if they could plant the seeds with some positive press.

Positive? For the sake of this article, that meant candid, juicy, sexy, real . Some fine series suffered because they had dull days. "You shoulda called me Friday . . ." was an oft-heard complaint.

TV's arcane hierarchy, sometimes bordering on the militaristic, also raised its head. Executive producers rarely spend a full day on the set, but their reps often urged that we speak only to them. Some didn't care to whom we spoke, as long as we got it right. The honchos on one and only one show, "Moonlighting," reported that they were too busy to talk.

SKINNY PIGS ON 'NEWHART'

Script work stopped at 2 p.m. Monday on "Newhart" (returning to CBS) so that the producers could audition pigs at CBS/MTM Studio Center. Cafe owners Larry, Darryl and Darryl, neighbors of innkeeper/how-to-author/talk-show host Newhart, get a pet pig in one episode, and executive producers Douglas Wyman and David Mirkin reported problems.

Their local film animal supplier came in with two pigs "who were the most anorexic pigs we've ever seen," Wyman grumbled. One was tall and slender--all legs, said Mirkin--but the smaller one had more personality. They went with the smaller one, the producers explained, since its more conventional look would also make it easier to find stunt pigs and other stand-ins if necessary.

'DYNASTY' DRESS DIRTIED

It was almost as shocking as any convoluted prime-time soap plot twist: There was Joan Collins, decked out in an extravagant dress, walking across the set of "Dynasty" (returning to ABC) with a glass of orange juice, when (gasp!) someone brushed against her arm.

A dressing room odyssey followed in which the dress, comprised of several different kinds of fabrics, was carefully cleaned (each fabric required a different process). And after donning the dress again, Collins sat down--on a piece of lipstick.

Supervising producer Elaine Rich said that the crew also ran into a minor location woe during a "concept meeting." It involved an upcoming courtroom scene. "There are a couple of courtroom sets in town," explained Rich, "but Aaron Spelling Productions (which produces "Dynasty") also produces 'Hotel' and 'The Colbys,' which have also used the courtroom. So we didn't want viewers to recognize the set." Downtown L.A. courtrooms were surveyed.

Meanwhile, on Stage 4 at the Warner-Hollywood Studios, cast newcomer Leanne Hunley had her first scenes. "We can't give the plot away, but she was Blake's executive assistant. And, she's vulnerable--but with a little 'edge' to her," Rich noted carefully.

ILLNESS HITS 'ST. ELSEWHERE'

Now see if you can follow this:

Ed Flanders, who plays Dr. Westphall on "St. Elsewhere" (returning to NBC), came down with bronchial pneumonia in June and couldn't finish acting in the first two new episodes.

Edward Herrmann, who was to make a guest appearance alongside Flanders in those episodes as Father McCabe, founder of St. Eligius Hospital, had two movie commitments, so he couldn't reschedule his appearances until last week. Exec producer Bruce Paltrow was directing Herrmann on Monday.

But some of the scenes that had been shot around Herrmann in June no longer worked, mainly because Denzel Washington, who plays Dr. Chandler, is off essaying the title role of "The Steve Biko Story" for Sir Richard Attenborough. Scenes in which Washington appeared in June, therefore, also had to be reshot, since he could not be in the matching scenes with Herrmann.

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