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Video Production

A night on the town for Beth Howland, Phil McKeon, Polly Holliday and Vic Tayback

The following information is courtesy of Jerry Davis, production crew member on ALICE:

"In post-production, we built the shows in much the same manner that was pioneered on the Normal Lear sit-coms. The shows were edited on videotape, and built off the isolated camera feeds, one shot (or line) at a time. We went through both the audience and non-audience coverage, line by line, checking for the best reading, shot, and pacing. We approached things in a very objective way, commenting on which performance of a given line worked, which didn't, and why. During one of the episodes Linda directed, she came to editing, heard our comments, and described the process as being akin to "being present at your own autopsy".

"An average episode had between three hundred and four hundred edits in it. We made every effort to save the natural laughs from the audience shoots, so that the sound mixers had to do as little 'laugh-box' work as possible. If we had to substitute a line from one of the earlier tapings, we'd still use the laugh from the audience show. The editing process went through several cuts, first doing an assembly of the show, then getting notes from the Director and building a Director's cut, then showing that cut to the Producers and getting their changes. Sitcoms are traditionally shot anywhere from two to 7 minutes long, and part of the editing process involved figuring out which lines to take out in order to get the show to time."

"After all those various notes sessions and getting the show to time, we'd do a final assembly, send it to the sound guys for their work, then make the finished copies for the network. The schedule for most sitcoms involves three weeks of shooting, followed by a week off. Editing worked straight through, falling a bit behind during the shoot weeks, then catching up on the 'dark' weeks. The usual delay between the shoot and the air date was 4 to 6 weeks, but in a "mayday" situation, we could turn a show around in a week."

"My favorite bit involved an episode where Mel is taking care of someone's parrot. The bird's quite vocal, and starts insulting Mel. Mel starts yelling at the bird and the bird has a Chloe moment, coughs twice, and dies. We had a stuffed bird, a live bird, and an actor doing the voice of the bird, and pieced it all together in post. When the bird dies, we used a shot of the stuffed bird falling off the perch. It looks truly hokey, and it's obvious it's a stuffed bird, yet it's hysterical. We worked a long time trying to get the timing right on the 'perch fall', moving the cut point around a 30th of a second at a time. Finally, on one viewing, we all fell over laughing, and knew we'd hit the exact timing that made it funny. Comedy's all about timing, and that one we nailed. I still laugh when I see the thing."

"One of the 'fringes' my career offered was the wherewithal to buy a season box seat at Santa Anita. My box was located a couple of rows back from Vic's, and I watched him interact with his fans. He was a truly gracious guy, and loyal to his friends. Nice memories there."

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