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Wings: Behind the scenes - VIDEOS

by Bob Sassone, posted Jul 10th 2008 10:20AM

Wings season 6"Deedee Chappel. Get ready to unzip your pants!" - Lowell

That's one of my favorite lines in TV history, and I'm happy to say it was uttered in a show I had the pleasure of being an extra in many years ago, NBC's Wings. A great friend of mine, Suzanne, worked on the show and, since I was going out to Los Angeles for a vacation, she got me on the set as an extra. The episode was titled "If It's Not One Thing, It's Your Mother" and guest-starred Debbie Reynolds. It was filmed in October of 1994 and aired on November 22.

I arrived early in the morning so I could get a tour of the studio with Suzanne. I met several of the people who worked on the show and also on Frasier (both shows were done by David Lee, Peter Casey, and David Angell). She left my name at the Paramount gate, which made me feel important somehow.

The setup and the taping of the show was an all-day thing. During the day, the extras sat around a lot on the studio audience bleachers. There's a lot of waiting around on TV shows. The people there were very accommodating, managing to not only get me in two scenes but also to switch things around so I could be more visible to the camera (they had me sitting in the waiting area of the airport at one point but then realized I couldn't be seen at all). We had to stop and start the filming several times, and I had to remember what I was doing every time each line of dialogue was spoken, so everything would line up right in editing. At one point we stopped filming so the director could go over something with the crew and I heard the theme from Jaws being played and the audience laughing. I looked up and saw that the boom mic operator was attacking me with the mic.

Taping a TV show - even a half-hour sitcom in front of a studio audience - is a long process. The taping of this episode went past midnight, to around 1 AM if I remember correctly. They had to actually stop filming and build another wall to be used in a scene (the last scene with Debbie and Crystal Bernard outside -- the back wall inside the airport had to be built so you, well, couldn't see the studio audience and other sections of the studio). Two scenes were cut out of the final edit: one where Steven Weber and Thomas Haden Church battled each other in a chair to see who could get out of it first and another where Crystal Bernard throws the broom in the air when her mom arrives and it lands near me. Too bad they cut that scene; it includes some of my finest acting reactions.

Some other observations from the day:

  • The thing I remember most about the Wings offices at Paramount was the large closet filled with candy. Not just a few snacks to keep the production staff happy, we're talking something stocked like the backroom of a candy shoppe.
  • I talked to several of the other extras, and while I was there as a one-time thing because of a friend, a lot of them actually had this as a part-time job. The pay was $50 a day, and many of them tried to get as many extra gigs as they could. I'm sure it's the same today.
  • I didn't get to meet the director, but I did get to meet the assistant director, and she was really great. (I believe Ken Levine was also there but I don't remember meeting him -- small world.)
  • Thomas Haden Church handed me a doughnut from the craft services table.
  • Rip Taylor -- yes, he of the wild hair, flamboyant manner and colorful confetti -- was there with Debbie.
  • 81% of the hair I have in this episode is now gone.

Everyone probably wants to know what the actors were really like. I didn't talk to any of them at length, though I did meet Amy Yasbeck, Thomas Haden Church, Tony Shalhoub, and Tim Daly. They were all very nice. Tony Shalhoub stayed with the extras on the second level of the set (where the lockers were) at the start of the episode, all of us waiting for our cues, just before he came downstairs and was confronted by Rebecca Schull (Fay). Daly sneezed in front of me and apologized when he had to reach in front of me and grab a napkin. I still miss Eyes.

In an interesting twist, I ran into Farrah Forke at the Hollywood Athletic Club and played pool with her. She played Alex, Brian's love interest on the show, but had already left the series when I did my extra spot, so it was rather odd that I happened to see her too. I also went to a great restaurant named Bo Kaos, where I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu even though someone else was paying (sorry Suzanne, I still owe you dinner). Harry Dean Stanton was there having, um, fun.

Below is the entire episode, in three parts. I'm in two scenes: the first one is near the beginning, right after Roy says "not on your life" you can see me head out the doors in the green jacket (I couldn't wear the leather bomber jacket I brought with me because Joe and Brian wore them all the time). The second scene I'm in is when Joe and Helen are talking at the counter. I'm sitting there reading the paper and drinking coffee. The coffee was real but really cold and I didn't drink any of it. I'm not sure why I'm back in the airport drinking coffee when in an earlier scene I went out to catch my flight, but we never got into my backstory that much.

You can buy the DVD here. I was kinda surprised that they didn't call me to do the episode commentary when it came out earlier this year, but what are you gonna do?

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One summer in college I was fortunate enough to have an internship 10 minutes from my house and only part time, so I worked from 12 to 5. Wings was on USA at the time from 11 till 12. I was 10 minutes late to work every single day.

Would I stand by the show now? I don't know.

But back then I felt it was always solid. It seemed to avoid most annoying sitcom cliches despite pretty much being a fairly standard and predictable sitcom. I never thought Crystal Bernard deserved the fuss made over her as Joe's long-standing desire, but every actor in the show was perfect, her included.

The post-Lowell episodes were the weakest of the show, but still very watchable.

By no means a great show. By no means one of the greats or perhaps even a classic. But a strong show that still deserves to be remembered.

July 11 2008 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I loved Wings, and it's about my homeland Nantucket. Ok, not my homeland, I am from Harwich on Cape Cod, but the show was about a land not too far from me. That must be really awesome to be an extra on a show. Things are always filmed near me now in NYC but unless it was unintentional, I've never been an extra.

And the writers always nailed that New England/Cape Cod personality.

July 10 2008 at 11:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks for sharing. I haven't seen that episode in years and forgot how hysterical it was, especially that "unzip your pants!" line. I still haven't purchased season 6 yet, but I hope to get it soon.

I gotta agree with the previous poster. I'll never understand why Wings wasn't much more popular. It was a great sitcom and deserved more recognition, unlike that asinine Everybody Loves Raymond. (No offense Raymond fans, but I truly hate that show.)

On a side note, I think it's funny that Antonio the big loser is the only one from Wings who has been successful with another TV show ;) Of course, he'll always be Antonio to me. I don't care for Monk.

July 10 2008 at 11:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Katie's comment
David Cook is my Idol!

I can't stank Monk either. Antonio could kick his ass. Long live Antonio!

July 10 2008 at 1:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Seinfeld hosted SNL a few years back and mentioned Wings in his monologue ... and I always thought he summed the show up nicely: "It was always solid".

That's how I remember it. It certainly wasn't the greatest show in the history of television, maybe not even for its era. But every episode seemed to me to be either good or great ... you never watched one and thought, "boy, that was bad".

Tough thing to do actually, even in today's TV climate. Take a look at the 10 shows up for comedy Emmy this year, and I think you can name at least one bad show for each of them. Yes, even "30 Rock", which I absolutely adore. : P

July 10 2008 at 11:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Cook is my Idol!

That episode is one of my many favorites from Wings. Wings is right up there with NewsRadio, Arrested Development, Sports Night, Scrubs, and Futurama on my list of great TV shows that never got the attention and respect they deserved. I'm glad the first six seasons are finally out on DVD.

July 10 2008 at 10:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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