By Neal Justin Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
Jane Leeves freely admits that while taping the hit sitcom, “Hot in Cleveland,” she’s prone to coming down with a severe case of the giggles.
Unless you’re in the studio audience or watching a blooper reel, you wouldn’t have known about that bad habit. That all changes Wednesday when “Cleveland” opens the second half of its fourth season with a live episode.
To prepare for the event, the cast had six days to prepare — one more than usual.
“I don’t know why they didn’t make it eight or nine days,” Leeves said last week. “I’m going to get to the bottom of this and wring their necks.”
One cast member unlikely to come unraveled is Betty White, and not just because she killed three years ago as host of “Saturday Night Live.”
When White started doing television full time in the early ’50s, she ad-libbed for nearly six hours a day. So it’s no surprise that when producers asked White if she’d like a teleprompter for Wednesday’s event, she declined.
“She said it would be too distracting,” Leeves said. “Of course, we’re all so old now that we probably wouldn’t be able to see it anyway.”
The inability to do a second take means Wednesday’s episode could be a disaster, and that’s exactly why television should do it more often.
The idea that at any moment, Wendie Malick might have a hair issue or Valerie Bertinelli might forget her lines is a big reason we’ll be tuning in. After all, high-flying circus acts are always more exciting without a safety net.
“I loved it on ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ when they used to crack each other up, or on ‘Saturday Night Live’ when the cast cannot hold it together,” Leeves said. “Audiences love it when you screw up.”
Messing up your lines was not a casual option in the early days of television.
TV networks didn’t begin using prerecorded videotapes until 1957. Much of the prime-time landscape consisted of ambitious live programming, most notably “Playhouse 90,” which staged a very serious, very daunting 90-minute theater production every week.
With all the theater folks in its cast, why did “Frasier” never join the “live” club?
Leeves, who played Daphne Moon on that series, said the subject never came up.
“It would have been great fun, because that show was all about timing and it moved fast,” she said. “I think live works better when you’re moving quickly.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about us not screwing up,” said Leeves, referring to Wednesday’s show.
“Hot in Cleveland” airs live at 10 p.m. Wednesday on TVLAND.