Popi TV Pilot… Hot Set!

Hector Elizondo has been cast for the TV role of Popi, based off a movie starring Alan Arkin. I found this out on a call sheet while saying Hello to my security guard friend, Ken Wood. It will be filmed on Brownstone Street, on lot 2. This location will be the featured spot in each episode’s opening credits. That means that I have recently been able to watch the filming of several MGM TV shows, including Medical Center, Shaft, Hawkins, Adam’s Rib, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, and now Popi.


Once again the guard shack works as a TV guide. Often now, we learn about things before they have been promoted or even in some cases, before they have even been filmed yet. This TV series will shoot its first scenes right smack in the middle of New York street. This show is the first thing shot on this location since Soylent Green, other than one Medical Center episode and a Lemon Up shampoo commmercial.

Medical Center is the center cut of all these series, as many on this list will quickly fall by the wayside, never to be heard of again. Chad Everette is a hot potato and his role as a doctor is a spin off of Dr. Kildare. His show is a smash hit already.

Contruction has begun two weeks prior, on Brownstone, preparing for the first day of shooting. A hardware store, a barbershop, a laundromat, and a liqour store all are being dressed as actual facilities. Across from this main set is a bakery that is packed with real goodies, along with fake rubber imposters.


Shops above are same as below different decade…


Actual mail boxes and news racks from Poppi, barber shop and barber pole below Law Office, above

The series jingle that will open each episode will be shot against this NY backdrop.

Popi turns the corner to many kids, who are playing in water, which is being strewed from a hydrant. When they see Hector Elizondo, they run up to him, all wet, shouting “Poppi, Poppi” and then grab his hand, as he heads up his tenament stairway. This is how this day begins for us on the backlot.

Four weeks later, this will be the opening sequence on all six episodes that make the air waves on Tuesday night primetime on CBS.

Day one, a new MGM TV show. Another piece of MGM history… all the movie equipment, extras, and activity makes my blood rush… MGM and the backlot are alive and well.

Today still being summer, I bring a handful of guys with me, and we sneak our way across the backlot. We get a front row seat for today’s activities. I get to watch a fellow director do his thing. My three minute feature shot on the Desilu Western street screened to a packed garage of locals and was a smashing success.

I  want to thank everyone who helped capture the old west with me…. blah blah blah…

Hal Needham, special thanks to you… You can throw me through a window anytime! 

Now it’s my turn to learn from the pros and we could not have a better view, right down the street corner, two uninterrupted angles with the principal cast right below.


Our view, above, looking down. Fire hydrant dead center, bottom of picture

My group of cohorts and I sneak up a stairway and we’re all in one building, upstairs, above the bakery. We can see the food displays inside, right through the floor boards. We remove a wood plank for a better view.

The day quickly speeds by… for us anyway. The same scene is shot over and over and over, and we are stuck up here because MGM has a security guard on set and he is sitting close enough to see my troop, if we exit. We are bored.

Their Panavision camera keeps getting reloaded as this scene apparently can’t be shot enough times. Well, my group is very antsy. We are now fishing into the bakery below, with make-shift hooks from curtains attached to drape ropes from a nearby window. We have a large area upstairs to goof off in, but to exit, we must funnel down one stairway, that is blocked currently by a certain Garth Bluff, MGM’s gentlemen officer, who has decided to take a nap. Every time we so much as think of sneaking by, he makes strange little snorts, so we’re not sure if he’s really asleep.

Hungry, bored, and up for a challenge… we hook a big fish, not a guard: a bag of donuts. It gets reeled upstairs stealthily, and no one sees it pass upwards out of the bakery, and through a fabricated hole in the floor. This is has become the thing to do, as Poppi’s TV show across the street, becomes a secondary item.

The director in me wants to shout “CUT ALREADY” to this repetitive opening scene, across the way.

Being a kid is the funnest option here. Next, we hook a bag of muffins. We only want fresh stuff, not stale, or worse…. rubber fakes.

We are stuck up here, but this happens once in awhile in our trespassing lifestyle.

Even during crew lunch, this area has security centered on this set. In fact, Carl, another guard, comes in and for a bit, we have two guards to outsmart. At 5:00, this day finally wraps, as the last reverse angle and overkilled scene is done.

The set is dressed and is considered Hot. That means it can’t touched by anybody. It will need a night watchman. So, a guard will sit on it all night and a second one will patrol the rest of the backlot. I have seen this act before and we need to make hay as the sun sets…

Security guard Carl follows the last crew member to the main gate, so he can lock this backlot up. He leaves and is gone for about five minutes, as this shit takes place. The HOT SET just got hotter… as we finally climb down after 8 hours, surviving on donuts and muffins. 

We had a bag of danishes that ripped and fell back inside the bakery while fishing, earlier. Well now, we are inside this bakery as security vanished, and we are picking up fresh sweets…

The rest of my gang is grabbing props. I roll a wagon from the hardware store and load it with bakery items and this takes about three minutes. Jimmy and I work together on this.

We casually pull our red flyer wagon down New York Street’s 5th avenue, as we head towards the Boystown fort. We wanted to be the first to leave this area. Set watch is just returning to this Hot Set. Guys are walking with rakes, shovels, and even the barber’s pole that was spinning below us all day.


Red wagon full of goodies passed down this street when security came back…Below, we are at this end of NY street as all hell breaks loose at the Brownstones on the opposite end.


This set is in chaos as Carl reappears. Kids are still on Brownstone grabbing stuff, as shouting takes place. Security is terribly out manned!

Jimmy and I are far from the epi center as we carry the wagon over a footbridge at the lake and then cross over into Boystown where we bring the groceries upstairs. Chases are taking place all over NY street like the Laugh In skits. Everyone gets away and security has some explaining to do…I’d imagine… 

The Bronco arrives with the big blonde specialist behind the wheel, racing around chasing ghosts…ghost busting…we eat with entertainment taking place all around us.

A security fire drill of sorts is taking place…Jimmy and I pig out in our fort of forts with frosting all over our faces…”there goes Pat and Berry,” running by, as I point over to Small Town square. Jimmy and I bust up as we eat the evidence…


This is the funnest place in the world, I think to myself, as we stuff pink Snoballs down the hatch…

This show was cancelled soon after the ten episodes…

All stories written and lived by Donnie Norden
Edited by DQ









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