Get Real – Little Guys of Television Keep Expectations Big in Las Colinas

By Cathy Frisinger
Special to the Star-Telegram

Final Touch Finishing School - Deborah KingAt the Las Colinas shoot, etiquette expert Deborah King gave Real Simple host Rob Keefe tips on maneuvering a wineglass, napkins and handshakes for a segment on cocktail parties.

In television today, there are the big guys and the little guys.

ABC and HBO are big guys. Writing for the Wall Street Journal in 2004, Joe Flint estimated that a typical one-hour episode of a broadcast drama takes eight days to film and costs $2 million to make.

HGTV and DIY Network are little guys. It’s a good bet that DIY’s entire slate of programming, which includes titles like From Junky to Funky and Freeform Furniture, doesn’t add up to the reported $10 million cost for the two-hour pilot of Lost. In fact, with a few possible exceptions, all home and garden programming is little-guy stuff.

But that works for these programs. Lower the bar and it’s just that much easier to meet viewership requirements.

When the PBS program Real Simple came to Las Colinas to film a segment on sticky cocktail-party situations for the show’s second season, we thought it would be fun to see what the world of home-TV production is like.

Like the magazine of the same name that inspired it, the half-hour TV show is more let’s-get-real than high-gloss. Segments include “How To Upgrade Grocery-Store Flowers” and “Meals Made Easy: Marinara.”

So think back, back, back to Tim Taylor and Tool Time.

No, just kidding. Bring those expectations back up. These may be little guys by Lost standards but they’re pros, and they strive for a polished look.

Here, scenes from behind-the-scenes.

6:05 p.m: La Cima Club: What? No caterer’s table? No trailer for the star? Nope. Just some bottles of water, some cameras, lights, a monitor and a bunch of people milling around.

The crew started setting up at 4. Shooting was supposed to have begun at 6, but actor/writer Rob Keefe, one of three hosts for the show and the host for this segment, is stuck in traffic. Some sort of accident on the freeway.

The people who will serve as the background partygoers — local folks, not actors — are milling around at the faux cocktail-party end of the room looking slightly excited. The cameramen, looking not at all excited, take some shots of the “partygoers” that might be edited in to the mix.

6:13: A cameraman is filming an “extra” who’s wearing an orange shirt and standing with his arms crossed.

“We’re filming ‘don’ts’,” executive producer Ilene Richardson says. “When Rob is here, we’ll start what people should do.”

6:15: Some lights go out. Someone goes to check the breaker.

6:16: Keefe arrives. He takes off his blazer, and a makeup person starts fixing his hair.

I ask Richardson about the location, and she says it was chosen because of the view, which is nice. Located at the top floor of the office building with the renowned mustang statues, you can see a long way to the west from the big windows. “It’ll be pretty when the lights come on,” she says.

Real Simple is principally shot in New York City, but about 10 segments are being filmed around the country on location for the second season. Tomorrow, they’re going to Miami to shoot a segment with another of the show’s three hosts.

6:20: The etiquette expert brought in for this segment, Deborah King, is talking to the Real Simple publicist. Wearing a pink suit, pearls and heels, she looks very polished, as an etiquette expert should.

6:32: Nearly ready to go. Keefe has a new jacket on and the makeup person is giving his bald spot the cotton-ball treatment.

“While we wait for the audio to come on, let’s rehearse our start,” says the director. There are several cameras, one mounted on a dolly. A cameraman moves that camera smoothly toward the big windows.

Two of the cameramen were hired locally; the third is a regular with the show.

6:37: Lights are beginning to come on in buildings in the distance. “There’s Dallas,” says the director, looking in the monitor.

“No, that’s Fort Worth,” I say.

6:45: Keefe and King are rehearsing a conversation. “You want to hold your glass in your left hand, a napkin under it to catch any condensation,” King explains. “Then you have your right hand free to shake. Things get trickier when you add an hors d’oeuvres plate.”

“She’s good,” someone observes.

6:48: “OK, roll and record,” says the director. They repeat the conversation, but this time King clinks her glass against her plate and apologizes. They begin again.

7:03: The napkin-plate-glass-in-the-left hand conversation is filmed three or four times. They move on.

7:12: Keefe asks King for tips on mixing with guests. “In conversation, you always want to ask instead of tell,” she responds. “Ask someone, ‘How do you know the bride and groom? Has Dallas always been your home?’ . . . You need to build off of what has been said. That means you have to be a good listener.”

7:16: Keefe is proceeding through his “Is-there-anything-I-can-do-to-seem-more-approachable” spiel for the fourth time and stops. “I forgot what I was going to say,” he says, even though the program is not precisely scripted. Everyone takes a minute.

“Background people, you are amazing,” the director says. “Keep it up.”

7:19: Filming again. “How do you greet someone?” asks Keefe. “Is an air kiss OK?”

7:27: “This wouldn’t be a good time to talk about my tax problems,” King is explaining.

“Your personal life should stay personal. Money, sex, religion, politics — all of those things can be conversation hot buttons.”

“It was a better ending last time,” someone at the other end of the room comments, but they let it go. They’re about done filming the host and etiquette expert.

7:37: Camera crew filming extras having real conversations. The real conversations look natural, and might be edited in.

7:40: Beginning to break down the set, but one cameraman is still filming the view of “Dallas” out the window.

7:48: People are eating the fruit that was used as a cocktail-party prop.

7:50: Keefe has changed back into the clothes he arrived in.

7:53: Lights are turned off.

The footage filmed in Las Colinas will be edited down to a four-to-six minute segment, one-quarter of an episode of Real Simple that will air in the fall.

‘B’ if for Bread..

When Deborah King, a survivor of the beauty pageant world, was looking for someone to give her two children some spit and polish back in 1989, she couldn’t find an etiquette school, so she stepped in to fill the void.

Final Touch finishing school, based in Dallas, offers programs that pump up the poise for business groups, children and teens, including a camp for teen girls at Garrett Creek Ranch in Dallas.

Some Final Touch finesse:

If someone picks up the wrong water glass or butters the wrong roll in a banquet setting, it throws off the whole table and someone goes without. To know which are yours, make the “OK” sign under the table with each hand. The “b” is your bread, the “d” is your drink.

At a cocktail party, everything goes in your left hand: napkin (at bottom), plate and glass (keep your thumb on top of the base of the glass). Your right hand is used to shake, bring the glass to your lips and pick up food off the plate (and you can wipe your fingertips on that bit of napkin sticking out).