Behind the scenes: Shooting Ricky Martin

Correspondent Tracy Smith interviews singer Ricky Martin in a makeshift storeroom.

CBS News

Most TV news producers understand that it is a miracle that our stories ever make it to air. There are so many factors conspiring against us: changing schedules, inclement weather, malfunctioning equipment, well-intentioned publicists, treacherous media competition, and more.

But we always try to arrive at a taping location brimming with optimism.

Which is how I felt a few weeks ago when I entered a huge soundstage in Van Nuys, California. There was a 24-hour donut/sandwich shop across the street -- always a good sign, because a well-fed crew (my camera and soundman) is a happy crew.

The airport hangar-sized space contained an exact replica of the gargantuan set Ricky Martin would be using when he opened his residency show at Park Theater at Monte Carlo in Las Vegas this month. Three vertical runways, two horizontal runways, a stage with a raised platform that accommodated Martin’s band and some 20 dancers, lighting towers that could move across the stage with a choreography of their own, an elevator, a moving runway, a staircase on wheels, and straps for aerial artists.  

I introduced myself to the show’s production manager and said, “Hi, I’m a CBS producer and we’re supposed to light an area on this stage for our interview with Ricky later today.”

He gave me a look as if the last lifeboat had been lowered from the ship an hour ago, and replied, “Good luck! We’re expecting you, but the production schedule changed and we’re rehearsing all day, and when we’re not rehearsing the music or the dancers, the set will still be under construction. There’s no way we can break for your interview.”

An interview with a star of Ricky Martin’s caliber, by the way, requires more than two hours of lighting. And we wanted an hour with our subject; his publicist kept emailing that it would be around a half-hour.

Taking pity on me, the production manager said, “I can take you to his dressing room upstairs.”

A small couch. A table. A mirror. A case of bottled water. Nothing on the walls of the tiny room. Small and depressing. I can’t imagine Martin ever stepping foot in it. Not at all suitable for an interview location. I feel my stomach turning.

Knowing that my crew would arrive soon, I asked: “Is there anywhere else?”

“Good luck. I gotta be downstairs,” said the production manager.

I stood at the big door of Martin’s rehearsal space -- Studio 3 -- and walked across the hallway to a door I hadn’t noticed: Studio 4. The light was dim, but I could see the room was also enormous, and piled to the ceiling with lighting grids, large pieces of a show set, and shelves of carpeting, props and signage -- the bones of the set of “Let’s Make a Deal,” stored away. It so happened that the classic game show, which usually taped in Studio 3, was not in production, and because Ricky Martin had rented the space, all of LMAD was in a glorious heap next door.

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The set for “Let’s Make a Deal” when it isn’t packed away.

Monty Brinton/CBS

But there was also a small cleared area that would be perfect in which to set up our lights. It would look like we were backstage at a theater, because it was the temporary backstage of a soundstage.

But could we tape there?

I went towards a brighter light and there, at his desk, was Dick. He ran the studio and was right out of Central Casting; he’d obviously been in TV for decades and had seen just about everything, including desperate producers. He patiently listened to my plea, and sent me upstairs to a third floor production office for “Let’s Make A Deal.”

After the producer there heard my tale of woe, she went down to Studio 4 with me and took a few pictures on her cellphone. “I’m going to send this to our downtown office,” she said, “just in case there’s something the public shouldn’t see yet. I don’t think there will be a problem. I mean, ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ is CBS, and you’re CBS, so this should work.”

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CBS News

My crew arrived and set up lighting in two-and-a-half hours: Three cameras -- one for Martin, one for correspondent Tracy Smith, and a third for a two-shot of both of them. My cameraman, John Varga, brought his own director’s chairs.

When Ricky’s entourage arrived, it was clear they had been at the Las Vegas set across the hall and knew that taping there would be impossible. I said, “Come with me,” and led them into our improvised set, where LMAD was hibernating.

Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, because -- and I didn’t know this until that moment -- the plan had been to ask the cast and crew, deep in rehearsal of their show, to be quiet while we did our interview. Never would have happened.

Now, with the pressure off, we were granted more than an hour with Martin.

Sometimes the gods of broadcasting shine their light on unworthy producers. Bless seasoned studio managers, “Let’s Make a Deal,” and Wayne Brady, wherever you are.      

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