A Report from Sound Stage Fourteen

Introduction - Salem - The Crew - Paramount Studios - The Technical Details - The Set - Conclusion


At the end of August, I was passing through L.A., and so Nick Bakay (with whom I have conversing regularly in order to keep this site up to date) kindly offered to show me around the set of Sabrina. I gladly accepted, and on Friday the 28th of August 1998 I spent around three hours on the set of Sabrina at Paramount Studios watching them finish the filming of Sabrina episode #055, "Pancake Madness"! Wohay!

Unfortunately, Salem wasn't acting that day (for that episode Salem's bits were all done on the 27th and 26th), so I didn't see the puppet or the cats, but I got to talk quite a lot with Nick Bakay, who is a thoroughly nice bloke.

Also unfortunately, I forgot my camera, which is just typical, so I have no pictures, and yes I have kicked myself for that already, although thank you for offering.

Below is everything I can remember learning from this very exciting visit.


While Salem often whimpers (for example here and here), Nick emphatically denies that he ever does that when he is himself.

The Salem puppets are carefully hidden away under lock and key when Salem is not "acting".

The Crew

The whole crew is extremely friendly and they get on really well. It's like they're all part of a big family.

Melissa Joan Hart (who plays Sabrina) is really short. No, not as short as she looks on TV, which is already short, I mean really short.

Paramount Studios

Season 1 was taped at Universal Studios, but now Sabrina is shot at Paramount.

Sabrina is based in a big building almost slap bang in the middle of the Paramount grounds. The building is labelled as being "Stage 14" on one side and stages 11 and 12 on the other (Nick Bakay's dressing room is, I would guess from looking at a map of the Paramount lot afterwards, in stage 11. The makeup room(s) would therefore be in sound stage 12).

Stage 14 is just next to Paramount's New York set.

The sound stages are around 98% sound proof.

The Technical Details

They have no Studio Audience for the laughs - it is all done artificially later. (They don't even play back the episodes to an audience and record the laughs from that). If you hear someone repeating a joke as if the laughter is live, it's probably the crew since they do - sometimes - laugh after hearing a joke during filming.

They will spend hours on just one scene. For example, in episode #055, "Pancake Madness" there is a bit where Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina) is surrounded by people singing a song inside the cafeteria (Act 2, Scenes 30 and 31) and they spent over 45 minutes filming one or two variations on the scene. In the actual aired episode, it will probably take around 30 seconds max.

Sabrina is recorded onto film, not video tape. That is because the cheaper, digital, video tape used on most other shows is much poorer when used with special effects. Using film means higher costs and longer production times, but it makes for nicer special effects.

They use three cameras, which are cleverly called A, B, and C.

The connection between the cameras and the director's screen is wireless (about the only thing that is, the floor is absolutely covered with cables).

Production of a Sabrina episode starts on Monday, discussing the script for two days. They then spend the whole of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday filming. Then at the start of the next week (Monday to Tuesday, maybe Wednesday) they do the editing. The whole thing is finished in less than 8 working days. (At least, this is what I understood).

For one of the scenes they filmed, the director (Mark Cedrowski) said that they would probably not use that bit in the episode, but use it for a trailer for ABC - so that explains why trailers sometimes use scenes never seen in the episodes.

The Mirror Gag

To do this they carefully measure the position of the mirror on the blue screen, with an Melissa Joan Hart stand-in standing in front of it, and then when Melissa herself comes out on set she stands in front of it too. They then superimpose the final frame of the penultimate outfit shown in the introduction sequence with the shot from the camera (which has also been carefully positioned, they measure everything for this shot!) and get Melissa to stand in exactly the same position, hand and all, until the lastframe and the current, live, feed match exactly and when it does, she turns and delivers her line.

While I was there they taped three lines, two in a cook's outfit, and one in a "tarzan" outfit.

Sabrina Spin-Off Series

You may remember there was talk of a spin-off series, involving Sabrina's cousin, well, it was stillborn - I don't think they ever even got as far as a pilot. However, they did make a doll for that series, and so they will be using it in a future episode of Sabrina (Nick Bakay didn't know which episode that would be).

The Set

There was a steady trickle of visitors to the set, mainly relatives or friends of the cast/crew, and mainly small groups of young girls of 4-8 years old and their adult parent/guardian. During the time I was there, I think I saw three separate such groups. A favorite question of theirs when talking to Nick was "Please say something like Salem!".

The set is something like the diagram below. (This is from memory. I only walked around it once, and as I said I have no photographs, so this may be inaccurate in parts. However, it is the general idea).

      Large        Paramount's New York Backlot
       \/                                           S
 +----------------------------------------------+   T
/|:''''':''''':<1  :''''''':''''':10>:'''' :''':|   A
 |:     :,,...:    :   7   :  9  :   :'';' ;   :|   G
 |:  6  : :   :<2  :.......:.....:11>:..:..:...:| < E
 |:     ; :,..:                         12^ 13^ |    
 |:     :,,...:<3  :''''''':      19>:''':''''':|   1
 |:     :     :    :       :      .  :.,.:  .17:|   4
 |:     :..   :<4  :   8   :  14  .  :15 ;16:..:|   
 |:......5:...:    :.......:      .  :...:......|<18
 +-------------------  -------------------------+
 |    STAGE 12                      STAGE 11    |

    | = wall.       : = set wall.
   /| = door.       ; = door in set

1-6 are all the school set.

The outside of the school, with leaves on the floor and a bench and so on - you can see this one in that episode with the man-dough (#007, "Dream Date"), when Sabrina and Harvey dance. If you look from this 'room' with a camera pointing through the double doors entrance (,,) you can see through the main entrance corridor, through the double doors, into the cafeteria, and through the double doors the other side into what looks like the corridor into the kitchen (but is in fact a corridor into nowhere containing a pile of "school kitchen things"). This is labelled as 5.
The classroom. Note - it only has three walls (like almost every room in almost every TV show, in fact!). When I was there the blackboard had 6 or 7 algebra problems (quadratics). The far wall has a clock, with no second hand, that is set to roughly the correct time for each scene. It doesn't move. I am told that there have been no scenes long enough for this to matter :-)
The corridor with the two phones, to where Sabrina's aunts materialise stuff. The phones are AT&T payphones, but with the AT&T symbol in the lower left blocked out by stickers (a purple star and two blue dots, IIRC). The phones are on the upper side of the corridor (upper according to the way I drew the map). There are also a few lockers here.
The cafeteria. The far wall between the two double doors has a "the food types" pyramid-like diagram. Painted on the side shown to the bottom of the map is the name of the school.
See 1.
I didn't get to look around the back area of the school set, it contains corridors for various shots (for example, Sabrina's locker is there). I think there may be another classroom there, or something. I didn't see the science room - it may have been removed, or it may be with the other corridor sets in section 6.

7 and 8 are temporary sets, They change all the time.

Empty at the time I was there, it had a fake (painted!) linonium flooring.
At the time, it contained a bar for episode #055, "Pancake Madness".
The blue screen. It has a blue floor and a blue wall. While I was there they taped the "mirror gag", as well as film for effects involving dissapearing pancakes and flying "debris" (as they called it. I suppose this may just be a technical or affectionate term, really it was just newspapers!).

10-13 are the top floor of the house.

Stairs to first floor, coming from nowhere.
The linen cupboard, which is full of linen. They could do a whole scene in there, since it is open to the cameras.
The first floor hall, with the specially rigged hamper often used by Salem.
Sabrina's bedroom.

I can't remember if there is a corridor to the aunts' rooms, but there must be. I've probably got the scale on the map all wrong.

Full of equipment for the crew.

15-19 represent the ground floor of the house, and I didn't get a good look. The map is accordingly very poor.

The kitchen. The table has a hole in it for Salem's-on-the-table scenes. The kitchen counter is on the bottom side of the map. I guess that there must be a door on the map-top side of the room, leading to the fictional outside of the house, but I cannot remember seeing this.
The hall.
The lounge.
The stairs up to first floor (leading nowhere).

Unfortunately, my memory of the set of 16-18 do not match my memory of the house as I see it on the show, so I am sure I made some dramatic mistake there.


This was one of the most exciting and interesting events of my life, and hopefully I have conveyed at least some of what I learnt to you! Don't forget to look at the other sections of the site!