by G. Jack Urso
|Most of the Hot Hero Sandwich cast, crew, and
staff on a music taping day.
The only group shot existent, taken in Studio 8H, Rockefeller Plaza, summer 1979
(image courtesy Sherry Coben).
The following is part two of an interview with Sherry Coben and Patrick McMahon, writer and film editor, respectively, of the TV show Hot Hero Sandwich (1979-1980) with Aeolus 13 Umbra. Here, they discuss various aspects of productions and the broadcast history of the episodes.
In this second part, Sherry Coben and Patrick McMahon discuss various aspects of production and the broadcast history of the episodes. Production took place during the Summer of 1979 during the hiatus for Saturday Night Live so as to film on the same stage, Studio 8H.
Ae13U: What size videotape was used in production — 1 inch or two inch? I’m interested in what the standard was in 1979/1980.
Patrick McMahon: It was one inch. One inch was brand new. Also, the visual FX and transitions that the Harts were asking for were executed by a new software called the Quantel. (I think that's how you spell it.) NBC insisted we use their facility for video editing, but the Quantel was so new that their in-house editors didn't know how to use it correctly [Editor's Note: UK-based Quantel Ltd. was active until 2015]. The editor would have to say it's down, call for a technician to come in, and the technician would show him the buttons to push and away we'd go. We eventually moved the post production to LA because we were not able to make our schedule in New York.
Sherry Coben: I’ve worked on a few shows a little ahead of their time, and I know these problems all too well. Technological advancements are always a little slow to reach the entrenched staffs of networks and production companies because they involve an outlay of money that management can’t quite grasp and creatives demand. Dissolves and graphics children can now accomplish on their cellphones or iPads with just a touch used to take overnight to render and considerable tech support to accomplish.
Ae13U: According to reports, Hot Hero Sandwich shot on Studio 8H, the same studio Saturday Night Live uses. The 1979 and 1980 season was the last with original cast members. Did the casts cross paths? Was there any friction between the two productions in scheduling time to use the studio?
Sherry Coben: The reason we got to use the studio was because the show was on their summer break. NBC likes to make use of their studio space and staff year-round. It was an absolute dream come true working in that building and on that stage so full of history, but we never saw any of SNL’s on-air talent. We did use many of the SNL crew though. I’ve forgotten most of the names of camera operators and other crew, but those credited on both shows include Production Designer: Akira Yoshimura, Lighting Director: Phil Hymes, Graphics: Bob Pook, Audio: Joel G. Spector, Video: Walt Werner, Production Administrator: Ken Aymong (still on SNL!), and Stage Manager: Robert Van Ry.
Ae13U: How were the actors cast in the show? Was it an open cattle call?
Sherry Coben: No, not a cattle call. Agents submitted photos and resumes to the casting director. The casting director culled the submissions, and then their picks read for Bruce and Carole who made their casting choices. (NBC might have had some say, but the Harts were quality children’s TV heavyweights and weren’t making any decisions worth questioning. Network interference in this part of the production was negligible.)
Ae13U: Online sources report ten episodes were broadcast, but my research could only account for nine episodes. How many episodes were broadcast?
Sherry Coben: All were broadcast, but several didn’t air in the whole country. It was a mess to be honest, and we were heartbroken. The Harts and Patrick were still on the west coast, finishing post production when the show premiered, where several episodes never even aired. This impacted ratings of course, not that ratings would have made any difference. The die was cast by then, and we all knew it. All eleven aired, and I know this for sure because I recorded them all on my giant VHS recorder. The tapes are significantly degraded, but I put them on DVD so that my own children could grow up watching and loving the show that brought their parents together.
Patrick McMahon: Several only aired in half of the country. It was the last one, the eleventh, that maybe ran in five or ten markets, as I recall. That's why there is a question about whether or not it aired.
Ae13U: How many episodes were originally planned for the first season of the show? I speculated that maybe 13 episodes were probably planned for the first season based on the usual first season order for similar Saturday morning live action shows.
Sherry Coben: I think eleven shows were initially planned, but one episode was dropped because the money ran out [Editor's Note: Coben means that a twelfth episode may have been planned]. Sketches and interviews were shuffled and dropped because of this problem. Technical difficulties blew up the budget significantly when NYC’s NBC staffers could not handle the sophisticated editing required, and the Harts and Patrick had to relocate to Los Angeles to finish the show at Compact Video.
Ae13U: Were there any episodes produced that were not broadcast?
Sherry Coben: We shot all the music and sketches before anything had aired. Putting the show together turned out to be above and beyond the technical knowhow of NBC’s New York City setup. To finish the shows, the Harts and Pat and his assistant Stan Salfas had to go to Los Angeles to Compact Video.
All the episodes were broadcast but not nationally. Because of college basketball pre-emptions, viewers in the Western time zones never saw several of the shows. It was heartbreaking for all of us, and we hoped/imagined that NBC would rerun the show in afternoon slots or again at some other time of the year.
Ae13U: What was the production schedule for each episode? One episode per week? Monday through Friday?
Sherry Coben: The production schedule was about efficiency and use of sets and talent. We shot sketches every workday for a few months and music but not necessarily in show order. I think that we probably had about a week of shooting scheduled for each episode. Some sketches moved around long after show scripts were finished and shot. We started meeting and writing in late March or early April, Pat started working in mid-June, shooting started in the summer and ended before SNL returned in the fall.
Ae13U: What was the lead time between finishing an episode and when it was broadcast? One week? Two weeks?
Patrick McMahon: The first few episodes were finished a month or two before broadcast but it got closer as we got to the end. Maybe a couple of weeks.
Ae13U: The first episode was broadcast Nov. 10, 1979. That strikes me as quite late in the season for a new show to be introduced. Why the late start date? Production delays? Network decision?
Sherry Coben: More likely pre-emptions for sports. The start date was never moved once we started.
Patrick McMahon: I believe, and so did Bruce and Carole, that the schedule was designed to conflict with the College Basketball schedule, thus ensuring the preemptions, low ratings and ultimate demise of this fat too costly (but conveniently educational) children's show.
Ae13U: Why was the show cancelled after only ten episodes? Granted ratings are the reason, but considering it was a commitment to an experimental children’s education show, I thought the network could have shown a stronger commitment. Was the network fully behind the show?
Sherry Coben: Bottom line: The network never had any real interest in producing quality (read unnecessarily expensive) TV programming for children and did just about everything they could to sabotage it, airing it well after kids are up and out on Saturday at noon, and pre-empting it for sports every week in over half of the country. The West coast barely saw any of the episodes because of college basketball. It’s very expensive to do quality TV for kids or anyone else, and the networks were being forced to do it. They had no desire for it to succeed. They wanted to be able to say “We tried quality, and the kids didn’t want it.” so they could return to peddling the old bargain basement shlock -- cheap imports and repackaged cartoons. Network television was still something of a wasteland, a pretty dark time for quality programming.
End Part II
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