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Winging It Three Times

November 07, 1999|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Drew Carey doesn't seem a bit ruffled that his popular ABC series, "The Drew Carey Show," is going to air live this Wednesday,

"There's nothing to it," Carey says matter-of-factly. "I did stand-up comedy for a long time. A live audience doesn't matter to me. I don't think it's any big deal. It isn't any pressure."

For five seasons the sitcom has specialized in pushing the creative envelope, doing musical production numbers and a spoof of the British film "The Full Monty," complete with nude scene (with naughty bits covered up, of course).

So when executive producer/ creator Bruce Helford approached Carey about going live for the November ratings sweeps, he thought it was an "OK" idea. It was only when Helford told him that part of the episode would be improvised that he warmed up.

"I only liked it because we were doing improv stuff," says Carey, who also is host of the ABC improv comedy series, "Whose Line Is It Anyway?"

"Otherwise there was no reason to do a live show because so many people have done live shows," he explains. "It's, 'Who cares anymore?' With the improv stuff, it makes it better."

To help make the improv even more special, several "Whose Line" regulars will be popping up on this episode of "Carey," including Wayne Brady and Colin Mochrie.

Helford came up with the improv idea after seeing the much-ballyhooed live episode of "ER" two years ago.

"I thought 'ER' was interesting," Helford says. "But it was so perfect. The fun of being live was kind of lost. So I thought, 'What if we did a live show that is partly scripted and partly the actors have to improvise?' The audience is getting their money's worth ... anything can happen."

Improv games will be inserted into scripted portions of the show.

"In the midst of the story we'll say, 'Play the rest of the scene like a cowboy,' " explains Helford. "There will be a kind of a moderator who will step out [to call the improv scene]. A flashing light on the stage will let them know they have 30 seconds to get back to the next line of the script."

That means, too, that not every moment will be a laugh riot. "A joke might not work in front of an audience," admits Helford.

To up the ante, the "Drew Carey Show" will be doing the episode live three times--once for each time zone.

Most of the cast, though, is already comfortable with improv. Several of the "Carey" regulars, including Carey, Ryan Stiles and Kathy Kinney, spend their Thursday evenings doing improv at the Improv.

Stiles, who has been doing improv for 20 years and is a regular on "Whose Line," is thrilled with the prospect of going live. Since "Carey" cast members Christa Miller and Diedrich Bader are not improv comics, Stiles says part of his job will be damage control. "But when you work with improvers that aren't that good that happens all the time," he says.

Though Carey is executive producer of the series, he is keeping himself out of the loop on this installment. "I really can't get involved in the planning," Carey says. "It's bad for an interview, but I can't know what they are going to do because it will ruin the spontaneity."

Helford is a little more forthcoming on the plot. "I don't want to tip it too much," he says. "But Kate [Christa Miller] has fallen in love with Drew, and basically Drew is sabotaging himself in love. He hears that Kate is after a guy and he's going to try and stop her because he wants her. But he doesn't realize what he's doing is stopping her from going after him."

This episode will also look different; instead of being shot on film, the live installment will be shot on tape, including using a mobile truck brought out for big live events like the Oscars.

"We had to coordinate our timing of the show around when this truck is available," Helford says. "It is like a mobile coordinating room for directing and editing. We're editing it as you are seeing it."

Security also will be beefed up. "This is such an opportunity for someone [in the audience] to make a statement to the world," Helford says. "It is a huge undertaking."

And there is the risk of the complete unknown. "We have never had a taping where there aren't flubs, so I don't know what's going to happen when we get out there on stage," Helford says.

"Maybe they will have a censor with a five-second delay button. If an actor forgets a line, he forgets a line."

*

"The Drew Carey Show" will be shown Wednesday at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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