October 9, 2008 Jill

The Latest Buzz is shooting an episode in front of a live studio audience this week. That’s right, they are shooting the show live — in front of people. Let me remind you that the Buzz is a three camera sitcom for tweens and stars a cast that is under the age of 20. Why on earth would a story department willingly choose to do something so risky” and at the end of their run?

I asked them. And they took time out from what has got to be a busy week to answer five questions by email. These guys are so generous they threw in a sixth question of their own.

Before we get to the interview, let me introduce the story department of The Latest Buzz:

The big boss with the Creator/Executive Producer title — otherwise known as showrunner — is Brent Piaskoski. Supervising Producer is Barbara Haynes. Darrin Rose is the Story Editor and Matt Schiller is the team’s Junior Story Editor.

1.    What on earth moved you to do a live episode?

BP:    We were all really excited. You think Palin and McCain are mavericks?  We’re the mavericks, baby!

It came out of a discussion with Kevin May, our producer.  As with all traditional, three-camera sitcoms, Buzz uses a laugh track.  Kevin suggested we do a live laugh track (rather than the one we already owned).  I kept it in the back of my head, then thought we could do a whole episode live, having the audience as our laugh track.

I’d done it before in the States, and it is really a great night. And being from a theatre background, you feel that rush before show time.  We also have the opportunity to jump in with a new joke while the episode’s being taped.  It’s like how people yell on Wall Street, except our laugh average isn’t going down.

You know how you always talk with your friends, “We should go to Europe,” or “Let’s start a band,” but it doesn’t happen. That’s what this felt like to me. No matter how much we talked about it, I was always thinking in the back of my head, “This won’t happen.” Now that it is, I’m very excited.

MS:    I agree.

2.    What research did you do to prepare for writing the episode?

BP:    Because we don’t shoot in a studio, the only thing I really took into consideration was that we couldn’t drag over 100 people to all our sets.  We had to come up with a story that took place in one location, over one day, thus avoiding set and costume changes.

I wanted also something fun for the studio audience. So the idea of the Buzz gang playing in a band, like a Partridge Family-type episode, appealed to me. And each of our actors (with the exception of Munro) actually plays the instrument they’re playing in the story. Munro learned the drums just for this.

BH:    For further preparation, we also did regular deep knee bends.

MS:    That sounds correct.  I concur.

3.    What elements are you looking for in a story for the live show?

BP:    I wanted something that had all seven of the cast members.  (The Buzz kids, their editor, DJ and the media studies teacher, Mr. Shepherd).

MS:    I, too, felt that we wanted the whole cast present.

BP:    I wanted a story that wasn’t too big of a spoiler, but still held a bit of a tease.  We don’t want the audience to go home and spoil it for everyone (although young viewers seem much cooler about spoilers than I would be).

MS:    For example, nobody dies in this episode.

MS:    (agreeing with himself) True, true.

4.    What are your greatest fears as we get close to D-Day?

BP:    What if some of the younger kids are so overwhelmed that they don’t laugh?  In LA, kids know you can get tickets to, say, Hannah Montana. The tickets are hard to get, so kids are really excited.  But it’s not clear if Canadian kids will get this.

BH:    Although nearly 20,000 people applied for a walk-on part, which would indicate some degree of interest.  There are 125 audience tickets available, with the large majority going to Big Brothers and Big Sisters.  But I do hope they’re loud, borderline rowdy kids who are ready to laugh their heads off!

DR:    I worry that so many kids will want to get in, they’ll have to shut down the block, creating looting and ultimately forcing the stock market to drop to its lowest point in years. 

BP:    Oh, and I’m also nervous that some technical glitch will have people twiddling their thumbs.  But generally, I hope kids aren’t overwhelmed or bored by the experience. It’s not a play — we’ll do two takes of each scene, and there’s downtime between takes.

MS:     Ditto.

BH:     I’m worried that a kid might fall off a bleacher.  Or” that I will.

DR:    My greatest fear is that Brent asks me for a joke and I don’t have one.

5.    What do you hope will come out of it?

BP:    Showrunner of the Year Award.

Seriously, I hope to get complete and utter respect for the sitcom.  I love the sitcom, but some people have been unnecessarily snide about the laugh track.  I also hope people see we’ve welcomed the community, by involving Big Brothers and Sisters.

Ultimately, I hope I would be able to do a sitcom live in a studio on a weekly basis.

I also hope the actors walk away thinking, “I’ve done something unique.”  It’s the first time a teen sitcom has ever been filmed live in Canada.

BH:    Brent has given a lot of writers their first job; he’s used punch-up writers and hired Toronto’s funniest comedians in guest roles.  He has always aimed to write what’s funny rather than just what’s “kid-friendly.”  I hope that this live show will further his reputation as an innovator in Canadian television.

MS:     Yup. True say, true say.

6.    Do you hope or fear that this episode will feel different than the other ones?

BH:    I fear that I’ll come off as the least funny in this interview.

BP:    I hope the episode does feel special, that people at home will feel that it’s different.  We’ll have Vanessa Morgan singing the theme song live, and the opening credits will be live.

MS:      I’ve been very excited in production meetings talking about this.  I did theatre in high school, and I get some of that same rush of the live performance — rehearsals, blocking, all the theatre stuff.

BH:    I think it’s very cool that Brent asked the writers and punch up guys to dress up.

BP:    That’s a Cheers tradition” which I hope doesn’t make me look like a copycat — I think it shows history.  And it feels a little like we’re making history with this show.

MS:    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Comments are closed.