Monday, May 25, 2009

Drew Carey Does Cleveland

This is one of several posts I plan about "The Drew Carey Show's" Cleveland connections. I'm starting with one from 1999, when the show used Browns Stadium for an episode, with the cast and crew coming to town. My story from the Akron Beacon Journal on Aug. 30, 1999, can be seen by clicking on "Read more."

Thousands of people rose before dawn yesterday for a peek at the new Cleveland Browns Stadium and at the hit television show taping there.

Since Friday, The Drew Carey Show, which is set in Cleveland, has been taping segments in and around the new stadium for an episode premiering Sept. 29. (The episode includes Drew and friends trying to sneak into the stadium, Drew's girlfriend Sharon shown kissing another man on the giant Brownsvision screen, and Drew's brother Steve proposing marriage to Drew's adversary Mimi.)

Offering free tickets to yesterday's event, the show ended up handing out a jaw-dropping 19,000 to people willing to spend at least part of the 12-hour shooting day at the stadium.
The attraction was "to see the Cleveland Browns Stadium and to see Drew Carey," Dave Zeleznak of Hinckley said.

And which was more important? "To see the stadium," said Zeleznak, while other members of his family interjected, "Drew!"

Carey admitted Friday that a free look at the new stadium was part of the draw for people. In fact, the taping serves as Carey's all-is-forgiven to the Browns and the National Football League.

"I was really so down on the NFL after they left," Carey said. "I never watched football except to watch Baltimore get beat. It's better now. I can really feel the excitement.. . . I remember watching the Dallas game and getting all excited, even though it didn't count for anything." Still, he was grateful that so many people had wanted tickets.

"I can't believe all these people are showing up just to be extras," he said after a taping Friday night. "It really means a lot to me. Nobody can believe it.. . . It says a lot about how people support the town. They know it's going to be on TV, so they want to come out and make the town look good."

He was thanking people again yesterday morning, telling the crowd how great it was to show Hollywood "a real city with real people that have real jobs."

By 7:30 a.m. yesterday, those real people formed two lines stretching more than half the stadium's length -- and the line grew steadily over the next hour.

Roger Carr of Eastlake arrived shortly after 7 with his wife, Kim, and son, Dustin. "We thought (the line) was pretty long, until a half-hour or 45 minutes later," he said. "Then we were glad we got here when we did."

Carr, who also said both the stadium and Carey were draws, pronounced the stadium "gorgeous" as he looked down on it from one of the uppermost seats.

It bore the wear marks from Saturday night's Browns-Bears game. Peanut shells and cups still lay below seats. Sometimes there was the smell of spilled beer in the breeze. Plastic bags full of trash lay here and there. But those details didn't deter people eager to take part.

A casting call for a few small parts had yielded "a mailbag absolutely crammed with photographs of people," said Carey executive producer Deborah Oppenheimer. "And not just people. People who, maybe, didn't want to be on the show but here's a picture of their dog and wouldn't it be great if we put their dog in the show."

As for yesterday's extras, almost all honored the show's request that they wear Browns colors -- and then some. Besides a host of Tim Couch and Chris Spielman jerseys, there were dawg-bone necklaces, bone earrings, bones in the hair and on each side of the head.

People arrived in brown-and-orange face and body paint, or painted each other while waiting in line. They carried pennants and hand-made posters. One boy had a box of dog biscuits.

A quartet of girls burst into a gleeful chorus of Cleveland Rocks, the Ian Hunter song used as the Carey show's opening theme. People along the line hooted, barked and gestured as camera crews, including one from syndicated show Access Hollywood, passed by.

By about 10:30 a.m., 3,000 to 5,000 people had gotten inside the stadium, and more were arriving.

While that didn't look like much in the 73,200-seat facility, the show really just needed enough people to create the appearance of a full stadium for the episode. And it had already created that illusion with far fewer people during a taping Friday night.

The spectators quickly learned what a TV taping is: a lot of waiting interrupted by bursts of activity. And the activities could be odd.

More than once, the show's crowd coordinators sent whole sections moving, like mice in a maze, to other parts of the stadium to accommodate camera angles. The audience also had to learn how to pantomime wild cheering -- silently rising from the seats, waving their arms. Some boisterous fans didn't get the idea, and the taping's emcee, Ben Amick, had to say, "Remember -- pantomime is no sound."

Still, Carey's cast and crew have marveled at how cooperative and easygoing local people have generally been.

On Friday night, about 1,000 people provided the atmosphere for some stadium scenes, giving out a cheer on cue while cast members Carey, Ryan Stiles (who plays Lewis), Diedrich Bader (Oswald) and Christa Miller (Kate) walked by again and again.

"The incredible thing about Cleveland is the way the people turn out, and they're so incredibly disciplined," Bader said at the time. "If we were to shoot this in Los Angeles, there's no way we could get this number. . . or get people to actually cooperate. They took their cue tonight perfectly every single time."

"L.A. people would just be going, 'Gee, we have to stand here so long,' " added Stiles. "People here were, like, 'Hey, this is fun.' "

Noting the crowd expected yesterday, Stiles said, "That's more than they could get for a Rams game in L.A.. . . That's why the Rams left L.A. -- they couldn't get more than 8,000 to a game."

Why are Clevelanders so nice?

"Massive insecurity," Bader said with a grin.

"I think that Cleveland has gotten a bad rap for a long time, and I think that people just feel that," he explained. "They feel it in their bones and, you know, compensate for that. Part of the outpouring towards us and towards the show is that we're good for Cleveland."

Carey is the driving force for reflecting his home city.

"All of the signs, all of the details are focused on Cleveland because Drew is, you know, obsessed," said Bader. "He loves the town."

"I'm sure if we weren't as highly rated as we were, we wouldn't get away with it," Carey added as he walked back to his trailer. With autograph seekers and cheering fans keeping pace, he was reminded that he once joked that the show would make him the Elvis Presley of Cleveland. "I am now," he said with a laugh. "I don't want to blaspheme the King -- but it is kind of weird, don't you think? All this stuff? But not weird in a bad way. In a good way."

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