Pops’ show ringing success
PBS viewers won’t see behind the scenes work, maneuvering
BY JOHN KIESEWETTER
A day before the concert taping, producer-director Phillip Byrd was tearing up his camera directions for Cincinnati Pops Holiday: Big Band New Year’s Eve special.
“I need about four hours locked in a dressing room rewriting the script,” Mr. Byrd said, heading backstage at Music Hall after Erich Kunzel’s orchestra finished rehearsing with Doc Severinsen, Patti Page, Eddie Daniels, Ed Shaughnessy and Paul Piller.
Not unlike exceptional TV dramas or sitcoms, scripts for Mr. Byrd’s public TV concerts were rewritten repeatedly up to the last minute.
“Yesterday we had the script timed out to the second for Patti Page singing ‘Tennessee Waltz.’ Today she added a second verse,” Mr. Byrd explained.
“It’s not a problem for Erich. He just repeats 32 bars. But it throws us off.”
Another 32 bars will push the New Year’s Eve countdown past the stroke of – something unthinkable in this third national Cincinnati Pops TV special in two years.
“But Erich likes doing the unexpected things. I learned that the first time I worked with hin,” he said.
For weeks, the award-winning producer-director of PBS’ On Stage at Wolf Trap had studied the musical score and plotted every conceivable camera shot for “Take the A Train,” “Sophisticated Lady” and other big band hits in the 90-minute show.
He didn’t want to miss a beat.
Or a solo.
“All eight cameras follow a very precise shooting script. Camera operators aren’t making anything up,” said Mr. Byrd, who produced the directed the Cincinnati Pops 1995 Christmas show with Mel Torme and the 1996 Halloween “Spooktacular” concert.
Just hours before the New Year’s Eve concert, taped Oct. 24 at Music Hall, Mr. Byrd ripped up the camera cue sheets again – and taped them together in a new order.
But PBS viewers won’t know that Mr. Byrd was in a minor panic before the downbeat.
What they’ll see is a seamless concert featuring the toe-tapping arrangements by former Tonight Show trumpeter Tommy Newsom of “Take the A Train,” “Let’s Dance,” “Woodchopper’s Ball,” “Moonlight Serenade” and “Sentimental Journey.”
They’ll get Byrd’s-eye view of Mr. Daniels’ clarinet solo on “Begin the Beguine,” Mr. Shaughnessy’s driving drumbeat to “Sing, Sing, Sing,” pianist Julie Spangler’s jazzy keyboard work on “One O’Clock Jump” and Mr. Severinsen’s flashy jackets (and rhinestone tie.)
They’ll also see conductor Mr. Kunzel’s I-am-not-worthy bow to the Doctor after his solo on the Harry James’ hit, “You Made Me Love You.”
They’ll feel like they are in historic Music Hall for Duke Ellington’s “Caravan,” when Mr. Byrd intersperses scenes of the musicians with the audience clapping to the rhythm. The four-minute song is captured by 40 different camera angles, an average of one every six seconds.
And viewers will never know that the New Year arrived before Halloween
this year in
What they won’t see is Mr. Kunzel telling the sold-out Music Hall audience: “Now ladies and gentlemen, it’s New Year’s Eve, so put on your party hats!” (The audience was ordered not to wear party hats for the first hour because an edited version of the concert will repeat as a national PBS fund-raiser in March.)
Viewers will never know the Music Hall audience had to do the New Year’s countdown twice for Mr. Byrd. And when viewers see the balloons and confetti drop, and people whopping it up during “Auld Lang Syne,” they’ll have no clue that some of the raucous celebration was taped a half-hour later, near the end of the concert.
Mr. Kunzel, relaying Mr. Byrd’s instructions, asked the audience to “go nuts” for two minutes, as cameras panned the 120-year-old concert hall.
Lights! Camera! Action!
After the New Year’s Eve hugs – on stage and out in the seats – Mr. Byrd could ring in 1998 adequately.
“Thanks for being such good sports. You all get an Academy Award for that performance,” Mr. Kunzel told his Music Hall guests when the cameras weren’t rolling.
“This concert will be shown for three consecutive years (on PBS) so it will be on TV into the millennium. So you’re part of history!”