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1775 turns to 2001, all in 1 1/2 hours

The cast and crew of "Touched by an Angel" swooped onto the sidewalk in front of the Deseret News building yesterday, turning First South into Colonial Virginia, circa 1775.

My lucky day, I thought, because in 1775 not only wasn't there yet a United States of America, there wasn't a Deseret News.

Stop the presses.

There was a fatal flaw, however, to my thinking that we would not publish.

Colonial Virginia existed for roughly an hour and a half.

By noon it was a mere memory and First South was turned back to the present day with horns honking, shoppers headed to the mall and SUVs playing chicken with the pedestrians.

If you want to see people move fast, watch the people who put up and change the "Angel" set. One minute the sidewalk is thick, black Colonial dirt, horses are pulling carriages and Minutemen bearing muskets are standing outside a tavern called the Crown & Pickle.

The next minute the city sidewalk has reappeared and the Crown & Pickle is a modern Virginia establishment called the Sign of the Dove, 226 years later.

I say, hire these people next winter and turn Main Street into downtown Lillehammer.

"Touched by an Angel" has been a local institution for seven seasons now, which makes the show approximately 1,714 years old in TV years. When you've been around this long, the caterer is not allowed to buy green bananas. The rule of thumb in television is that nothing survives forever, not even if its theme is divine intervention.

Of course, there's always a first time. When it made its debut in 1994, "Touched by an Angel" was supposed to last about as long as Naomi Judd's talk show.

Then Della Reese, the series' longtime star, did a Jim Fassel and guaranteed the series would make the playoffs.

Actually, what Della Reese said was that the show would last 10 years.

Brash talk, even for an angel. But so far she is yet to be proven wrong.

I learned all of the above hanging around the set yesterday with, among others, the gaffer, a man named Dave Stoddard, and the sound mixer, a man named Steve Laneri.

In case you're not familiar with movie jargon, which I was not until yesterday, a gaffer is the chief lighting technician.

A sound mixer is the person who mixes the sound.

Both Dave and Steve have been with the series since its very first episode in 1994. That one was shot in the west desert in and around Tooele.

If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

In the years since, "Touched by an Angel" has been filmed at locations the length and breadth of Utah, and the crew, about 100 people in all, counting actors, has evolved, according to Dave and Steve, into one of the tightest-knit crews in all of television.

"We're more like a family," said Steve. "We really get along."

And when they don't, they patch things up quietly and quickly.

Consequently, there is plenty of talk and concern "back stage" about just how long the family can stay together.

Or, in TV jargon, when exactly will CBS hold a tribal council and vote them off the network?

"The subject does come up rather often," said Dave. "We'd like to stay forever, but you never know what's going to happen."

It was just then that I looked up and noticed Colonial Virginia had disappeared, replaced by 21st century Virginia. Dave and Steve were off and running. There was gaffing to be done, sound to be mixed.

Show biz, man, it moves fast.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to and faxes to 801-237-2527.