In Washington, you are likely to rub shoulders with politicians and lobbyists. In Seattle, you meet a lot of aircraft workers. And in certain neighborhoods in SoCal, you stand in the checkout line with celebrities.
That happened to me a lot when I lived in Studio City. It was no big deal to see Michael J. Fox buying bagels at Art's Deli, or sit beside Journey frontman Steve Perry while sipping coffee at Muffins, etc. (Yes, I'm remembering an establishment from a LONG time ago.) And I have a friend who swears she once saw Paul McCartney - and his entourage - buying groceries at the Ralph's Fresh Fare on Ventura and Coldwater.
But those of us who live several miles north of Ventura Boulevard rarely come face to face with people familiar to the readers of People.
TV sitcom productions have changed a lot since I worked as a production assistant (my last gasp was back in 1991!) Reality has changed the television landscape forever. Series are no longer stuck on soundstages in front of studio audiences. I love identifying Valley locales that double for the fictional town of Camden on "My Name is Earl," and I confess to wasting more than a couple of hours searching for the nondescript Van Nuys business park that houses Dunder-Mifflin on "The Office." (No luck yet, but I'm pretty sure it's near the former warehouse where my daughter used to train for gymnastics.)
Therefore, I wasn't surprised to learn that "10 Items or Less" is taped in a real, live grocery store in middle-class Reseda. I WAS surprised to discover that they tape their episodes during the store's operating hours... allowing real live shoppers to wander into the same aisles that are serving as their set, doubling as "atmosphere." A disclaimer is posted at both store entrances, warning customers that their entry onto the premises gives them implicit permission to use their images on TV.
When a shopper needs something in an aisle where the show is taping, the staff and crew are quick to assist -- getting the products for them, and even helping them load their groceries into their cars.
"One time when we were working in produce, a woman asked me for a 10-pound bag of potatoes," one of the producers recounted to me. "And then she asked me to smell them. I had no idea you were supposed to smell your potatoes," he said.
I was invited by the folks at TBS to visit the set from 12:15 to 2:30, as part of a small blogger event. I was surprised to find out that the visit coincided with the cast's lunch break. The unit production manager escorted me to the back parking lot, where an excellent caterer was cooking up chicken and fish and shrimp (I'm afraid all I took was salad - damned diet!). We were welcomed by the show's star and co-creator, John Lehr, who happily answered questions and posed for photos with us.
After lunch, we toured the world of "10 Items or Less."
There were a lot of other aspects of production that I found surprising: such as the fact that the supermarket's entire second floor was taken over by the production company, for both offices and other standing sets! And that the show is almost entirely improvised - star John Lehr and partners Robert Hickey and Nancy Hower come up with a storyline and some ideas... but no actual script. I was fascinated to watch Lehr and Hower work out the blocking for a scene with the other actors on their feet.
It was so different from the productions I experienced - and a lot more relaxed. Plus, the cast and crew of this show have some great benefits: "We can get our grocery shopping done on the job," was a remark I heard from more than one of the folks working on the show.
How great is that?
See more pictures from my visit to "10 Items or Less" here on Flickr. The episode taped on Thursday will air some time during the show's third season on TBS, beginning in January.