Setting the stage for skits

Creative crews compete against deeper pockets

HOLLYWOOD — Just like theme songs and catch phrases, good sets and costumes can become synonymous with the best TV comedies: “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” newsroom, the couture of the “Sex and the City” clan.

But what about shows that trade in one-off skits and up-to-the-minute satire? The crews of Fox’s “Mad TV” and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” work on a tight schedule, and at a level that has earned them recognition from industry peers.

However, the pace and product don’t guarantee entry into the winners circle for Emmy’s variety or music program categories. “Mad TV” and “SNL’s” creative crews have to compete against deeper pockets and longer calendars.

This year, “Mad TV” and “SNL’s” costumers will compete against HBO’s Madonna World concert, NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics’ Opening Ceremony and A&E’s “Target Stars on Ice.” “Mad TV’s” production designers will face A&E’s presentation of a Sting concert, ABC’s Academy Awards, the CBS Grammycast, NBC’s Olympics Opening Ceremony and VH1’s “Concert for New York City.”

“Mad TV” costume designer Wendy Benbrook, who has been on the show for five seasons and been nominated the past three, can be called upon to make as many as 10 new costumes or as few as two per program. Often, she says, the thought in her mind when she gets the script on Monday for a Friday shoot is “Please, let it be recurring characters.”

Benbrook says the costumes are done on a tight budget but stresses that the producers are willing to go overbudget.

Tom Broeker, who has been head costume designer at “SNL” for eight years, has vied with Benbrook for an Emmy the past three seasons and faces the same short-schedule, high-output demands.

Broeker and his crew of five (extra people can be brought in) have 2½ days to get the outfits right; he gets the script Wednesday night for a Saturday taping. As the show fine-tunes, skits and costumes are added or cut.

“Mad TV” production designer John Sabato, who was nominated for art direction for a variety or music program in 2000 and 2001 with art director D. Martyn Bookwalter, art director Cecele De Stefano (in 2001 only) and set decorator Daryn Reid Goodall, works with an overall crew of about 25. Sabato says the crew can have as long as two weeks to work on scenery. The show relies on a lot of mixing and matching of previous pieces, and there are a few dedicated sets for repeat characters. But there are times when a standing set has to be redressed the day of a shoot.

“We don’t get too much of that ‘Oh by the way, we need a submarine,’ ” says Sabato, who has been with the show since its bow in 1995, building an average of 10 sets a week. He singles out a New York-style apartment that was dropped when a guest star canceled at the last minute as his biggest disappointment.

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth WarrenSecond 2020

    ABC News Sets Moderators, Rules for Third Democratic Debate

    ABC News has announced the moderators for the third Democratic debate, as well as the qualification rules. The debate will be held on Thursday, Sept. 12, and will spill over to Friday, Sept. 13 if more than 10 candidates qualify. The moderating team will consist of chief anchor George Stephanopoulos, “World News Tonight” anchor and [...]

  • James Corden Paul McCartney Carpool Karaoke

    James Corden Got a Little Help From Paul McCartney on His Drive to the Emmys

    Saying “Baby, I could drive your car” has proven to be a very good strategy for James Corden — never more so than when he put Paul McCartney into the highly sought passenger seat. The primetime special “Carpool Karaoke: When Corden Met McCartney, Live From Liverpool” is a contender in five Emmy categories this year, [...]

  • Starz Logo

    Starz Orders Horror Comedy Pilot 'Shining Vale'

    Starz has put out a pilot order for “Shining Vale,” a horror comedy which hails from “Divorce” creator Sharon Horgan and “Trial & Error” co-creator Jeff Astrof. The prospective series is about a dysfunctional family that moves from the city to a small town into a house in which terrible atrocities have taken place. But no one [...]

  • Bethenny Frankel at the showtime Emmy

    Bethenny Frankel to Exit 'Real Housewives of New York' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Bethenny Frankel is stepping away from the “Real Housewives” franchise. Variety has learned exclusively that Frankel is poised to exit Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of New York” ahead of its upcoming twelfth season. Frankel first joined the acclaimed reality series back when it premiered back in 2008 before exiting the series in 2010 during the [...]

  • Dolly Parton

    BBC Commissions Dolly Parton Feature Documentary

    The BBC has commissioned a feature length documentary about country music legend Dolly Parton, it announced Wednesday. The documentary, tentatively titled “Dolly’s Country” will air on BBC Two this fall as part of a season of programs dedicated to country music. The broadcaster announced earlier in the day that it had acquired Ken Burns’ upcoming [...]

  • UCP to Develop Ann Shen’s 'Bad

    UCP to Develop Ann Shen’s 'Bad Girls Throughout History' as Anthology Series

    Universal Content Productions (UCP) is developing an anthology series based on Ann Shen’s book “Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World.” The project will be titled “Bad Girls,” with each episode featuring a different influential woman throughout history, including famous figures like Ada Lovelace, Rosa Parks, Mata Hari, and Ruth Bader [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content