Friday, July 23, 2010

When "Drew Carey" Turned 100

"The Drew Carey Show" was a solid hit for ABC for much of its run, and Drew made sure that it paid appropriate homage to the folks back home. Local folks made several appearances as extras, including in the 100th episode in 1999. If you look very carefully, you might even see my elbow in a scene. After the jump, four columns I wrote about that episode.

Here is one I wrote in advance of the taping; from the Beacon Journal, April 11, 1999:
When I got an invitation to be on The Drew Carey Show a couple of weeks ago, one question came to mind.
How much weight could I lose in two weeks?
Now, appearance might not seem important on a show that stars an occasionally portly guy, especially when it's set in a city that celebrates corned-beef sandwiches, pierogies and the aptly named Big Dawg.
But the show is a very big deal, especially in Northeast Ohio. It's not only a showcase for Carey's hometown -- he says the glossy opening shots of the city "might as well be called 'Come to Cleveland' " -- but it's a way of showing off its people.
Other series have drawn somewhat on the flavor of their locations: Tip O'Neill showed up on Boston-set Cheers, former New York Met Keith Hernandez on Seinfeld, Baltimore-based filmmaker John Waters in Homicide: Life on the Street.
But Carey has made a habit of the practice, most notably in the January 1997 "Drewstock" episode.
Cleveland Mayor Michael White was in that one. Browns legend Bernie Kosar appeared as a conquering hero; searching for a bathroom, he was told to go anywhere "unless you want to take a Modell." Musician Joe Walsh not only played "Drewstock," he returned to the series in a recurring role.
Those are the dream jobs, with actual lines. Even more people, from actor Martin Mull to Walsh's manager David Spero to radio personalities Brian Fowler and Joe Cronauer, have appeared as "background extras" -- people sitting in bars, standing in crowds, providing texture behind the real actors.
There will be more of the same in the series' 100th episode, which will be taped in Hollywood on Wednesday for telecast later this season. Fowler and Cronauer will be back. WEWS (Channel 5) news anchor Ted Henry -- who has been seen on the show as a newscaster, but taped those segments in Cleveland -- will actually get on camera on the set. Ron "The Ghoul" Sweed will be among the other celebrities. And so, complete with unshed poundage, will I.
Can't say what I'll play yet. I've been asked to bring two kinds of clothes, ones suitable for an office, like the one Carey works in at the Winfred Louder department store, and casual attire for hanging out in the Warsaw Tavern.
It doesn't matter, either. "We cannot guarantee that in the final editing you will appear on camera," the show warned in its invitational letter. So all I want is enough air time to be recognized back home. Let me at least be in the foreground of the background.
Even that has its drawbacks. Fowler and Cronauer, now on WVMX (106.5-FM), remember vividly their big moment on the 1997 "Drewstock" episode as they sat at a table in the Warsaw Tavern.
First, there were the drinks -- fake beer and shots consisting of apple juice, which had to be downed in take after take. And there were the long hours with the extras told to be on the set from 11 a.m. to midnight.
Ted Henry, who has visited the set before to interview Carey, is already anticipating "enough takes that we'll be bored silly."
But the long day proved a bonus to the radio duo.
"We talked to Bernie Kosar for two or three hours," Cronauer said. "We talked to Mimi. We talked to Ryan Stiles."
And, of course, there was the bonus of exposure on the air. Then at WMMS (100.7-FM), they wore the station's colors on the show. Asked if they were going to do likewise for their new station, Fowler joked, "If we don't, we're going to have to pay for the trip ourselves."
Being on the Carey show has paid off for other people, too. Regular viewers might not notice that Cleveland San Jose Ballet dancers are afoot in the show's opening credits. But Alan Hills, operations director for the ballet, said other ballet companies have taken note.
"Word gets out," he said. And Raymond Rodriguez, one of the company's dancers, is already out West rehearsing for an appearance in the 100th episode.
On top of all that, veterans of past Carey appearances say there's the simple pleasure of hanging around a happy Hollywood set.
"It was long days and great food . . . and really a lot of fun," said Walsh manager Spero, who could have been spotted as a bar patron earlier this season.
He admitted his situation was cushier than some.
"I had my own trailer," he joked. "All right, it wasn't mine. It was Joe Walsh's."
But having spent some time around other studios, both in Cleveland and on national shows, Spero sensed that the Carey show was an especially happy place to work.
"It starts with Drew," he said. "Drew makes it fun for everyone else. Even the extras aren't treated as extras."
Others agreed.
"He didn't walk around like a star," Cronauer said. "It's a good time, it really is."
"We were sitting up where the audience sits and Drew caught a glimpse of us," Fowler added. "And he came over and said, 'Is this great or what?' "

This is what I wrote about the events around the making of the 100th; from the Beacon Journal on April 16, 1999:
At close to 12:30 a.m. yesterday, with a last burst of applause from spectators and participants alike, the bone-tired cast and crew of The Drew Carey Show wrapped up the last episode of its fourth season.
It had been a landmark day because the episode, airing May 26, was also the series' 100th. Top executives from ABC, which airs Carey's Cleveland-set comedy, and Warner Bros., which produces the show, had been on hand to sing the show's praises.
During a midafternoon break on Stage 17 of the Warner lot, a cake bearing Carey's caricatured likeness was cut, with news camera crews on hand to record the moment. There were gifts for Carey, too; he proudly showed off a brown, embossed binder from his agents that held almost every Cleveland Browns trading card since 1958.
All that underscored how important Carey has become. Both he and series co-creator Bruce Helford talked about running another four years.
At the same time, though, Carey worried that somehow all the success will slip away, that "NBC's going to put World's Sexiest Commercials on and take away our audience."
"Every year is like a battle," he said. "Every sweeps is like a battle. . . . There's no such thing as just resting on your laurels . . . The first time you do that is when you start to fail. I never, ever feel comfortable."
So he gets into seemingly every detail of his sitcom, from writing to whether the set has enough equipment. He keeps wanting to dazzle the audience, including with a 100th-episode musical number, Brotherhood of Man, from Broadway's How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. This summer, he will take the title role in the TV musical Geppetto. He has a deal to host 22 more episodes of the improvisational comedy series Whose Line Is It Anyway? although "I have the easiest job on Whose Line. I show up, I read the cards. . . . There's no stress to do that."
And, he said, "Right now we're planning to do a special (sitcom) episode concerning the Browns coming back to Cleveland. We're going to film (in Cleveland) in August, right before the first game in the new stadium. . . . But we're just getting our stuff together now. I don't know where we're going to stay. I'm sure all the hotels are gone. We'll probably have to stay in trailers or something."
Told that someone would make room for him, Carey looked pained. "Yeah," he said, "but I don't want to bump anybody out."
While Carey enjoys many of the perks of stardom, he clings to a regular-guy, Northeast Ohio sensibility that affects how the show is done.
Working days can run more than 12 hours. Activity may stop, as it did Wednesday, so a scene can be rewritten -- and then re-rewritten. But even people who are low in the line of authority, such as the extras, tell tale after tale of Carey picking up tabs, helping people out, making his show a decent place to work.
"Drew's one of the nicest people I've ever met," said Bob Collier, a former Clevelander who's been an extra on Carey's show for two seasons. Another extra, Akron model Giana Lamonica, said working on the show has been "great. They've given me a lot of help."
For the 100th episode, the show invited people from Northeast Ohio to appear as background extras. Among them: news anchor Ted Henry; radio personalities John Lanigan, Brian Fowler, Joe Cronauer and Larry Morrow; actor John Henton; TV personalities Ron "The Ghoul" Sweed and Marty "Superhost" Sullivan; Carey's older brothers Neal and Roger; Brecksville attorney Robert L. Tuma and his son, and fellow attorney, Brian, and several print reporters, including me.
Henton, one of the stars of the ABC sitcom The Hughleys, exulted at being among people he'd seen on TV as a kid.
"I'm sitting between Superhost and The Ghoul," Henton declared early in the day. "I'm getting my camera."
"What self-respecting Clevelander wouldn't want to do this?" said Henton, who even brought his "Browns 99" jersey to wear in one scene. "I saw who was coming and said, yeah, I'm there . . . "All of us Clevelanders, we stick together," he said. "I went to the premiere of Eddie Murphy's movie, Life, and there was myself, Steve Harvey, Arsenio Hall, Halle Berry, Kym Whitley -- everybody that came out of Cleveland."
Not that everyone wants to be closely connected to the Carey show. Roger Carey, an engineer for a software company, recalled Drew calling him one day to ask if it was OK to call a character playing the TV Drew's brother Roger.
"Better not," said Roger, who shies away a bit from his brother's spotlight. It proved a good thing, since Drew had not mentioned that the TV brother, finally named Steve, was also a transvestite.
Still, Stage 17 holds countless little reminders of Northeast Ohio, some not even evident to viewers at home.
While Carey's TV house wasn't set up on Wednesday, the Warsaw Tavern was, and it was covered with Ohio memorabilia: sports team pennants, a Cleveland business license behind the bar, frames holding Ohio postcard sets (one an aerial view of Akron), a bottle of "Cleveland Style Tomato Ketchup," a 1979 Cleveland calendar, a 1994 Cleveland telephone book and a metal plaque commemorating "Wrt. Iron Bridge Co. Builders Canton O. 1895."
There's more of the same in Carey's office, with its Cleveland datebook, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame paperweight, "Cleveland Rocks" candy, Max & Erma's mug serving as a pencil-holder, a "Save Our Browns!" advertisement on a partition, even the Cleveland parade permit for the fictional Winfred-Louder department store's Thanksgiving Parade.
But this is also Hollywood, what you see sometimes illusory. The business cards covering the walls of the Warsaw are almost all for California enterprises, such as the Hollywood Studio Gallery, an "optician to the stars" and the show's set decorator, Ed McDonald.

Also from April 16, a closer look at being part of the show:
The making of TV shows is a job. People work hard at it. And after one long day on the set of The Drew Carey Show, I was more than ready to let other people do the work.
The day started at about 11 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time on Wednesday when I and other Northeast Ohioans gathered to play background extras on the season finale of the Cleveland-set sitcom. We were going to be patrons of the Warsaw Tavern in two scenes.
We'd already gotten wardrobe pointers. "Spring attire: casual," said a memo from the show. Bring "3 outfits -- our wardrobe department will review them and pick two. . . . clothing may be casual, but please avoid bright colors or big logos."
Logos are a touchy issue for TV shows because they may need legal clearance to show them on the air -- not to mention pay a rights fee for using them. Some did get used, others were obscured by other garments, and an Akron Beacon Journal shirt I had was turned down.
But dress-up time was hours away. First, we did a run-through of our scenes. Although none of the extras from Ohio had lines, we got scripts of the scenes so we could react to other business in the bar. We even had a group line, a shouted "Yaaay" when Oswald (played by Diedrich Bader) offered to buy drinks for all his friends.
The regular actors in the show -- "the A team" as they were called, their Warsaw table "the hero table" -- had the really heavy lifting, juggling lines and bits of stage business. Professional extras were used for almost all the scenes involving walking across the stage. Some of the Ohio extras were recruited for a conga line and to pick up coins from the Warsaw floor.
All I had to do was sit, at the bar in one scene, at a table near the back in the other. It was hard.
For one thing, when you're sitting at a bar with cameras behind you, all sorts of horrible questions run through your mind. Is my shirt wrinkled? How can I sit up straight on this softly padded stool? Will the world conclude that I should star on World's Biggest Backsides? At one point I shifted my wallet from my back pocket to the side -- and at that, the side away from the camera -- in the hope that it would slim me down a little.
Also hard is "miming." Background extras don't actually speak, not even in a whisper, since that would distract from the recording of the actors' dialogue. So you mime talking to other people, adding in nods, grins and handshakes along the way.
A scene that lasts just a few minutes can seem interminable when you sit, pretend to talk to someone who is also pretending and try your mightiest not to look at the actors. You invent little bits of business with the other extras, pretending to discuss something or joke, although you really have no idea what the other is saying. (The slightest whisper can bring a rebuke from the crew.)
After awhile, I didn't really hear the actors talking. I just wanted the scene to be over. Except, of course, actors fluff lines, the director wants to try other business or a scene has to be rewritten. Again and again, you mime and nod.
Then, that night, before a very patient studio audience sitting through hours of takes and retakes, we had to do it still more times for telecast.
Between the scenes, or when scenes not including us were shot on other sets, we sat. Sometimes people chatted and joked. Behind the sets was an ample buffet of hot and cold food, pastry, raw vegetables; you could find soda, bottled water, cappuccino and other drinks. (Regular extras say Carey's show offers an especially good spread.) Later, during the dinner break, a second buffet was set up outside, and pizza appeared still later as production dragged on.
And dragged is the word. Carey at one point said optimistically we might be done before 11 p.m. We weren't, after all, shooting the whole episode; the climactic musical number had been shot two nights earlier. But the second scene in the Warsaw proved a problem. As midnight loomed and the regular extras talked about overtime, sleep seemed a lot more appealing than a few minutes on national TV.
Besides, they cut the "Yaaay."


And this is my "review" of the episode, from May 26, 1999:
You've got the Miss Universe pageant, a broadcast of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie True Lies, a two-hour season finale of Law & Order, including a farewell bow by Benjamin Bratt, and a season finale for Star Trek: Voyager.
But you know what you want. You marked it on your calendar weeks ago.
It's the season finale of The Drew Carey Show.
Not because of the big number set to the song Brotherhood of Man from the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, although it's a pretty good bit.
Not because it's the exciting season finale for the series.
And not for special guest star Hal Linden.
No, you want to watch the show -- at 9 tonight on ABC -- because I'm in it. After all, I bent your ear endlessly last month with tales of me and other Northeast Ohio people hanging around the set, getting my wardrobe chosen, grazing at the sumptuous food table and talking to real live celebrities. Or at least Ted Henry.
So you must be curious about how my performance -- on view at 9 tonight on ABC -- turned out.
Let me save you some time: I am great.
I am one of the best background extras I have ever watched in a television show.
Granted, I only began watching background extras a couple of weeks ago, after working as one. They're the people you see milling around an office, or sitting in a bar, while the actors with actual lines go about their business. You don't usually pay attention to the background extras, because your attention is focused on the people speaking.
Which -- as you can see at 9 tonight on ABC -- I do not. I got to mime speaking, but the best mimes are never heard. Neither am I.
Still, in the two scenes where I appear, both in the Warsaw Tavern, I look really good. Or at least my shirt does.
In the first scene you never see my head, let alone my face. But that shirt: off-white, Oxford cloth, button-down. It may be the best shirt I've ever seen in the background on a TV show. Take away that shirt, and the whole dynamic of the scene changes.
In the other scene, you can see me miming and everything. After you're done taping the episode -- and you are taping it, aren't you? -- rewind to the scene and wait for the crowd to part long enough to see a dark-haired guy with a mustache, in a purple shirt, sitting at a round table and miming as if his life depended on it.
Not for long, though. I hope you have a good pause control on your VCR. And you may want to watch it on a big-screen TV since I'm not always easy to see in the, well, background.
Still, I can honestly say this is one of the best Drew Carey episodes I have ever seen, and not just because I am in it. It would be unprofessional to get excited about a few seconds of visibility on a national television program. I am sure that, even if I wasn't in this episode, I would have recommended it to my family, friends, co-workers and everyone in my e-mail address book.
It's that good. Including the guy with the mustache, in the purple shirt, sitting at a table and miming as if his life depended on it.


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