Last Tuesday, I had breakfast with Ellen DeGeneres, Barack Obama, Samuel L. Jackson and Harrison Ford. Oh, and Howard Stern came by but he couldn’t stay, even for the soft, sugary donut knots that were being made on site as fast as we could gobble them up.
You might think we were at trendy coffee shop in Beverly Hills but we were actually on a small sound stage in beautiful downtown Burbank. As for all those celebs? They were there in voice only, supplied by the funny and talented cast of Frank TV.
It was set tour day with TBS and let me tell you, I love my TV and my computer, but it was great to get out of the office!
Our day began at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. Just driving through those huge, classic gates was such a thrill. There, we boarded a shuttle and headed up through the Hollywood Hills into Burbank which is the home of Warner Brothers and Disney. We made our way to what looked like a small storefront, but turned out to be the stages of Frank TV.
Frank TV is a sketch comedy show based on the impressive impressions of Frank Caliendo. This season, the show has added on two regular players, Freddy Lockhart and Mike MacRae and we all sat down with Frank for donuts and coffee.
“This year,” says Frank. “It’s not me acting with just me anymore, that opens it up. A broader range of characters because of that as well, you’ll see bigger scenes and sketches.”
He refers to the show as “impression-based sketch comedy” and it’s so ingrained in the three of them, they can’t stop doing impressions as they talk. Tom Brokaw pops in, and Harrison Ford, and Freddy’s Morgan Freeman works 100% even though he’s sitting there sans special make-up and wardrobe.
Jennifer Aspinall is the prosthetic designer for the show but she doesn’t get carried away with layers of latex when very little will do. “My job is helping them along,” she says, which is a good thing, since a single prosthetic chin can take days to prepare and it can only be used once.
“You put the make-up on,” says Freddy. “And it’s easy to become the character, even on breaks, you walk about being Samuel L. Jackson.”
Tribute time on Frank TV
Unlike other impression-based sketch shows, “Frank TV” prides itself on being more of an homage and less of an attack.
Says Frank, “We try to take the smart road, we’re not doing attacks. When I was doing “MadTV” it was always attacks, they’d rip people for no reason. This show is about finding the caricature of the person, not making fun of them. We find the interactions of people, like we did the “Terry Bradshaw-shank Redemption,” with Freddy doing Morgan Freeman, ‘We didn’t like Terry, so we killed him.'”
Frank is all about making sense, about twisting reality just enough so it’s funny. He won’t match up an actor who died twenty years ago with a current favorite. “We’re doing Ted Knight here, but we’re doing “Mary Tyler Moore” as if it was shot like “The Office.”
Now that’s funny. And so are Freddy and Mike and guest Ellen impersonator Melissa Villasenor. They’re rocking the other press table with their mix of voices and Frank glances over with mock distain.
“They’ve got a better table than us,” he says. Then goes on and on about his new castmates in a perfect impression of a proud papa. He’s thrilled to have them on board, thrilled by the possibilities they present and they’re just as happy to be here.
“This is like Impressions Camp,” says Mike MacRae.
Then Freddy Lockhart jumps in with, “They called me the other day and said can you be here at 6:45? It’s a TV show! I’ll be here! I’ll open the doors for everyone else!”
It’s a dream come true for all of them. And what is the secret to their success? Frank Caliendo sums it up this way.
“You don’t have to get everybody to like you, you just have to get a certain group of people to like you a lot.”
Try 2.9 million people watching a late-night cable TV series. They like him. They really like him.
You can watch full episodes of “Frank TV” on TBS.com and keep an eye out for new episodes sometime this summer.