Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Martha Stewart Show Live!

Last Wednesday my wife, Liz, appeared on the Martha Stewart Show. Read all about her experience on the show--how she prepped and rehearsed, her experience with Martha and the great crew--here. One of the main reasons she came to the attention of the show’s producers was her contribution as a craft resource to a recently published book, The Handmade Marketplace, by Kari Chapin.

We drove down to NYC from Lowell, Mass on Monday night in fog and driving rain, arriving at the Chelsea Holiday Inn on 26th street around eleven. After we made it up to our 20th floor, we opened the blinds and faced an amazing cityscape of rooftops, skyscrapers, water tanks, and construction cranes. All in the fog.

The next morning, Tuesday, it was still mostly foggy and wet. But we were able to clearly see that one of the buildings shrouded in fog the night before turned out to be the Empire State Building.

The one window in the room was unlocked and slid open easily. No screen, no safety bar. It was disconcerting but I got over my fear of heights to stick my hand out the window to get some more shots of the city view.

Liz’s segment was to be taped and broadcast live (in most markets) on the Wednesday morning show. Even though it was Tuesday, she had a lot of prep work still to do. I walked her one block over to the show offices, across the street from Chelsea Studios where the show tapes. We brought her crafts and supplies and I left her in the capable hands of a couple of the show’s resident crafters and set decorators.  

That left me with time to kill. Tuesday morning and the city was hopping. I walked around for a while, looking at the architecture, watching people, and hit-and-run eavesdropping on people’s conversations, both live and cellular.

There were Starbucks on most corners. That’s not an exaggeration. Each block in the city has a different texture, different businesses, different crowds. One block contained nothing but wholesale flower outlets.

Along the same street a film crew was setting up a shot. I walked right in front of it, thinking, maybe I’ll make it into the movie. But, they were just rehearsing. My 7 minutes of fame would have to wait.

Liz worked at the offices for about four hours. That evening we walked a couple blocks away for dinner at that fancy gourmet destination, the Hog Pit. It was dark and loud, but we warmed to the casual atmosphere and friendly waitress. We had a relatively relaxing dinner and I talked Liz down from the day’s hectic activities.


The next morning we checked out of the hotel and carried our luggage to our garage-parked car, then trundled over to Chelsea Studios. Liz had scored me a ticket to the show but wasn’t sure I’d be allowed to accompany her in or have to wait on line with the rest of the audience. It turned out not to be a problem. We were led into the labyrinthine building and were shown to our very own green room. When they whisked Liz to makeup and hair, I tagged along. Halfway through it was time to go up to the studio for rehearsal. As much for the cameras as for Liz (Martha wasn’t around yet).

The producer of Liz's segment led us out onto the studio. It was a wide, pleasantly-lit stage with a kitchen set, a craft area, and a side area laden with flowers. Also, to the left of the kitchen set (where the bulk of her show is taped) was a working kitchen which is only shown during intros and outtros to the show. People were in there cooking and prepping all morning.
I was told I could take pictures during rehearsals. I stayed mostly in a nearby chair in seats on the floor. There were two seating areas, a raised one featured in shots during the show, the other for VIPs and husbands, consisting of chairs on the floor between the stage and the raised seating. I found a VIP chair with my name on it. They had put me as close to Liz during her segment as possible.

While the crew rehearsed Martha’s cooking segments, the producer, crafter, and set designer/art director configured the table where Liz would be working with Martha. I snapped quick pics and tried to stay out of the way.


My time on sets (film school does come in handy for certain things later in life) taught me that as long as you look like you belong and are smart about where you step, you can do what you want on a set until somebody either tells you to move, leave, or puts you to work.

Then the main camera got into position in front of Liz's table, an overhead camera buzzed to life, and the roaming camera on a kind of boom or jib was on hand to capture cutaways and close-ups of Liz’s crafts. Liz was to have two segments. One where she shows Martha how she makes a polymer clay covered egg and another featuring a clay card place holders, an item she put together just for the show. Each craft had its own table, and when one craft was finished, they’d cut to commercial and exchange tables.

After a run-through for the crew, there was about 30 minutes until showtime. We went backstage and Liz changed into her freshly pressed shirt, and then went back into makeup. She looked great and was more than ready for her close up.

The backstage area was becoming more crowded and hectic. This show would be live and that pressure fed into all activities. Liz and I waited back in the green room. There was a release form to fill out. Liz looked as scared as I’d seen her and I just held her hand and let her know it was okay to feel scared. This was insane, being on a live TV show. Don’t the producers understand what this means for the little people who don’t live in New York and Los Angeles? Regular people aren’t trained for national TV. I told her to just smile and keep going no matter what.

One of the producers said the show was about to start, and led me out into the studio. The audience was seated and getting direction from some comedian who was explaining how and when to clap, and what the crews' hand gestures meant. I was the last to be seated and sure enough I was just in front of where Liz would stand. The comedian got the crowd excited by telling jokes and asking where they were from. Today there was a group of PTAers from Stamford Connecticut, and another group from New Jersey.

Just before the show started, Martha, her banker friend, one of Martha's cooks, and the day’s celeb, Rob Corddry, came out and sat around a table. The music swelled, the main audience clapped and hollered. The VIP audience was apparently too good to clap and didn’t put as much umph into it. I did what I was told: It’s live people! The group chatted like it was The View. From my seat, I couldn’t see much, so I watched one of the monitors. I also could only hear the amplified audio, so for much of the show it was like watching the show on TV except I occasionally got glimpses of the real deal when the camera or crew shifted around.

The banker was there to give advice about how to be smart with money. And somehow it all came back to cooking and food. After the first break, the banker, the cooking gal, and Martha were on the kitchen set (with a working stovetop and oven) preparingt some dish that was apparently easy and cheap. It smelled good, that’s all I know.

After the next commercial break it was time for Liz to do her thing. The cameras rolled around and got into place, the main one just to my right. Liz came out and looked radiant. Someone taped Liz’s name to the teleprompter monitor so Martha wouldn’t fudge it. Then Martha stepped behind the table, picked up an egg, and waited for the countdown. Martha introduced the segment, and Liz, and she was off.

Liz did a wonderful job working through the steps of the process. It was a job keeping the segment moving when Martha got involved with the pasta maker. The producer wrote notes to Liz on white cards and the stage manager (I think) would hold these cards down in front of Liz that told her how much time was left. Afterward Liz told me it was these promptings that actually helped her move smoothly through the segment—had it been me I would have been stuck at Hello Martha and they would have had to cart me off and go to commercial.

Martha proceeded to cut her finger using the sharp slicing instrument which Liz had warned her about multiple times. Martha held out her finger to Liz, and a brief, micro-shudder went through the crew around me. Liz told me later that blood oozed from Martha’s finger and that sight almost froze her. You can’t see this on the show. Liz, to her grace and benefit didn’t freak out or look to a producer for prompting. She touched Martha on the arm and says something like, “Oh dear.” Then kept it moving. Great TV people, great TV.

Martha really got into this crafting segment. After it ended and they went to commercial Martha was still rolling the clay pieces onto the egg like Liz had showed her. That was gratifying, to see how into the craft Martha got. A photographer posed Liz and Martha together and took a couple of photos, while Band-aids were procured and applied.

They whisked Liz away and I sat through a segment where Martha showed Rob Corddry how to make a chicken sandwich. After the next commercial break they were still working on the sandwich. I had a feeling Liz was getting bumped. There was no end to the sandwich. They went to another commercial and for the final segment Martha finally finished cooking, and then showed Rob how to make a margarita.

Liz’s second craft segment was not to be:

After the show, Martha stood in front of the audience and took questions. This was the only time the audience was allowed take pictures.

Then she was gone, and the producer came and brought me back through to the green room. Liz had nailed it, and I assured her it had gone well and that she looked and did great. She was in shock, had no sense of context for what had just happened. The producers and crafters told her she did well, and we packed her stuff, grabbed our goody bags (cleaning supplies, cook book, voucher for clay and the pasta maker) and walked back to claim our car.

We drove through noontime Manhattan traffic, the sun shone, and somehow I found 12th Avenue to the Henry Hudson Parkway just before it turned elevated. I didn’t even mind the 4+ hour drive home, it was such a relief for Liz to have had a great show.


Liz's Mom said...

This is good ! This is really really really good ! What an added lovely bonus that Liz has such a wonderful writer (and photograper,) for a husband.

You have a wonderful writing style, full of keen observations, you notice stuff other people miss, great funny stuff. I love you.

Liz's Dad said...

Dell: Great narrative and super pictures. I felt like I was really there!

Robin said...

Dell -- It was great to hear your part of the Martha story! It was such a major undertaking and the two of you came through beautifully. I loved the photos of NYC, too. I could feel the hustle and bustle of the city!

Cynthia Sherrick said...

Excellent description of the day in the life of a live Martha Stewart Show! Wonderful recap.
Liz was terrific and it's amazing how much the TV viewing audience (live and at home) doesn't see. Flash cards and hectic camera movements, etc.

Thank you for all the great pics of New York and backstage at the show.

What a relief for you guys to have it over! :)

Dell Smith said...

It was a great experience and I'm glad that comes through in the photos.

Laurie Smith Murphy said...

Loved hearing the live version of the Liz Stewart Show! :)I felt like I was really there...great shots and wonderful narrative! Always good to know that your film school days come in handy! Just look like you belong there...

Thanks, Dell, for bringing this to life for us!! What an experience you two had!! Can't wait to hear more when I see you in a couple of weeks! Great beach story, huh?

Anonymous said...

Liz's Dad said it all...in English, yet ! As a member of Liz's parents' French conversation group..it was a delight to meet Liz - on camera !! BRAVO, Liz..and narrator/photographer Dell !