NORTH SALEM, N.Y. - What do a tuxedoed talk show host, an eight-foot two-inch tall bright yellow anthropomorphic canary, and bug-eyed tourists from another galaxy have in common?
North Salem as a backdrop.
Noted for its bucolic vistas, and conveniently located about an hour north of Manhattan, the town is catnip to film, television shows, and advertising location scouts.
And it doesn’t hurt that the bushy-bearded star of its most recent brush with the famous happens to call the horsey haven home.
In the last two years alone, North Salem has set the scene for a New York State Lottery commercial, a History Channel show, several “Sesame Street” episodes, and, most recently, the pasture-side presentation of the Emmy Award for “Outstanding Variety Talk Series.”
Literally a comedy vehicle for funnyman David Letterman, the bit was filmed on Thursday, Sept. 17, just a few days before the 72nd Emmys aired.
In the bit, Emmys host Jimmy Kimmel introduces the 73-year-old TV personality, writer, and producer as “The Pride of Indianapolis.”
Letterman, rocking a black face mask and the tuxedo he wore as host of the award show three-plus decades ago, is unceremoniously dumped on the side of Norton Lane after getting into a snit with his cranky Uber driver.
Letterman, after introducing himself, pauses for a second “for the virtual applause to die down” before giving a shout-out to Kimmel and “Cheers” actress Shelley Long, his co-host in 1986.
“I think the kids are doing a great job. Keep up the good work,” he says, peering up and down the road for a way to hitchhike out of Dodge.
“By the way, Regis, I checked, you’re in the montage buddy. Thank you sir.”
(Regis Philbin, once called “the hardest working man in show business,” died in July.)
Reaching into his pocket, Letterman yanks out a stack of index cards scribbled with his one-liners from the 1986 Emmys.
“1986, what a great looking crowd—so many stars, so much cocaine. Is this the Emmys of the Mets locker room?”
“1986. Neil! (Diamond) Where’d you go for that spray tan, Chernobyl?”
“1986. Oliver North and Angela Lansbury have a new show for CBS this fall. It’s called ‘Trading Arms for Hostages, She Wrote.’”
With each wry delivery, Letterman flings the card away to the sound of glass breaking, one of his running gags when hosting NBC’s “Late Night with David Letterman” and CBS’s “The Late Show with David Letterman.”
Then, in a nod to his penchant for self-deprecating humor, Letterman intones: “Quality comedy is timeless.”
The iconic entertainer moved from Connecticut to a 108-acre estate in North Salem in the 1990’s. Former “Late Night/Late Show” band leader and sidekick Paul Shaffer lives in nearby Bedford.
Meanwhile, back at the Emmy shoot, Letterman hails a hay-laden pick-up truck.
Retrieving an envelope from the driver, he announces the winner… “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”
“Congratulations everybody. Thanks. Good night,” Letterman says, nimbly hopping up on the truck open tailgate before exiting for parts unknown.
In August, North Salem’s Harvest Moon Farm & Orchard was also awash with big stars … LITERALLY big stars.
Bobbing along through the apple trees could be spotted one of the most-beloved characters of the PBS children’s series “Sesame Street,” which was filming several upcoming episodes.
It would be hard to miss him. Big Bird stands 8 feet, 2 inches tall and has bright yellow feathers and endearing googly eyes.
The human-powered Muppet even had his own trailer.
“We had a great time. Imagine getting picked for the shoot?” said farm manager Kevin Covino.
It was an even bigger thrill for Harvest Moon to have its own Farmer Todd, aka Todd Stevens, sing songs and pluck a banjo in the show.
Stevens is known for helping local schoolchildren learn where and how fruits and veggies are grown.
Scenes from Showtime drama “Billions” have also been shot at the Hardscrabble Road farm.
How do you like them apples?
While the Queens studio that produces Sesame Street is just 53 miles from North Salem, the town has had—some believe—visitors from far, far away.
Well, from as far away as California at least.
In 2019, folks from Prometheus Studios in Los Angeles filming for the History Channel show, “Ancient Aliens” honed in on another local legend—the Balanced Rock.
The 60-ton boulder perches on three smaller rocks on the side of Titicus Road. Geologists say its an “erratic” that was deposited by a glacier during the last ice age.
The source of endless fascination, it is also been thought by some to be a Celtic ceremonial stone.
In its “The Druid Connection” episode, the show postulated that ancient Druids could have traveled to the Hudson Valley centuries ago and brought with them the beliefs and technical know-how of their extraterrestrial mentors, aka the “Shining Ones” of Irish mythology.
Some believe the Balanced Rock was the energy source behind a rash of UFO sightings in the 1980s.
Whether it ever lured otherworldly visitors, the rock star certainly has drawn lots of attention. Besides the History Channel, it’s been featured in “Weird New York,” a guide to local legends and peculiarities.
The Thursday, Sept. 17 Letterman shoot prompted a discussion by the Town Board last week about the timing and handling of local filming licenses.
The application was properly filed with the town clerk, but the board didn’t see it until its Tuesday, Sept. 22 meeting. (The Emmys aired Sunday, Sept. 20)
In past short-notice situations, the event has already happened before the board has had a chance to meet.
Clerk Maria Hlushko told the board that she had alerted the highway superintendent, police chief, building inspector, and supervisor.
Production companies pay the police directly for helping with traffic and keeping looky-loos away.
“If they haven’t spoken to the chief nothing moves forward,” Hlushko said last week.
The town gets $500 a day for filming on private property; $750 a day when it’s on public lands.
Councilman Martin Aronchick, saying he was fine with Hlushko’s “exercise of discretion,” still thought the code could use a bit of “tweaking” so the town could deal with future license applications “in a more effective way.”
Deputy Supervisor Peter Kamenstein understood where Aronchick was “coming from,” but said he was fearful of doing anything onerous that could “discourage” folks from filming in North Salem.
Lucas, noting that extra income for the town is nothing to sneeze at, added: “We just got paid $750 for this for not doing too much.”
The Westchester County Tourism & Film Office recently asked North Salem for its take on filming in town.
Hlushko said she explained that the town wasn’t fond of anything that closes down roads or disturbs nearby residents.
“But it it’s held on private property and we can notify the owner first, then the Town Board would most likely be interested,” she told the county.
Letterman’s shoot required four police officers to manage; but Harvest Moon’s, only two, because it took place on the farm’s own property.
The town had three weeks’ notice from Harvest Moon. That allowed it to work out any possible “kinks” because of the COVID-19 requirements, Hlushko said.
While the Emmys thing had dropped last minute, organizers worked with police to keep any activity to the side roads.
Lucas didn’t have a problem with figuring out a better way to handle short-notice situations.
In general, however, he admitted that it didn’t make “a whole lot of sense” to come to the board for permission after something has happened.
“I guess it was so we’d know about it,” Lucas said.