My Late Night with Dave
I was lucky enough to work in the television industry a loooonnng time ago when I was the assistant costume designer and then costume designer for a little late night show called "Saturday Night Live." This was from 1985-1990. I then left NBC due to complicated political reasons. Eventually I got tired of freelancing and grabbed the first opportunity to get a steady pay check. (Because there is little television work in New York for a costume designer, I probably would have had to move to California to really pursue that career in earnest.)
While I was at NBC, I would (literally) run into Susan Hum, the costume designer for "Late Night with David Letterman," whose show was taped on the 6th floor while "Saturday Night Live" was at the famous studio 8H (and yes, it's really live). She and I became friendly, and I eventually filled in for her when she needed to take a day off. In those days, the Letterman show was a hit but still "small." Dave's suits were all bought off the rack, and Paul Schaffer still had some hair.
Fast forward to present day. Susan and I live in the same neighborhood, and we run into each other occasionally. She moans and groans about the lack of good assistants, and I've told her once or twice that she could call me if she were ever stuck. Well, I got a desperate call a few Fridays ago to help her out on Monday, and I told her I would.
I had never been to Dave's studio with CBS, which is at the Ed Sullivan Theatre on Broadway. I was pretty excited about going back to my old biz for the day. I had to wait a half hour at the side entrance (since 9/11, security has beefed up tremendously) for Susan to show up.
Now, she has an office and several large wardrobe rooms filled with shirts, suits, hats, and, well, stuff. The first thing we did was hit the morning meeting, where the writers and designers show up to discuss that day's show. Susan and I kept our ears open for any mention of costumes--but luckily for me, there were none. (I wasn't too sure about my costuming abilities being tested so soon after my comeback.) However, they will have a "Will it Float?" segment, which involves two scantily-clad models and two athletic types to assist in the depositing of the thing that may or may not float (it's a case of apple sauce in glass jars, and in case you're wondering, no, it didn't float).
I spent most of the morning returning clothes to various stores throughout the city, one of the least glamorous jobs for a costumer--but it was a beautiful day, and I didn't mind the schlepping around. I got back to the studio at around two o'clock and was hungry for lunch. I figured it would be sacrilege to get a sandwich anywhere other than the "Hello Deli," which is right next door to the studio (and which of course is often featured on Dave's show), but I thought that it would be mobbed with tourists getting their pictures taken with Rupert. Turns out my instinct was right, but when I complained to Susan about the tasteless sandwich I was eating, she chastised me and said, "You should have had Rupert make it."
Susan then took me on the grand tour of the new studio--much larger than the old digs, but Dave still keeps it freezing cold all the time. We listened to Paul warm up the band and watched the blocking of the running order. Then it's off to the control room. I felt like an old geezer when she pointed out the new high-def screens which are all flat – no more watching individual monitors. When they are all off, it just looks like a black, flat wall. We also had an industry discussion about what high-def means for fabric choices and colors.
There were two shows taping on this day, one to air that night and the other to air Friday--Dave likes his three-day weekends. The second one had the "Float" girls, and Susan and I went upstairs to help them dress. Susan had a slew of game show dresses to chose from. Then the heads of each department lined up against the hallway walls, waiting for Dave to emerge from his office to go to the taping. We were there to listen to any last-minute instructions/changes.
When he came out, there was a cry of "Dave's coming!" so we could get out of his way by pressing our backs against the narrow hallway walls. I could hear Dave ask his assistant to write down a guest's name phonetically on the cue card so he'll get the pronunciation right.
Susan and I watched the show in the control room. Everything went well, including the dropping of 2,000 super balls from the studio roof. We were supposed to be there until 8:00 p.m., but Susan left fifteen minutes early to attend a meeting for a charity she supports. She had me sit at her desk for the last fifteen minutes to GET ANY PHONE CALLS!! Oh My God!--is someone going to call and ask for something for the show?? Is Dave going to need something RIGHT AWAY or else the entire show will be a flop???? This kind of thing happened all the time at SNL, but it's unlikely here, and the phone never rings.
My day of "going home again" is over, and I had a great time. I love that adrenaline rush you get when you work in TV and that feeling of being a part of a hit show . . . even if I did only return a shirt that Dave probably never saw to begin with.
Tags: Letterman, Saturday Night Live, costume design, television