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Monday, May 28, 2012

A Visit to the Set of USA's Suits

Recently, I was lucky enough to represent BlogCritics and TheTVKing on a visit to the Toronto set of USA's Suits, along with 18 other Internet media folks. This was an absolutely wonderful experience, getting a really cool view of things that few fans get the opportunity to see. The people involved, those organizing the trip, and those taking the time to sit with us for lengthy interviews, couldn't have been more gracious and generous. I would like to share some of the highlights of that visit with you now, and look for follow up articles from me soon that go more in-depth on some of the events mentioned in this article.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must mentioned that this trip was completely paid for by the studio. I did not have to shell out my own money to go, and for that I am extremely grateful. Television reviewing is a passion of mine, and I devote a lot of time to it, but I do not earn a living doing so. Not even close. Without the kindness of the folks organizing this trip, this is an opportunity I would never have been able to afford.

In spite of this, I will attempt to write with as little bias as possible. I am extremely grateful, to be sure, but also take my role as a journalist very seriously. I admit to a certain amount of wonder and enthusiasm during the duration of the event, but then, that's natural for someone who is a fan of TV in general, and Suits in particular. As such, the gushing comes from a place of personal joy, rather than because of bribery.

We flew into Toronto this past Thursday, arriving at the Hyatt Regency hotel downtown. The accommodations were very nice. There was plenty of time to get settled before gathering in the lobby for dinner. We walked across the street to a French restaurant called Zazou, where we were escorted up to a private dining room.

As we waited for things to begin, we got to know each other, exchanging names and websites, and pawing through our goody bags from USA. These people could not have been nicer. Many of them knew each other from previous events, but they were welcoming to a newbie like me, too. The organizers sat among us, enjoying and participating in our conversations, every bit as much a part of the group as those of us flown out to observe and write.

We were served an interesting cuisine complete with dessert and plenty of wine. Among the choices were the infamous frog legs, which I can now report do taste quite a bit like chicken, but with a consistency and texture closer to fish.

During dinner, we got the opportunity to watch the second-season premiere of Suits, which airs on Thursday, June 14th. The episode is called "She Knows," which should leave you with little doubt about what Trevor told Jessica just after the fantastic season finale ended last summer. The version we saw was missing a handful of scenes, which had just been filmed in New York, but what those scenes will contain is impossible to tell. It felt like a complete episode to me.

A full review of "She Knows" will be forthcoming, but suffice it to say, the questions left hanging last season are addressed almost immediately. What's more, there are far bigger things going on than that, which completely changes the game for the characters. Sure, there will be lasting repercussions to what "She Knows," but that's not even close to the whole story. More plot is packed into this hour than most shows do in an entire season! And all six main characters get their moments to shine, not just Harvey and Mike.
With full bellies and lots of discussion having been had over the twists and turns of a great hour of television, we returned to our hotels to get some sleep before the next day's set visit.

Late the next morning, after a great breakfast buffet in the hotel, we boarded a bus and were driven outside of the city to the television studio where Suits is made. It isn't much to look at as your drive up. Surprisingly, it sits in a huge warehouse where you can also drop off your recycling, and a roller derby team practices. But the place is huge! And what they've done inside is amazing!

The first place we were escorted to is the Peason Hardman conference room. Apparently, this set has been completely revamped for season two, with a reception area and elevator bank added so that those scenes will not have to be shot on location anymore. Extra glass let us see the elevators right from the table, and the magnificent backdrop of the city skyline hung behind us. From our seats, we could only see set, so if one didn't look around the corner at the lights, or too closely at the painting, one could easily believe they were in an office building downtown!

Working from the conference room all day (the electric outlets can be used!), actors were brought to us for group interviews. Articles will be written about each interview individually, but for now, a few highlights.
First up was Patrick J. Adams, who stars as Mike. He could not have been nicer. Patrick actually seems a lot like Mike, in personality, anyway, and he appeared to enjoy spending time with us. He really is terrible at impressions, and he is definitely a geek, referencing Lost and Star Trek during the interview. Not only did he stay for nearly half an hour in the conference room, and posed for a group photo, but he also offered us a tour of the set!

I'll go into more detail in a separate article covering the set tour, but again, here are some highlights. Besides the elevator bank, the sound stage we were on included a new bathroom piece, with interchangeable stalls and urinals, Rachel's new office, the file room, and another office who belongs to someone I cannot name at this time without spoiling something big, which I will do in other articles. Patrick then jumped on a skateboard and led us to another stage, where they had constructed a full courtroom for season two, not far from where Mike's apartment is housed!

If you look at the picture I've included, that's me reflected in the glass behind Patrick while he gives us the tour!

On the way back to the conference room, we bumped into Max Topplin, who plays recurring character Harold. He was just exiting the third sound stage, where he had been filming some webisodes. He followed us back to the conference room, and got to tell us a few things, including what his role will be going forward. An energetic and entertaining young man, Max really matched the spirit of enthusiasm the rest of us felt at being there!

Then, lunch! It was quite a trek to find the lunch room, but the spread was fantastic. There were many options, and in copious amounts. Tucked away in the basement, it wasn't as glamorous as dinner the night before. But the folding chairs and tables were spruced up with tablecloths and flowers, so that was nice!

Returning to the conference room, there was a total surprise! See, in the same building, as we walked down the corridor, we could see that Covert Affairs was being filmed right across the very big hallway. Those doors were closed to us, but someone came through them for a visit. Christopher Gorham, who plays Auggie, was filming webisodes for that series, and stopped by in full costume! He talked about location shooting, the positive impact he's feeling from the blind community, being a sighted actor playing a blind man, and what's next for Auggie and Annie! One gets the feeling he would have said more, but he kept stopping himself, and asking input on what he was allowed to reveal from producer Gene Klein.

Later, we would actually get to talk directly to Gene, who works on both Covert Affairs and Suits, which was very exciting! Not only did he gives us some teasers about both shows, but he also talked further about the webisodes, and shared stories from the writer's room. Among the topics covered with Gene were the show's music and clothing brands.

But directly after Chris, Meghan Markle and Rick Hoffman gave us a few minutes in between takes. They had just come from the set, where Rick had been screwing up all his lines while feeding to Megan, who was the one actually being filmed! Gene later told us that Rick nailed everything when the camera turned to him. Rick and Megan have a great chemistry, with Rick joking a lot, and sort of staying in character, albeit being much nicer than Louis is.

A little while later the room went absolutely wild when Gabriel Macht showed up wearing a tuxedo! At first, he claimed he was not filming, this was simply what he wore every day, but when pressed, he admitted otherwise. Gabriel's interview took a more serious tone than the others, with him really thinking about, and analyzing, his character. In fact, he kept saying I, then correct himself by saying Harvey. It was very clear just how important and dear this role is to him.

During a break, we were allowed to visit the third set, where filming had been going on earlier. We saw Jessica, Louis, and Harvey's offices, Donna's desk, the associates' bullpen where Mike works, and the library. It was incredible to see the level of detail that went into each piece, from doctored photos to business cards to Jessica's very, very uncomfortable chair! Not only that, but most of the books in the library were real, and there were a heck of a lot of them!

By this time, the day was feeling long, not helped by the fact that the "outside" lights had been turned off in the conference room, making it appear to be night. But things picked up when Sarah Rafferty, on her day off, no less, came to see us! She reveled in her character of Donna, and actually got a few spoilers from the reporters, based on things others had said earlier! She mused that Donna should date George Clooney and Brad Pitt, or at least characters those actors play. The biggest spoiler we learned from Sarah? Donna is not always right, and viewers will soon get to see this in a big way come episode five of the season!

After Sarah left, Gina Torres was the final visit of the day. She was well worth the wait, though! Perfectly poised, she exhibited a warmth her character doesn't always display. There was such a gravitas she exuded just by being in the room! She discussed her character at length, and wished Jessica would just get some already and loosen up!

Then, we weary reporters emerged from the studio to discover that, contrary to how it felt the past couple of hours, it was still bright daylight outside! Boarding the bus home, where we would be turned loose on our own until our return flights, most the next day, there was a sense of exhaustion and satisfaction. What an experience! I do not believe it is one any of us will soon forget!

Writing this, less than an hour before I check out and fly home, I must again thank all of those involved for putting this together! USA, 360 Media, and the tireless work of Terry, Justin, Jennifer, Amanda, and all the rest really went to great lengths to put this trip together. I am extremely grateful. It was an amazing experience!

I look forward very much to watching Suits this coming summer. Keep an eye out for my set visit and interview articles, as well as reviews of select episodes, including the season premiere. This trip gave me so much to write about, and I will be providing a steady stream of content about Suits for the next couple of weeks!

Watch Suits on USA, returning for season two on June 14th!

Read all of my Suits coverage and reviews here.

If you like my reviews, please follow me on Twitter! A shortened version of this article was first published as A Visit to the Set of USA's Suits on Blogcritics

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