Last month, I was invited down to the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City, California to check out the set of TBS' latest comedy series Men at Work. The cast and crew were busy shooting scenes for the Season 1 finale, Episode 1.10: Super Milo airing Thursday, July 10 at 10:30 PM ET, just after Episode 1.09: Inventing Milo at 10 PM ET. At the time, it wasn't known if the show was getting picked up for a second season, although the renewal was announced less than a week after my visit.
Even though I have visited a number of TV sets in the past, the Men at Work set was a new experience for me. It was the first time I got a chance to see how a multi-camera show operates. Single-camera TV shows are much more similar to a film shoot, albeit with different sets of scheduling issues. Multi-camera shows tend to revolve around the studio audience, who provide a laugh track for the show during live tapings.
One of the first things I learned upon arriving on the set was the production schedule. Mondays are primarily used for set construction, Tuesday and Wednesday are rehearsal days, Thursdays they shoot scenes on different stages that the audience can't see, which are played back during the live taping on Friday. They also have a table read for the next week's episode on Friday morning before they have to perform for a live audience. We also ran into series creator Breckin Meyer, although we didn't get a chance to speak with him much since he was busy working on a rewrite.
If you aren't familiar with Men at Work, the show centers on Milo (Danny Masterson) and his buddies Tyler (Michael Cassidy), Gibbs (James Lesure), and Neal (Adam Busch), who all work at the same magazine. In the pilot, Milo's girlfriend Lisa (guest star Amy Smart) leaves him, and his friends are determined to get him dating again right away, despite his heartbreak. In the finale, Milo decides to revive a competition with his friends, in a last-ditch effort to get over Lisa, who makes a return appearance.
This competition involves games such as "Edward 40hands," where two 40s of beer are taped to your hands, and The Crying Game, which does have a movie tie-in, but not the one you think. This particular game is a battle of manly will, seeing who can watch Field of Dreams the longest before crying.
During a break in the production, the four cast members came over to chat with us, one by one. First up is Michael Cassidy, who plays the stylish features writer Tyler. Here's what he had to say about his experiences on the set this season.
Michael Cassidy - Tyler
Tell us a bit about what you're working on for the finale?
Michael Cassidy: So, the guys, the Men at Work here, are helping Milo do the last thing that he needs to become totally independent of his ex-girlfriend. It involves a bunch of stupid guy competitions and stuff like that.
I saw the Edward 40hands was in there.
Michael Cassidy: Edward 40hands, that's right. Have you heard of that?
Michael Cassidy: Oh, you have? See, I hadn't heard of it. I was curious if we made it up or not.
It's definitely a thing. It's insane. Can you talk about some of the other obstacles?
Michael Cassidy: Yeah. We've got Edward 40hands, we've got The Crying Game, which is watch Field of Dreams and the first person to cry loses. In this set, we'll shoot a scene in front of the audience tomorrow night, where we're in a conference, and we can only speak in song titles to one of our bosses.
If you were actually in this competition, what's the one you'd have the best time with?
Michael Cassidy: Definitely not song titles, and not crying. I don't know about chugging beer, but... what are the other ones? Oh, there's pigeon catching. I'm pretty fast. I might be able to catch a pigeon, if I had the right equipment. I couldn't chug beer, I don't know any song titles, and I would always cry first, every time.
You have Amy Smart coming back for this, right?
Michael Cassidy: Yes, Amy Smart comes back and guest stars, so does Joel Moore from Avatar. We've had great guest stars on this show so far. Last week, we had William Baldwin, and earlier in the season we had Kathy Najimy, Wilmer Valderrama showed up, and Laura Prepon showed up. That '70s Show flag is flying pretty high around here, for sure.
This season has been focused on either the office, home, or at the bar. Are you hoping to dive into more back story? You mentioned your mom in an episode, but we don't know a whole lot.
Michael Cassidy: Writing is so separate from acting. We watch them write, but we don't write. I'm more of a passenger. It's not that I don't worry about it, I'm always excited to get the scripts, but I don't spend a lot of time going, 'I hope they do this.' I spend a lot more time going, 'I can't wait to see what they do next.' That's the way I experience, and I hope that's similar to how people watch the show.
They were breaking down the schedule earlier, about how a multi-camera show works, as opposed to single-cam. It seems more streamlined an efficient this way. Can you talk a bit about this process?
Michael Cassidy: There are trade-offs. We have to shoot so much in front of an audience, and the great thing is you get the feedback right away. If we go through it once, and they don't respond, it's either not funny or they just don't understand what's happening. They can fix it right there, and hopefully that makes for funnier TV. The trade-off is, if you've got 40 pages to shoot in one night, it doesn't matter how many cameras you have, it's going to be a long night, whereas, with a single-camera show, you're shooting your five or six pages a day, no matter what. If it doesn't work, they'll have to fix it in post. I love doing this kind of TV. It's probably my favorite kind of TV to do. I've done a lot of theater and I love being in front of an audience.
Have you been surprised about how hands-on (series creator) Breckin Meyer? We saw him out here rewriting.
Michael Cassidy: I was surprised on the pilot, back in the fall, because I didn't know what he was going to do. I generally think the pilot is the hardest thing to write, and he nailed it. The script didn't change that much at all. It's not so much surprising that he's hands-on, but it's surprising that he's so comfortable in it. He hasn't done that much TV, for a guy who has acted as long as he has, but he is so comfortable on the other side of the camera. He'll come over and make jokes every once in awhile, saying, 'I don't really know what I'm doing, but you need to do this better.' The scripts, week after week, are so solid, whether they're his name on them or not, but he's in charge. In that stuff, I'm really impressed with, his ability as a producer.
You have a nine-episode order after the pilot. Can you talk about the pacing, and telling a season in that short a timespan, as opposed to a network show, or even other cable shows with 13 or 15 episodes?
Michael Cassidy: Yeah, 10 is tricky, because on this show, you don't have to tell a story that arcs over a season. You can kind of tell a story that's independent, if it wants to be. I would say we're sort of half and half. You have the over-arching thing of Milo needing to get over Lisa, but we also have very independent stories that are self-contained. I've never been on a multi-cam that did 22 episodes, so I don't really know what that's like. I've done single-cam's, where every week was inter-dependent on the other ones. The thing that really stuck out for me is this happened really fast. When we were in New York doing upfronts, we had only shot four episodes and we were doing publicity with the TNT casts, and they had been done with their 10 for months, because it takes so long to put those shows together, whereas we're still shooting. For example, the episode that Stacy Keibler was in, feels like yesterday, because it was only seven weeks ago. Multi-camera is really fast. We've only had one hiatus week, and usually you have three weeks on and one week off, so the writers can stay ahead. I think that when people are under a lot of pressure, they do better, also.
Looking back on this season, has there been a storyline that you didn't expect it to go where it went? Some of the jokes you guys get in, I was surprised to see, on a TBS show. It's a little edgier.
Michael Cassidy: I'm totally with you. I did not know what to expect. I say 'bullshit' in a scene in this script, and we've said it a bunch. The words we can say is really surprising. In my limited experience with network TV, sometimes you do a show, and then you get picked up, and it seems they don't want the show they think you're going to make. This one, Breckin has told me that the network said, 'Do the show that you want to make, and we'll pull you back.' I don't know if they are pulling him back or not. In terms of the story lines, this episode, the ending has changed every single day in the rewrites. I literally don't know what's going to end up on TV. I know what we're going to shoot, but I don't know what they will use.
Do you think they might shoot these other endings, and throw them on the DVD?
Michael Cassidy: I think it's just a question of getting it right. If the audience is following us, or if they think it's going a certain way, they can respond to that. I don't know if they'll shoot alternate endings. The specific ending of this episode has nothing to do with my character, so I'm not sure what they're planning.
We also spoke with James Lesure, who plays the photographer Gibbs. The actor told us that, while this ladies man might come off as a womanizing lothario, there's more to Gibbs than we might expect.
"He's very present, when he's someplace, that's where he's at. He's at the magazine right now, and he's going to do that to the fullest. Now, if he finds he wants to go elsewhere, I think he can do that. I seem him as having an international scope, in that regard, so it is possible for him to do some freelancing in Bangladesh or some place. He's willing to go anywhere, and I think he'll fit in, anywhere. He may come off as this ladies man, but I feel he has a different motivation than just collecting girls. When he's working, he's working, he's very focused on that. When he's hanging with his boys, he's hanging with his boys. He can interact with women just as friends, he's not in "mack" mode. He can appreciate the company of a woman, but if a woman turns to him and says, 'Let's go to some after-hours spot,' Gibbs goes, 'OK,' because that's what we do. He just goes with the flow, and I like that about him."
Next up we spoke with Danny Masterson, who plays the heartbroken Milo. Here's what he had to say about calling on his former That '70s Show to guest star, and how he wants to see Milo remain in an miserable, lonely state of mind.
Danny Masterson - Milo
Can you talk about getting Wilmer Valderrama and Laura Prepon on? Was that just a personal call you made?
Danny Masterson: Yeah. I mean, every week, we look at the roles and we see who is fun that we know, and people know who they are, and who can we get on. We started with Amy Smart in the pilot, and from there, it's just gone really well. Kevin Pollak, J.K. Simmons, my brother Christopher Masterson, Josh Hopkins. We've had some dope actors here.
With Kevin, he's the maintenance guy so it seems like he could come back.
Danny Masterson: Oh, Pollak could come back. We had Billy Baldwin on and his character could definitely come back. He plays this super famous photographer who everyone looks up to. Yeah, we have all kinds of cool people. Wilmer's character lives in the building, so we could see him in random elevators from time to time.
I talked to Breckin a few weeks ago, and he said that everything in the pilot actually happened. When you go through these scripts, are you wondering how much of this really happened?
Danny Masterson: Sure. Sometimes I'll say to him, 'I can't relate to this, or I don't even know how to do this.' He'll go, 'Oh, well it happened to me, and here's what happened.' That's kind of what I do for Milo sometimes, if it doesn't seem realistic. He's like, 'No, no, dude, it happened when I was 18.' Once he storyboards his life, it's pretty easy to act out.
Before the pilot came out, you said you didn't really know how to relate to Milo, because you weren't as sensitive.
Danny Masterson: Yeah, I have nothing in common with this character. Nothing. It's hard for me a lot, when I'm like, 'Dude, I don't know how to do this.' I don't want him to come off whiny, or this or that, so I think we've done a good job of making him interesting enough that he's not just the sensitive, whipped guy, or whatever. He can get angry or he can do crazy things, but yeah, he's definitely not like a lot of other characters I've played.
Out of all the challenges you're doing in this decathlon, which is the one you'd excel at?
Danny Masterson: I would win Edward 40hands, hands down, no question. I even chugged almost a whole 40 ounce of apple juice, doubling Michael Cassidy's juice intake, after he was talking a little shit, saying he could out-chug me.
Are you hoping to see Milo in a relationship, a better relationship, if you get picked up for Season 2?
Danny Masterson: No. I'm hoping to keep him falling in love, getting his heart broken, or the perfect girl falling for him, and him not seeing it. I definitely don't want to see him happy. You could have him get into a relationship with someone who's bat-shit crazy, and that's really funny. It was really funny when Hyde and Jackie were together, because they were such polar opposites. He hated her for five years, and then, all of a sudden, he couldn't get enough of her. She would drive him crazy, but he couldn't stop. That was really funny, and that was a good relationship they had on the show for a couple of years. If there was something like that, it would be cool for Milo, but, basically, I just want him to keep on getting kicked and kicked.
Lastly, we spoke with Adam Busch, who plays Neal, the nerdy guy in the group who is also the only one with a steady girlfriend. Here's what he had to say about
"I think the highest complement you can pay any of these guys, is that they're all friends with each other. The fact that Neal is friends with Gibbs? That they like each other? That's the highest complement you can pay to both of them. The fact that these single, handsome guys are hanging out with this smart, kind of outsider, long-term, stable, loyal guy, I think is a complement to all of them. My parents are still together, and they genuinely like each other, so if I want to impress a girl, the greatest thing I can do is introduce them to my parents. We go to dinner and they see that my dad is rubbing the back of my mom's neck. They're in their 60s and they still like each other and together. You must be amazing! I feel like, the fact that they're all friends, is amazing. We all dig each other in real life, and hang out, but those relationships are different. We all make fun of Michael Cassidy in real life, but we don't on the show."
That wraps up my day from the set of Men at Work from the Sony Pictures lot in Culver City, California. The first season wraps up Thursday, July 12 with two back-to-back episodes, /shows/men-at-work/Episode 1.09: Inventing Milo at 10 PM ET and Episode 1.10: Super Milo at 10:30 PM ET on TBS.