By Tanner Stransky
Updated June 16, 2011 at 05:30 AM EDT
Hot Cleveland
Credit: TV Land
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You know what’s more fun than watching TV Land’s delightfully throwbacky sitcom Hot in Cleveland, which returned to television last night? Being on set of the episode that aired last night! And not even that, but being there not exactly as press, but as an extra.

If you watched last night’s episode “Where’s Elka?” and watched close (and, you know, had any remote idea of what I look like, which you likely don’t), you would have seen me a couple of times. Albeit, very, very briefly, in a couple of the scenes where Joy (Jane Leeves), Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli), and Victoria (Wendie Malick) stumble into an Amish bar (Victoria postulates that it’s an “old-timey gay bar”) looking for Elka (Betty White). I’m dressed as an Amish bar dude. Did you see me? The photographic evidence of my presence — sitting at the table of guys that flash to when the gals enter the bar, and then later, next to guest star George Wendt — is below.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

The fine folks over at Hot in Cleveland, notably executive producer Todd Milliner (see him with me in the last photo in this post), invited me to the set for the Feb. 11 taping, mostly because I’m a big fan of the show and have covered it since it launched last summer at the height of the frenzy around Betty White. And I have to say: Just like the show, the experience was completely delightful.

Probably because I was a special guest and not just a day-rate extra, I was treated rather well. That’s not to say that extras are treated poorly, of course, but my special status meant that I didn’t have to sit around for hours with the fleet of other extras who were there (I got to leave the lot during the afternoon break!) or eat in their special craft services area. And, wardrobe treated me like a king! The hair department, though, had trouble with me, as they kept telling me that my quaff was “too trendy” for an Amish ‘do. Hence, why I had to wear a hat in all my scenes. That hairdo they did give me is…hmmm…interesting, right? Let’s just say that I don’t usually style my hair like Alfalfa from Little Rascals.

Through it all, I even got to spend a few minutes with Betty White in her dressing room. So I took the opportunity to ask her about being an extra, since that’s why I was there. Had she ever been one in her decades-long career, possibly at the beginning? “I’m trying to remember,” she said, between reading proof pages of her latest book. “I don’t think I’ve been atmosphere.” I love, love, love that she referred to extras as “atmosphere,” which is a relatively common term on television sets but somehow sounds really old-school. Which, of course, fits White very perfectly.

The seasoned vet also talked a bit about working on Cleveland while I was with her. “You cannot work with these girls and not be thrilled,” she said. “They are incredible. We all fell in love the first time we got together, but it’s just such fun. I know it sounds corny, but we dearly love each other. If we see each other two sets away, we’re blowing kisses. You can’t force that. You can’t manufacture that. That has to be genuine. Oh, we’re having a ball.”

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

Despite the long hours that you’re there for rehearsals and the taping and all, being an extra is sort of exactly that, too: It’s a ball. At least in my case, I got to dress up in wacky clothes, snack off the cheese plate here and there, and be in a couple scenes with the indelible Malick, Leeves, and Bertinelli. One word: Heaven. That trio can do no wrong, in my mind. I wasn’t in a scene with Betty, dagnabbit, but I guess I can’t complain since I got to spend a few minutes with her in her dressing room, and you know, watch the rest of the episode with her in it be taped. And get my photo with her! (See above.)

The episode itself was a fun one. It found Elka’s three roommates trying to track her down through Ohio’s Amish country, after she went on the lam during the mid-season finale back in March. Hence the title: “Where’s Elka?” Of course, they found her, and brought her back to Cleveland. George Wendt was a guest star, as you can see in the photo above, playing a guy named Yoder the gals were looking to for help. Watching him do his thing — it all seemed so effortless for him — was a real treat. And: The episode featured the return of Amy Sedaris to the series! That was an experience, seeing her catting around set.

All in all, a pleasant episode and a pleasant experience. But I’ll keep my day job as a writer.

Did you watch the episode? What’d you think of it? Did you spy me in the bar scenes? Lemme know in the comments below.

Tanner on Twitter: @EWTanStransky

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