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From ‘SNL’ to HBO and (Come) Back

Jul 25, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Four days after HBO’s “The Comeback” wrapped its first season, Aunt Sassy’s mall-walking, early-bird-dining, pastel running suits and the rest of the show-within-a-show’s wardrobe-except for the ensembles worn by Jim Burrows, who appeared as himself and who dressed himself-were packed away and labeled to await word on whether there is life after mixed reviews and lackluster ratings.

“Comeback” costume designer Tom Broecker was killing time chatting on his cellphone with The Insider while waiting at LAX for his plane back to New York, which he last saw in mid-May. He likes L.A. but was glad to be coming back to his hometown of the past 21 years, because “I’m not ready to slow down, I guess.”

No kidding. After three or four weeks off he expects to work again with Tony-winning pal Warren “Side Man” Leight on “No Foreigners Beyond This Point,” which will open Sept. 17 off-Broadway. After Labor Day, Mr. Broecker returns to the job for which he has earned multiple Emmy nominations: costume designer for “Saturday Night Live.”

Since February Mr. Broecker has juggled a frequent and red-eyed-flyer schedule that would test Lance Armstrong’s endurance. He has flown to Los Angeles on Sundays and flown back to New York and “SNL” three days later.

“It’s been great. It’s been a challenge,” said Mr. Broecker, who said it was easier to juggle “SNL” and costume design for ABC’s short-lived “Madigan Men” in 2000 because both shot in New York.

Mr. Broecker has amassed a long list of theater credits while running the week-long sprints for which “SNL” is famous, but what he gets out of his series experiences is the chance to help develop characters who are what they wear as much as what they say and how they say it.

“It’s the reverse of what I do on ‘Saturday Night Live,'” he said.

He would shop for Lisa Kudrow’s characters Valerie Cherish and Aunt Sassy in New York. “Sometimes it was really great because the merchandise in L.A. tends to be very picked-over because there’s so much production going on there,” Mr. Broecker said.

His toughest challenge was the “classically humiliating” running suit to which Ms. Kudrow’s character Aunt Sassy is relegated to wearing when she is reduced to an afterthought whose best scenes are shrunk to accommodate the closing credits on what was supposed to be her comeback series. “We had about 10 to choose from,” said the costume designer. Some didn’t make the cut for aesthetic reasons. Some didn’t get chosen because of audible reasons. “You’d be surprised how noisy those nylon running suits can be,” he said with a chuckle.

“I do have to say that jewelry and chains and rosary beads became huge out in L.A., particularly among men,” said Mr. Broecker, who coveted some of the wardrobe T-shirts and who brought a couple of the vintage belts acquired for characters home with him.

The Insider’s favorite character, Mickey, the faithful hairdresser-pal-assistant played in full camp vamp by Robert Michael Morris, is, Mr. Broecker said, “someone we all know. Their uniform is to wear black because it makes them feel comfortable and also because it makes them feel slim.” Beyond that, “It’s all about the accessories.”

Unfashionable as she is, The Insider knows that. She watches “Steel Magnolias” every time it resurfaces on cable.