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The Days I Got to Meet the Family Behind 'The Naked Brothers Band' TV Series
I had the wonderful opportunity to ask the Draper-Wolff family—the authentic family behind The Naked Brothers Band (which happened to have been Nickelodeon's top-rated series at the time)—a question during Q&A time at an interview in mid-January 2008. This was a week before the premiere of their second season, and the event took place at the Times Center Stage in New York City. TV reporter Jacques Steinberg, who had "profiled" them months before, was the interviewer.
I asked them why Allie DiMeco is called Rosalina—as opposed to her real first name (like the other ensemble cast members)—on the series. Before my question, I explained to them that through my parents' friend, jazz saxophonist Dave Koz, I received Nat and Alex's autograph in the mail that past August. Polly, Michael, and Nat told me they remembered sending it. It can be seen on YouTube, which someone recorded as "Nat & Alex with their parents at Times Talks Q&A - part 7".
In early September 2008, I was surfing the Internet and was viewing the NatnAlex.com website. On that website, I came across a poll in which you vote for your favorite episode from the first season of The Naked Brothers Band. It said if you won the contest, you could appear on the third season of the show. I was late to put in my vote, and doubting that I would win, I voted anyway. I voted for the "Battle of The Bands" two-part episode and TV movie special.
When I was on my laptop out by my dad's boat marine center, I saw an email that just loaded on my Mac Mail. It was a week old and it said that I won the contest to be on the show, which would take place in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. The message was sent from Diane Lackner, a name that sounded familiar. So I searched my iTunes library for episodes from the Nickelodeon show and stumbled upon her name at the ending credits. She was Polly Draper's production assistant (P.A.), also known by her title "Assistant to Polly Draper."
Any "Fifty-somethings" remember Draper? If not, let me refresh your memory. Draper is not her fellow cast mates Melanie Mayron, or famous couple Ken Olin and Patricia Wettig, currently of Brothers & Sisters fame. Draper is an actress and a writer most known for her portrayal as Hope (Mel Harris) and Michael's (Olin) friend Ellyn Warren in the hit ABC television drama thirtysomething. The series, which ran from 1987-91, depicted a bunch of "thirty-something-year-olds" and their conflicting day-to-day lives and is listed as the top 7 best show of all time by Nielsen Media Research.
Polly Draper created The Naked Brothers Band TV series, and was the executive producer, serving as the showrunner and head writer. Further, not only was she directing this TV movie special—as she did periodically for the show, but she is also Nat and Alex Wolff's mom in real life.
Anyway… I responded to Diane (Draper's P.A.) and explained to her how I retrieved her message late. She replied by saying: "Wednesday will be the last opportunity to appear on The Naked Brothers Band. Production will take place on set which will mean we would need you all day. This also means missing a day of school. Please ask your parents if you can go, and again let me know if you will be bringing a friend or two." I told my parents and they were in awe that I won. I replied back to Diane saying that I could go and told her to email my mom the information.
The next night, my mom said she had not received an email from Diane. Luckily enough, I had a copy of the "Battle of The Bands" script in my draw, as my mom had both mutual and maternal friend connections through a guest star from the show; he had also went to my high school for a year. His name was Keli Price, an actor, musician, and model, who played Bobby Love, the chief antagonist in the TV movie special. He lived fifteen minutes away from my house, and I met him in the fall of 2007. Keli also signed my Bar-Mitzvah T-shirt during the visit.
Anyway...the address on the script was written in tiny letters and it read: "Broadway Stages [something] Green Street, Greenpoint, New York…" Struggling to read the phone number, I searched online. I found the phone number, called them, and asked for the filming studio where the show was shot at. So they forwarded me to Stage 1. When I got on the phone, I explained to him everything and was getting—what I later found out was—the inaccurate episode name. In the midst of it, my mom got on the phone. She got the information for tomorrow. The guy told us the uniform I had to wear and he said to tell the guards outside: "We are here with Background."
When I arrived at the studio, the block looked like a dump. My mom wrote the stars' parents a letter, asking if I could meet them. I waited all morning to appear, and finally, they chose me—and others—to go on.
As I was walking down—along with the stage manager and the other extras and contest winners, I saw my mom walking down the hall eating lunch with the stars' father, jazz pianist and recording artist Michael Wolff, who met his wife when she made a cameo on The Arsenio Hall Show, to which Wolff led the band. On the Nickelodeon show, he portrayed his sons' inept accordion-playing father and was the show's music supervisor, music producer, and co-executive producer. I shook his hand and then proceeded walking downstairs.
When I got down where principle photography took place, I saw a film crew behind the cameras with Polly Draper, who were all chatting. I told the extras, "That's Polly Draper." The boy, who was my age, said, "That's their mom, you said. Right?" I said, "Yeah." We all sat down on the colorful bleachers, located on the side of the stage, which read: "Naked Idol." The ensemble cast had not shown up yet.
At one point, I said, "Am I the only one excited here?" A contest winner and now my friend, Jessica Norton, who is currently the youngest entertainment blogger for Seventeen Magazine, replied, "Because most of us had done this before." We all got posters to hold up saying things like: "We love Nat!" or "David's #1 Fan". Polly ordered one of the posters—mine in particular—to be moved to one of the girls to hold in the back.
Later on, someone came out to adjust the instruments on the stage. I asked, "Are you [the music producer] Michael A. Levine?" He replied, "No, I am not." He looks at me and smiles. He then said, "I wish I was Michael A. Levine."
Later on, most of the ensemble cast members and the series' bandmates—Nat, Alex, Thomas Batuello, David Levi, and Qaasim Middleton—appear on the stage. I recall Alex making us all laugh. He was lying on the floor and kept shouting, "Kristina! Kristina! Kristina from the Bronx!" Later on, he told his dad that his shoulders were hurting him, and so, he gave him a massage. Nat was speaking to the cast mates. They felt so comfortable with each other, probably because of the fact that David and Thomas are his genuine preschool buddies and band mates.
Later on, I heard someone speaking to a guy named Ken, who was behind the camera. I said, "So that's Ken H. Keller." A girl, whose a little older than me and was an extra on my side bleacher, said, "Who?" I said, "Ken H. Keller. The camera operator, post-production supervisor, director of photography-" She cut me off. "Alright stop," she said. I continued, "And producer" (Technically speaking, he is credited on the screen as 'produced by,' as he handles the physical aspects on-set, i.e., a rope scene). She looks at the boy next to her and puts her head in his lap. She says, "Oh my god, I'm so freaked out right now." Another girl goes, "Do you actually read the credits?" I said, "Maybe." The girls were talking to Alex. That other girl then says, "That kid over there knows everything about you." He said, "Who? Where?" Then, Alex sees me and goes, "Oh, okay." He continues to chat away with the girls on the bleachers, most of whom were older than him (Alex was ten-and-a-half at the time. His elder brother, Nat, then 13-and-a-half.)
At one point, Nat's voice cracked. The girl I freaked out before said, "Did Nat's voice just crack?" The teenage boy, the one making us all laugh, was sitting right above me. He announced, "Puberty sucks!" We all bursted out laughing.
Later on, Qaasim made a joke. I began to laugh. The girl I freaked out earlier on said, "Wow, you have a really loud laugh." Nat and the cast stopped talking. Nat turned his head and looked toward my side of the bleachers. They then continued their conversation. A guy on-set told us extras, "This is dangerous. We need to concentrate. No talking or you'll be thrown off the set."
Later on, the stage manager told us to wait outside for a minute. So all of us extras went out. There was a man standing next to me who was playing a cameraman in the TV movie, as the show is shot in "documentary" format, a comedy genre known as a "mockumentary" which ridicules the boys' genuine lives and which often features a faux presence of cameras. I said, "I have a question." He said, "I may have an answer." "I know Polly is the executive producer, but why doesn't she write and direct all the episodes?" He replied, "Well they are her babies. So you know, she may write a little bit and direct a little bit. But yes I do believe she is the executive producer." Later on, after shooting a scene, a man shouts, "Lunch break!"
I went out with my parents down the block for lunch at a restaurant. When we got back, I took a picture with guest star David Desrosiers outside on the stairs; he was from the popular group, Simple Plan. The wall there had read: "Polly Phonic Studios." A lady said, "That's what Polly must have named her studio." Great guess; however, she was wrong. I later found out that it was called Kidzhouse Entertainment, the stage 1 division of Broadway Stages.
We went back in. I walked up the stairs with the other extras. I met two girls, Mary and Heather, who I am now friends with on Facebook and YouTube. I made them laugh, as I knew every fact about the family and the show. Later on I said, "I saw someone downstairs sleeping on the couch, who looked like a teenager with a hood over their head. For some reason, I thought it was Polly" but than I thought not. They laughed and said it was her.
As we walked out, Qaasim and David were running through the halls. David said, "Oh hey guys. What's up?" Then, the two ran through the doors laughing. A guy shouts, "David and Qaasim get back here now!"
When I walked back downstairs, I saw Polly still asleep on the couch. On the other side was my mom knitting a scarf. She was speaking to that same lady (who discussed the production studio); she was sitting on a chair across from her. They said, "Sh…she's sleeping." The lady whispered, "Oh yeah, she's exhausted. She's been working very hard on the set. She's been working on it since five in- the-morning." I walked into the next hall through the doors.
When Polly wakes up, my mom asks, "This is Hollywood?" She was implying that the studio looked like a dump. Polly yawns and replies, "Huh?" My mom replied, "You know my son is a huge fan of you guys and he's here today on the show." She replies, "Oh that's nice."
As I got to the dressing rooms, I bumped into Allie DiMeco, who plays Nat's girl friend and band member Rosalina on the Nickelodeon hit. She had her arms around a guy, side-to-side. I had a feeling he was her boyfriend in "real life." I said, "Oh, hi Allie. My parents have [mutual] friends with Nat and Alex's parents." She says, "No way? Really? That's so cool."
Then I bumped into Polly. She was wearing black, fingerless gloves. I said, "Oh, hi Polly." She looked at me with a sense of confusion and smiled. I continued, "I'm Eli. My parents are friends with Dave Koz" (Koz, by the way, had often guest starred as the saxophone player on The Arsenio Hall Show, which is where he first met and became friendly with Michael). She said, "Oh hi Eli, I was just speaking to your mother." I said, "I can't believe I'm on the show." She said, "Oh I know, it's like you wouldn't think you would be here and all of a sudden you're here."
I went back on-set. One of the people working backstage was speaking to us extras and Alex, who was making her laugh. Her name was Barbara. She was following orders as she decorated the set, and while laughing, she said, "You think this would be a blast getting up 5 in the morning to help set up the set. Well I'll tell you now, it isn't." I asked her question, she smiled and said "Yes?" I said, "Whose directing this episode?" Barbara said, "Oh her name is Polly Draper." I said, "Oh I know." Barbara said, "Oh you do know." I said, "Yeah, I just didn't know if she was actually directing this episode because I know she's on the set directing even when she isn't the actual director of the episode." Later on, Barbara was speaking to Alex and cursed. Then she said while laughing, "Don't you dare tell your mother I taught you those curse words! She'll kill me!"
Eventually, we had to shoot another scene. In between each scene, the cast and us extras kept chatting. Although we—the extras—stopped talking after being told to several times, the ensemble kept chatting away. At one point, Michael was trying to direct a music scene with their instruments on stage. At one point, Michael said, "Alright guys. Settle down." Then Polly screams on top of her lungs over the loudspeaker, "Quiet!" They all stopped talking.
Later on, we were all talking again. This kind of thing happened constantly on the set. One time the crew said, "Stop talking or (forgot her name) will scream!" Every time she screamed, she had a nasty voice. Everyone stopped talking on-set when this other lady screamed.
Later on, in between the scenes, I told Alex, "I was so jealous when I found out you got an iPhone for New Years Eve from your grandparents." He replied, "Wait, how did you know that I got an iPhone?" I said that he told us on his official fan site. He replied, "Oh." Polly was talking to Michael. I saw her in the view. She waved and smiled at me. She whispered to Michael, "You know his parents are friends with Dave Koz?" Michael replied, "I know, I was speaking to he and his mom upstairs earlier." Afterwards, we shot another scene.
Later on, the famed talk show host and comedian Dave Attell appeared on stage. Polly was directing him over the loudspeaker. Dave said, "Welcome Nat and Alex Wolff of 'The Naked Brothers' to the stage." Polly shouted, "Cut! It's not 'The Naked Brothers', it's 'The Naked Brothers Band'!" They re-shot the scene. He rephrases: "Welcome Naked Brothers Band's Nat and Alex Wolff to the stage." Polly shouted, "Cut! It's not 'The Naked Brothers' or 'Naked Brothers Band.' It's 'The Naked Brothers Band.' " They re-shot the scene and Dave finally got it right.
The next scene finds Dave Attell sitting on the bleacher next to Jessica Norton. Dave was announcing the 'Naked Idol' try-out contestants to the stage. They were to replace Rosalina in the show's TV movie.
At one point, Polly ran out from behind the camera and came up to my side of the bleachers and said, "Eli, you guys are going to shout 'woa-oo-oh!' when I say 'action!' Okay?" I replied, "Okay." She smiles and runs back, as she put her thumbs up out at us. She shouts, "Action!" We all shout "woa-oo-h!" when Kristina did not enter the stage; in fact, it was a crazed-fan who was obsessed with Nat.
Ken H. Keller was standing next to a lady, who I assume was his wife Caron Rudner-Keller, the line producer (who determines the budgets with the production management team) and who is also credited on-screen as "produced by," right below Mr. Keller's name. Mr. Keller was controlling the camera before holding a rope in order to pull down the "crazed-fan" off the set.
Afterwards, we took another break. We ran upstairs with the actress who played the "crazed-fan," as our hands flew freely over the snacks which we all ate. I said to her something about Betty. She replies, "Who?" She squints her eyes and looks puzzled. I said, "Betty, who use to date their dad on the show until his mean jazz musician twin brother stole her from him." She says, "Oh yeah. Awe…I was so upset when she left." A guy was standing there and he said, "You look like Harry Potter in those glasses. I'm sure you get that a lot right?" I said, "No actually, I don't. You're the first one."
Afterwards, as I was filling up a cup of water, I looked up and saw Polly walking with a man. She smiled and waved at me. Polly said, "Hi." Then, she walked on by with the man. Meanwhile, I almost chocked, as it happened very abrupt.
Later on, a man was speaking to a lady and I interrupted them. "Accuse me," I said. "I know the first season's premise was that the band were recording their first album in the studio, and in the second season, they were going on tour." I continued, "What is this season's premise?" "Oh don't worry," she said. "There will be a lot of fun stuff this season." She proceeded chatting with the man.
Afterwards, I asked a man in the hall, "Didn't they film an episode here during the first season?" He replies, "Oh yeah, I believe they did." I asked him for the bathroom. When I came out, I saw a paper on the wall depicting all the producer(s) names, email addresses, and cell phone numbers. I knew not to look at the details but I just wanted to see the list of names. I saw one of the co-writers for the show, Bob Mittenthal, has moved up the hierarchy as co-executive producer. The stage manager said we had to go on for the last scene.
Suddenly, my parents appear. They said, "Accuse me, we've been asking all morning and afternoon when the last scene would be and no one had been able to give us answers. We're exhausted and it's ten'o clock at night. He can't afford to miss another day of school." He said, "Okay sure, you can leave. Just tell the staff in the editorial room that you are leaving." They went to the editorial room and a bunch of men appeared sitting by the computer. My parents told them what they told the stage manager. I said, "Why do I have to be included in the we?" My parents yelled at me to be quiet. The editorial team said it was fine to leave and we didn't need to sign out or anything.
My mom said that the couch was filthy and the building looked like my dad's machine factory in Hauppauge, Long Island. The reason for this is simple: The show, which was inspired by Polly's 2004 film of the same name (and which took home the audience award for a family feature film at the Hamptons International Film Festival in 2005 before former Nickelodeon president Albie Hecht—who later became the other executive producer for the show—bought it as the pilot for the series which aired in January 2007), was shot on a low budget of 13 episode seasons so the boys would not miss much school.
Polly and Michael also cancelled the series in 2009, which was still a hit (even the premiere of the first season in February 2007 produced the channel's highest ratings in seven years and which continued to soar in the ratings), because Nickelodeon wanted to extend the season from 13 episodes to 60.
By November 2, 2008, my mom had already bought Nat & Alex Wolff concert tickets at the Capitol One Theater, formerly called Westbury Music Theater, for us because she said her greatest birthday gift was to see me happy. We invited my best friend Alexandra to join us. Me and "Alli," as me and all of my other friends called her, recorded the performances on our cameras while my dad slept through most of the concert.
Before the show, my mom had slipped a note out at the front desk to give to Michael or Polly saying that I never got to meet Nat and Alex and asked if we could go backstage.
After the concert, Alli and I went in the back row of the concert to look for them. We saw Polly with a sheet of paper in her hand. I said, "Hi Polly, it's Eli." My mom put her hand out and she shook her hand. She said, "Hi, I'm Linda Allen. Eli's mom." She smiled and said, "Hi Eli." I said, "You know that my parents are friends with Keli Price's family and Dave Koz?" She said, "Oh yeah, I know. I know. Keli was such a nice kid." She then looked hesitant at me. "Oh, though, he wasn't too nice in the show."
We talked and I recall asking, "I'm confused. The guy on the phone from the studio said the episode I was in was called 'Premiere Part 2,' but the kids' at the studio said it was called 'Naked Idol.' " She said, "It's called 'Naked Idol.' " I said, "Oh really because the guy on the phone said it was called 'Premiere Part Two.' " She replies, "No." (As a matter of fact, "The Premiere" TV movie aired following "Naked Idol" which is probably why the man from the studio got confused).
At one point my mom said, "You know that he looked up your entire family tree." She said, "Oh really? You knew my grandfather was a General?" I said, "Yeah, William Henry Draper, Junior." She looked at me and smiled. "I'm kind of obsessed with you guys because I was autistic when I was little, so…" I said as I shrugged my shoulders. Polly replies, "So…this stuff all kind of sinks into your brain?" I said, "Well yeah." My mom said, "He has Asperger's so he has a very narrow range of interests." Polly replies, "Oh, I see."
Alexandra told Polly the story about how a lady at Toy's R' Us stopped she and her brother, asking if he was Alex Wolff from The Naked Brothers Band because he looks like him. Alli showed her a picture of her brother on her phone. Polly said, "Wow, I'm his mother and I can't even tell the difference between your brother and Alex."
My mom later said, "You know he is a beautiful writer." She said, "Oh really? Nat loves to write too. Maybe he'll add you in one of his stories he writes." She said, "Is that something you would like to do when you get older?" I said, "I'm not sure what I want to do except to work with autistic children one day." She looks at me and smiles. Then we spoke to Michael.
Afterwards my mom asked, "Should I tell the guard that we are allowed backstage?" Polly said, "Don't worry about it, Linda. I'll tell them."
They let us through and we walked with Michael, as we passed the line of fans with V.I.P. tickets. I asked Michael some questions. I even recall asking, "Where did that Betty character come from in the show?" He replies, "I have no idea." I start thinking to myself, "I guess I have to ask his wife about that one" as she wrote that episode not him. Then I said, "It's a little unrealistic. You play the geeky accordion playing father. I mean if that was really your life, you'd be living on the street." He said, "Call me 'street guy'." I laughed and he smiled with his chin held high.
We finally arrived to the dressing room. There, we saw Alex speaking to all the girls. Nat comes walking toward the front door. I shook his hand, as did Alli. We both said "hi" and we talked. The first thing I told him when I walked in was, "I'm the one that laughed loud." He giggled to himself. Polly was sitting on a couch while laughing and talking. We took pictures with Nat. I told him I was learning how to play his self-written song "Your Smile" on the guitar. (Nat, by the way, wrote the lyrics to all of the songs he sang in the series. Alex did the same for the other songs that Nat didn't sing. In addition, Nat primarily played keyboards but sometimes the guitar instead; Alex played drums. Finally, their music ended up on the soundtrack albums subsequent to the end of each season).
Then we went looking for Alex so we could take pictures with him. However, he was no longer in the room. Alli asked Polly, "Where did Alex go?" Polly replied, "I don't know, he was just here a few minutes ago." She starts to think. She looks at me and says, "Oh…maybe he's in the bathroom. You wouldn't want to go with him in there." I laughed.
Alli and I searched the back room and he was talking to more girl fans! After several attempts to get Alex's attention, we talked. I told him, "Do you remember the day Alli and his brother met you during your autograph signing at Roosevelt Field Mall last year and you kept staring at him saying, 'Wow, you look exactly like me.' " He said, "Yeah."
Alex asked, "You were in 'Mystery Girl' right?" I said, "No, I was in 'Naked Idol.' " He squints his eyes and said, "Oh." Alli asked, "When does 'Operation Mojo' air?" He replied, "November...November..." He starts to think, apparently he omitted. I said, "November 23rd." He replies quickly, "Yeah-ee-yeah."
We took pictures with him. I kneeled down toward him for the picture, although I felt I may have been rude, as he was shorter than I. My dad came in and said, "Let's go. We're leaving" and he leaves the room. Alli and I waved 'bye.' Meanwhile, Nat was in the midst of chatting with other people while Polly was simultaneously laughing, obviously not hearing us.
We walked out of the dressing room. A lady was with Michael and they both waved 'bye' to us. Then, we bumped into their concert-traveling guitarist, Jake Hertzog, a Berkley Music School graduate who guest starred on the same episode as me. He said he enjoyed meeting me and gave me his card for guitar lessons. I already had a great and professional guitar teacher at the time and we didn't want to be rude so we never called Jake. My mom, who was a huge Thirtysmething fan back in the day, also said in the car ride back home, "I love Polly Draper. She's so pretty and really smart. And she's also very sweet..." And later said, "...[Nat and Alex] are talented musicians..."