I was at the live taping of The Latest Buzz the other week, but am only belatedly getting around to writing something about it. But first, read the link, where the producers and writers of the Family Channel show talk about the experience of doing their first show in front of an audience.
The most impressive thing about the taping was the professionalism of the young cast. They did about two-thirds of the episode in front of the audience (some segments were pre-taped and shown to the audience), and there was only maybe one time somebody forgot a line and had to start over. They got most scenes done in two takes, and always nailed the new lines the writers came up with in-between takes. It helps that the director, Brian K. Roberts, is an old pro who was editor of The Simpsons (and wrote the “Will You Take Us to Mount Splashmore?” episode) and directed many big network sitcoms like Everybody Loves Raymond and The Drew Carey Show, and has a lot of experience with “family” comedies like Sabrina and Lizzie McGuire. But the poise and skill of the young actors was still a great thing to see.
My own view of the proceedings, from where I was sitting, was that many of the kids in the audience were having a great time without necessarily laughing a whole lot. (Perceptions can be skewed, of course, and from another vantage point the reactions might have sounded very different. In the linked post, creator Brent Piaskoski says ” the kids went nuts – big laughs, oohs and ahhs.” So my perception is probably off.) There was a young girl near me who loved every minute of the taping, exclaimed “that was awesome!” when it was over, but she’d barely laughed out loud through the whole thing. The warm-ups, mostly done by Darrin Rows, were very well done and got the kids in a great mood, but I had the feeling at certain points that there were some things standing in the way of getting the best possible audience reaction — most notably, that when the action is up on the big monitor, the eye naturally goes to the monitor instead of the actual live action. (This is not, of course, a problem that’s unique to this show or this taping.) But there were some great spontaneous reactions from the kids, including a huge unforced collective “ooh!” after an insult line, and it was great watching the performers get that extra energy from performing in front of an audience.
The show itself still strikes me as one of the best of its kind — the multi-camera wish-fulfilment comedy in the Hannah Montana vein. The kids don’t overact like they do on most of the Disney Channel shows, and while all the characters fit comfortably into the usual sitcom slots (the rich spoiled girl, the dumb surfer dude), none of them are unlikable, and it doesn’t have the cruel streak that the U.S. shows do. If something holds it back from being in the top rank of family-oriented comedies it’s that the storytelling seems a little by-the-numbers at times; it’s well-made and polished, but not surprising. But well-made and polished is hardly a bad thing to be.