By now, practically everyone has heard about the movie soon to be filmed in our local area, Road to Perdition, with stars like Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, but are you aware of the Chicago area TV taping? The first TV sitcom exclusively taped in the Chicago area before a live audience-ABCs new Chicago-based show What About Joan? starring Joan Cusack (twice nominated for Oscar's), a home grown girl raised in Evanston and Kyle Chandler, former hero from the series Early Edition filmed mostly in Chicagoland. It will debut on Monday, March 27th at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.
Fans lined up early last Friday night, March 9th, tickets in hand, waiting to be seated to watch the 13th and final episode ordered by ABC. The show has been taped weekly on site at Chicago Studio City. The wait is long, but the show provides its fans with a free meal consisting of a sandwich and bottled water, coffee or hot chocolate, while they wait in the space provided. The warehouse style atmosphere, complete with Port-A-Potty, is at least out of the cold and a bit better than the previously provided waiting area tent.
After the wait of over an hour, the audience coordinators began to file the fans into their seats. The studio is set up to hold an audience of approximately 200, but they give out many more tickets than they have room for to ensure a full audience. So just having a free ticket, does not always ensure getting into the show. However, once you are seated and the show begins, it is worth all the inconveniences.
The warm-up consists of a comedian affectionately only known as Bob. His job is to get the audience excited about the show, and to keep them entertained and laughing. He fills in the pauses between tapings by keeping the audience informed as to what is going on and entertains them with jokes, music, and dance contests. He rewards the brave contenders with small prizes such as hats, t-shirts, and CDs from various other TV shows-Teasing the audience with the possibility of winning signed scripts or autographed photos, which are given to only a few privileged VIPs attending the show. Bob gets the audience to laugh and applaud on cue, and does it eloquently. (Bob also warms up The Tonight Show guests)
After viewing the pilot to familiarize the audience with the theme and characters, the show began. The cast was introduced. Joan Cusack plays a High School teacher, Joan Gallagher, and Kyle Chandler is Jake, her banker boyfriend. The other characters in the show consist of Joans best friends; Ruby, a psychiatrist (Donna Murphy with credits such as The King and I and Passion); Betsy the music teacher (Jessica Hecht formally from The Single Guy and Friends); Betsys boyfriend, Mark a photography teacher (Played by Wally Langham Veronicas Closet and The Larry Sanders Show); and Alice Adams, a speech teacher (Portrayed by Kellie Williams of Family Matters).
The theme of the show is based on the essays of Evanstons Gwen Macsal. The essays deal with womens relationships with other women and the men in the their lives. The story explores the relationships Joan Gallagher has with her best friends and that of her boyfriend Jake. Joan comes across as a crazy, mixed-up, current day I Love Lucy or Our Miss Brooks type. Her boyfriend Jake plays the sensible, mild mannered, and very good looking straight man. Only time will tell if the show will come across to its viewers in the same big way.
Of course, having Executive producers that have backed very successful shows in the past doesnt hurt either. James L. Brooks whose movie credits include Terms Of Endearment and As Good As It Gets, and has produced TV hits like The Simpsons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Taxi. Richard Sakai was also a producer for The Simpsons, Taxi, and The Tracy Ullman Show, and David Richardson of The Simpsons, The John Larroquette Show and Malcom In The Middle. And, if that isnt enough insurance for success, Michael Lembeck is the Director of the show and he comes from the shows Friends and Mad About You.
The cast took their places, sound speed was announced and action...the scene began. This particular episode involved a budget cut that eliminated certain school programs from its curriculum. The teachers tried to convince the board to continue each of their particular programs with what money was available. The coach of the basketball team presented a rather spectacular plea with a surprising end result.
One of the perks of seeing the show live is getting to see the guest star appearing on the show. There have been big name stars appearing weekly. Some of those guests have been Greta Honold, Mitchell Fain, Maia Madison, Bruce Jarchow, Kadeem Hardison, John Cusack, and it is rumored that one of those guests have the intitials MJ.
After the show ended, the audience burst into continued applause until long after the last curtain call. The 13 weeks of taping was over. Many die-hard fans lingered after the 4 hours of takes and sometimes re-takes, hoping to talk to the cast and possibly get an autograph or two. I was one of those people. I talked to Kyle Chandler, who is always very accommodating to his fans. I told him I was nervous talking to him and he responded by saying, Oh, dont worry about it, all the girls get like that when they are with me, as he chuckled with a cute little devilish wink.
The show was entertaining even with all the tediousness of a TV show taping, and the stops and starts that are inevitable. Being able to meet and talk to Kyle Chandler was icing on the cake.
What more could one want? Free tickets, a free meal, prizes, lots of laughs, the chance to preview a new television sit-com, and the opportunity to meet with the stars. I do hope the show flies, so that all of us have the opportunity to view the next set of episodes. To request tickets for future tapings, you can call (773) 473-8224, Chicago Studio City located at 5660 W. Taylor.