(Written in April 1997)
First of all, let me say I had a great time in Los Angeles. It's hard to argue with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70's during March, especially when the Northeast is dealing with the mid-20's and two feet of snow! One of the first things I did was check out the skyline and pinpoint the building that got toasted in "Independence Day." Cool!
Casual celebrity-watching wasn't too successful, although I did see a taping of "Friends"! Very interesting. The sets for the apartments and Central Perk are right next to each other. They're also amazingly small! The TV screen really does inflate things. Speaking of inflated attributes, I must break the news that Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston are disturbingly thin! Lisa Kudrow, however, is a hell of a lot more attractive in real life. As for the guys, well, they're short.
The other surprise is that it can take 5 to 7 hours to tape one half-hour episode! Why? Unlike movies or TV dramas, which may shoot out of sequence, comedies do their taping in exact order even if it's not convenient to do so, presumably so the studio audience can follow along with the plot. This results in weird things like a wall being added to one set for one scene, then removed for the very next shot. Each step took about 10 minutes, and generally 5 to 10 minutes passed between each take. The actors also ad lib a lot more than you'd think, changing lines on different takes to see what works.
There's a guy in the audience whose job is basically to be a cheerleader between takes. He tells jokes, does audience participation bits, throws "Friends" frisbees into the audience, etc. Eh, it's a living. Also, the laughter you hear on these shows may not be for that joke you just saw. It could be a laugh from any other point in the evening, even from the cheerleader's jokes!
("Friends" Scoop: Ben Stiller guest-stars in this episode as Rachel's new boyfriend! Be warned! He's hysterical in this, which is another reason why the episode took so long to tape: He kept cracking up the cast! We were told it would air April 17th.)
Okay, now here's an unadulterated plug for the Universal Studios theme park. You must go! I highly recommend the "Back to the Future" ride: It's short but spectacular! I also checked out "E.T.: The Adventure." Don't eat before this. You won't get motion sickness, but you may gag from the cuteness! When you're on line (or "in queue" for the British MP fans), Steven Spielberg pops up on a TV monitor with E.T. himself and says, "E.T.'s home, The Green Planet, is dying and only E.T.'s magic healing touch can save it! You have to help him get home." (Prepare the barf bag!) I'm thinking, "Oh great! I'm supposed to pedal a bicycle with some withered little alien guy across time and space? I don't think so! What about life support? What about warp drive?"
As you enter the indoor "forest," you're asked to give your name for the "galactic passport" card that you hand in. You then climb aboard a wheel-less "bicycle" built for about nine people and you're lifted into the "sky," then into hyperspace (!), then to The Green Planet, which looks like a leftover set from "Snaggle Rock." Little alien guys and talking Dr. Seuss-like flowers with eyes greet you. (Next time I go on this, I'll get drunk first.) The flowers says in this high-pitched whiny voice, "Oh, thank you so much for bringing E.T. home! Come celebrate with us!" Gaaah!
Finally, E.T. himself stands on a rock and says goodbye to you -- by name! (Remember the "passport"?) "Goodbye-Su-san. Goodbye-Bob-by. Goodbye-Ken." If I had known that would happen, I would have given my name as Jeffrey Dahlmer! "Goodbye-Jeff-rey-Dahl-mer." That would have been awesome! The bottom line: If you've got kids, take them on E.T. If not, don't rush for this one.
"Jurassic Park: The Ride" is another winner! It's really an elaborate log flume ride, with cool animatronic dinosaurs! I won't say much, since that might spoil it, but here is one key bit of advice: Before you get on line, you're offered a plastic poncho for 50 cents. Get the poncho.
Lastly, if you do plan a trip to Universal Studios, be sure to check the Web site first. It offers several discounts available only through the Web. I did go on the NBC studios tour, which went through "The Tonight Show" set and past a lot of "Days Of Our Lives" stuff. Unfortunately, I didn't see Deidre Hall or the others, but I did stand on Marlena's balcony! Another weird TV note: All the sets are constructed to be about three-quarters real size, in order to make the stars seem "larger than life"!
Now for the Real Stuff: Go to the next page for Melrose Avenue!