Being a fan of classic television, I have been a fan of the works of Norman Lear ever since first discovering All in the Family reruns in my teenage years. I was equal parts shocked and impressed by the tough subjects discussed within, all assembled in a wrapper of great character acting. The prolific producer was involved with some of the greatest shows in television history — All in the Family spun off Maude which in turn led to Good Times; All in the Family itself also spawned The Jeffersons, Gloria, and other shows.
Spinoffs weren’t the only part of Lear’s television empire: The producer also gave us series including Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and One Day at a Time, the latter of which has been reinvented and reimagined as a Cuban-American family starring Justina Machado, Rita Moreno, and a talented troupe of actors. The updated One Day at a Time, produced by Sony TV, is a Netflix exclusive and the second season is currently taping.
At some point I intend to write a piece on how One Day at a Time might be the perfect reboot, in that the spirit and the heart of the original show are still present. Like the original series, the show deals with sensitive subjects that some families face in the present day. Justina Machado’s Penelope is, like Bonnie Franklin’s Ann Romano, a relatively-newly single mother raising two teens. There’s a building “super” named Schneider. The set is very reminiscent of the original series that ran from 1975-1984. Norman Lear is still a producer. Last but certainly not least, the “This Is It” theme music is still there, reimagined with a Latin flair by Gloria Estefan.
The first season which ran earlier this year on Netflix was an addictive gem. I’m a white guy in my thirties – oh no, does that make me Schneider? – but I could understand, respect, and even identify with the themes within. The new show was developed by Gloria Calderon Kellett (How I Met Your Mother) and Mike Royce (Everybody Loves Raymond) and while I have never met or interviewed either of those producers, it is obvious as a viewer that they had a fond respect and inspiration from the Norman Lear school of production. I know there are some other half-hour series praised for the ways in which they tackle social issues of the day, but in my book, only this series and Black-ish really have that “Norman Lear feel.” While some interactions and dialogue may be “typical sitcom-ish” there is a certain heart behind all of it that makes it feel authentic.
A few weeks ago, I saw a notice on Twitter that tickets to see a taping of an episode from One Day at a Time would be available for June 6 via Audiences Unlimited at TVTickets.com. Sites like that one are the place to go to see your favorite shows in a live studio audience; sometimes, though, people offering free tickets can be found in the more touristy areas of Los Angeles. This was my first time really seeing a show as a fan, not as a member of the press, since a “very special” episode of Home Improvement twenty years ago while on a L.A. visit. Beyond that, my only other experience as a member of the audience seeing a show being staged and filmed was when Undateable would do shows on the Warner Bros. studio lot, and in most of those experiences, the show was done live which was less time-consuming than the average studio audience experience.
When you attend a taping for a show like One Day at a Time there are certain things you should expect. For starters, expect to be there for a long time, and you should probably use the restroom before going into the studio building where the stage is. For a show taping at 5:30, you’re expected to be there at least an hour early, which will give you time to check in. Cell phones and any recording devices are not allowed. You should also expect to be there until at least 9:30PM; at least, that’s what we were told on Tuesday night. A show like this one might be only a half hour long, but there are still a lot of things that have to go together to make it work.
I’m not sure what other tapings may be like, but for this show, the episode was shot in sequence. The first scene of the episode was done first, then things moved into the Alvarez living room, to the doctor’s office, back to the living room, and so forth. This was also helpful as an audience member because seeing this was like seeing a stage play — and with an icon like Rita Moreno on that stage, it was certainly a treat. Considering The Electric Company taught me how to read, seeing Rita Moreno on stage had me starstruck; I also had a similar feeling before the show when Norman Lear was introduced. You would never know Lear was 94 years old by the way he still carries himself.
The audience is warmed up and kept entertained by — I guess the word would be a comedian? — who interacted with the audience before and between takes, sometimes with trivia, always with excitement. Some of this particular warm-up comedian’s jokes, particularly picking on a “lonely” cameraman, seemed to take things a little too far but most of the time they were very funny. At one point the warm-up man had people showing off their talents, with the best being a dramatic singing by someone you can find on Instagram as “TheArtistALA.” Sometimes when people were performing up in the bleachers, you could catch folks like Rita Moreno as well as Isabella Gomez, who plays Elena, enjoying them with us. Some of that talent even got to leave home with prizes including a signed script!
One Day at a Time always impressed me as a show, but it was interesting and even more impressive to see how the cast interacted with one another on the stage. As a TV critic I’ve heard “we’re like a family” thrown around by the casts of many shows, but the interaction that we could see between takes showed just that. Moreno and Marcel Ruiz, who was featured fairly heavily in this episode as the younger child Alex, looked at each other as a grandmother and her grandson really would. Justina Machado also had that visible affection for her TV family. That sort of thing would probably be hard to fake on camera, so it’s good to see that they behave that way off camera. This ease and chemistry might also explain how and why the taping went so smoothly, even though there was a scene with 15 pages of dialogue around the middle. Sometimes in alternate takes, a few lines would change depending on how we as an audience seemed to react, and sometimes an actor might flub a line and have to start over, but for the most part, it seemed to be well rehearsed to the extent that it went faster than I’d expect a taping to go.
(I also have to point out that Elena and Todd Grinnell’s Schneider are developing quite the banter by the time Season 2 comes along, even though Elena seems to be the One Day at a Time equivalent of Meg from Family Guy when it comes to jokes at her expense. Again, another interaction that I’ve loved.)
Anyone who is curious how a half-hour series is made should really check out a taping if you get a chance. It was a privilege to be part of the One Day at a Time studio audience and it’s an experience I’d love to go through again.
A Netflix release date for One Day at a Time Season 2 has not yet been announced, but we will let you know when we hear anything here at KSiteTV!