Steven and Chris: More than just two

“Honey, if you want to get the full picture when it comes to CBC TV’s new talk show, ‘Steven and Chris,’ you have got to attend a taping. Trust me!”

I confess to imagining that sentence spoken in Chris Hyndman’s voice. Because I went to a taping on Wednesday, and it was such fun that the impressions are still with me. What’s fascinating about a live taping is the insight into how much bigger the show is than what you see on TV. Chris Hyndman and Steven Sabados, veterans of three previous design series, are obviously the centre of this new production. But the mechanics of the show are bigger even than the two stars.

For the audience, it starts with makeup. Being a newbie, I didn’t realize even we would get powdered and glossed for the show. It stands to reason: if the camera pans across the crowd, you don’t want light flashing from shiny cheeks or noses. And you’d like people to look bright and engaged.

So as we waited to get touched up, we sat near a partly open door looking into the set of “The Hour,” CBC’s interview program with George Stroumboulopoulos. That was when the realization truly dawned for me: this is a taping of a TV show and I’m the “live studio audience!” There’s that newbie again.

After leading us into a bright, modern, very comfortable set, our guide situated us in the rows of seating. And again, a revelation: audience members are arranged very carefully. In fact, people are not only seated with care beforehand, but are sometimes moved between show segments as well. During our taping, an audience member with a design question was moved to the front, just before the question segment. It would have been harder to get a clear shot while she asked her question, if she’d remained in the back row.

Once seated, we were given instructions, about where to look if the cameras panned across, and when to clap. And of course we needed to turn off our cell phones. But I was impressed that our first instructions were about fire escapes. Although other elements of the show might be more crucial, we were well taken care of, from the moment we signed in downstairs, till our return to reception a couple of hours later.

But what about the actual show? you’re asking by now. It was grand. When Steven and Chris made their entrance, we didn’t really need to be cued to applaud. We were all happy to see the guys, and discover what goodies they had in store for us.

Their segments were both more and less personal than you’d notice on TV. After all, we were right there, and they frequently included us in their comments. But usually they talked either to the guests or directly into one of the three huge floor cameras that slid silently around the front of the set. Even with us there, the primary audience remained the television viewers. So if the big cameras had to block our view sometimes, to get the perfect shot, that was the priority.

And you know that smooth movement from one topic to another as Chris and Steven talk to a guest? A floor manager stands by the cameras, cueing them when it’s time to move to the next point, letting them know how close they are to the end of the segment, and keeping things on time. Other people move back and forth, seeing to other parts of the show.

You don’t think of these things, when you watch the program on TV. But how else would it look so polished, and work that smoothly? The fact that it’s so obvious, once you’ve seen it done, shows how well they do it.

Steven and Chris are clearly experienced professionals. They are as energized in person as we’ve seen on past series, yet they channel their energy so they don’t peak too soon or drag things too long. Between segments, they are all business as they consult with the producers, already plotting their tone for the next segment. Then comes the countdown (“And five, four, three…”) followed by the lead-in music and the audience cue to clap, and the show continues.

This was a learning experience as well as simply a fun time. One thing you realize quickly is that the people engineering the show are as professional as the two hosts. And we didn’t even see the deeper layer: the people who book guests, arrange audience gifts, create the teleprompter script, and so on. Steven and Chris may be the faces the viewers know best, and undoubtedly participate in the planning, but with all their skill and diligence, this show would go nowhere without the host of equally skilful people surrounding them.