30 Hours Until Air
It’s the evening of Monday, March 19th, 2018, and The Chris Gethard Show production team has a creative, though admittedly silly, problem on its hands.
What kind of prop will Shannon O’Neill use when she explains to callers which car they’re giving them? “We’re Giving Away Cars” writers Nicole Drespel, Greg Dorris, and Jackie Jennings suggest she use a large white binder chock-full of mostly blank pages, to give the illusion the show has more cars than it actually does. After the first full read-through, however, it seems a simple clipboard — and the loss of the numbers gag altogether — is preferable. Either way, the drama that unfolds throughout the course of this and successive meetings a mere 30 hours before air only proves something Gethard Show fans knew long before they were made to guess what was inside that Dumpster. All of this is absurd, and that’s wonderful.
We were given exclusive access to the behind-the-scenes craziness the day before, and the day of, Gethard Show‘s return with the first of 10 more live and largely improvised episodes on truTV. (Or, as Gethard frequently jokes, “We have 10 more tries to fail.”) Now that the former public access series airs on Tuesdays at 11 pm ET instead of Thursdays at the same time, it seems everyone has adopted a renewed sense of fanatical urgency. Then again, most of the team just recently returned from a lengthy, well-deserved vacation. They’ve had to re-learn the ins and outs of making a live talk show once a week after a long break, so perhaps that’s why the binder-or-clipboard question has seemingly become a matter of life and death.
“This is just a tool to get to the jokes,” Gethard reminds everyone during a follow-up meeting. O’Neill, executive producer and showrunner J.D. Amato, and the writers are all present. Amato suggests using a clipboard for the sake of simplicity, but adds that it’s ultimately up to O’Neill. “But if we get to eight or nine cars, we’ll have to admit that we crapped out. That might be funny,” says Gethard. “True,” Amato responds, “but we don’t want to get sued into oblivion.” Everyone laughs, which thankfully releases the palpable tension from the room. With just over a day to go, the binder debacle has ballooned into a significant concern — one that Gethard thinks shouldn’t have happened in the first place. “We should have handled this much earlier,” he says.
When asked about the tension in a follow-up email, specifically whether it helps or hinders their work, the writers offer an array of answers. “This was my first episode, so I don’t have other TCGS episodes under my belt for comparison,” replies Jennings. “But it felt a lot like opening night of a play — lots of people running around tying up loose ends, knowing that no matter what, a show is happening at 11. It’s definitely intense, but we all have each others’ backs.” Dorris is far more sardonic: “I’ve spent the last 35 episodes trying to ignore the pressure we put on ourselves here. Things tend to go best if I focus on making Gethard and the other writers laugh while pretending that everything is fine (even if it’s all burning down around us).”