So, the other day, a friend of mine points out a story from the New York Times -- a synopsis of what it feels like to make a cameo on a television show. Coincidentally, I now know exactly of what the author speaks. Numb3rs, the CBS Friday night hit now in its fifth season, is often filmed on Caltech's campus -- the premise, not surprisingly, that the profs at the fictional Caltech known as Cal Sci, lay the mathematical groundwork to help solve crimes. As such, the producers contacted us to see if we were interested in having members of the current Caltech team take part in a couple of episodes... and, yes, we followed through. I had the good fortune of collaborating with the producers, directors, and writers as filming happened... and also was asked to play the minor role of Pete, one of the Cal Sci players. Everyone involved presumed this to be a good situation, as I would be able to direct my actual players on the court as the cameras rolled. I took on the role of athlete/actor-coach/director liaison.
What was most intriguing was not the opportunity to be in the show, but to understand what happens on the set. It was much like running a basketball practice. There needs to be structure, a solid plan before starting the day. Communication and organization are imperative as time is of the essence. And directors are able to stop and start and manipulate and move ideas and people around, as if playing a high paced, spontaneous game. If it is necessary to do another take (and many of them at various angles), then the schedule is pushed back. Get it right, then move on. If the marks are missed, if an actor doesn't perform, if emotions get out of control... well, figure it out. Of course, there is no actual game that will occur -- TV can do what it needs to make the resulting production appear perfect. But the process is like a hoops practice. I understand why Numb3rs is in season five. There is a great crew, a professional cast -- like a veteran team who understands the system. Everyone, as Judd Hirsch discussed, knows how to get the best out of the program because there is a solid foundation with effective team chemistry.
The experience paralleled many of the situations written in the NYT, from the personal trailer, to makeup and wardrobe, to standing in a certain place, to the desire to deliver input that requires realistic basketball sequences. It was exciting and educational and the players certainly enjoyed their time being on set with Hollywood actors and the two Lakers. The actual show airs on Friday, March 13 at 10 pm (folks can catch the last episode on cbs.com that featured a scene with us at the end).
The perfect basketball game, after countless practice time, should be glorious. We'll see what a made-for-television game looks like after hours of cutting and splicing in the editing room...