It's such a deal
For an inside showbiz peek, TV show tapings are hard to beat — and your only investment is time.By Lisa Rosen
Special to The Times
September 28, 2006
For an inside showbiz peek, TV show tapings are hard to beat — and your only investment is time. When visitors come to town and want to get a sense of Hollywood, celebrities and all, where do you take them? Where do you take yourself, for that matter?
There's the Hollywood sign, but you can't get very close to it. Grauman's Chinese Theatre, yes, but how many times can you compare your hands and feet to Clark Gable's? And you're not going to see any stars at either location.
For the quintessential Hollywood industry experience, watching the taping of a television show is hard to match. There are the famous people, standing only a few feet away. There are funny lines and mistakes and unbleeped swear words that only you will witness. And there are hours of your life spent waiting: waiting to get in (with no guarantees that you will), waiting for the retakes, even waiting to use the facilities. At least you don't need to pay for the ticket.
With the new television season in full swing, we visited the sets of four shows — an established late-night talk show, a new daytime talk show, a new sitcom and a hit game show — to access a world that is so close to L.A.'s identity and yet so far from most Southern Californians' daily lives.
'Jimmy Kimmel Live'
There are few better spots to be stuck in line than along Hollywood Boulevard outside "Jimmy Kimmel Live." Contrary to its name, the ABC late-night talk show actually tapes in the early evening in an old Masonic building next to the El Capitan Theatre, with plenty of good people-watching while you stand out front.
On the day Orlando Bloom is a featured guest, a few women have lined up hours earlier than usual. Anissa Garcia, 27, a recent transplant from Texas, and her visiting sister, Gina, 23, are among the group. "I'm a huge Orlando Bloom fan," says Anissa, "so we got here early, as soon as I got out of school." Adds Gina, "I haven't really seen any big stars. I saw Jay Leno on the freeway once, but that doesn't really count."
By 4:30 p.m., the line starts to move inside. First, security personnel search purses and bags. No cameras, camera cellphones or water bottles are allowed inside. Then everyone passes through a metal detector.
Courtney Kirner, the audience wrangler, fills the 200 studio seats with a system that reflects the audience members' apparent level of enthusiasm, assessed while talking to them as they wait in line, a common practice with shows in which the crowd appears on camera. The process takes 45 minutes, while people are encouraged to use the restroom because there is no leaving the studio once the show starts.
At about 5:30, comedian Don Barris starts warming up the crowd. He gives instructions: Applaud when the green "applause" light flashes, stop clapping when the red "stop clapping" light flashes. He harangues the audience for ever-greater displays of excitement. At 6, Kimmel comes out to say hi and make a few jokes. Then he leaves, the show begins and he returns to the stage to the unaided cheering of the crowd.
The show itself is made up of what one sees on any show of its nature — opening monologue, a comedy bit or two, guests talking about their projects, hot musicians performing songs from the new CD — but the action off camera is entertaining in its own way. During the commercial breaks, Kimmel sits at his desk in relative darkness, quietly reviewing index cards as people fuss about his clothes and touch up his makeup. A woman brings hand-lettered cue cards for him to look over, and he either makes corrections or shakes his head, putting the kibosh on jokes he no longer wants to do. She returns to her place under the center camera.
Bloom's entrance sets off a wave of eardrum-shattering screams. At one point, Bloom is so touched by his fans' devotion that he stands up and hugs a couple of girls in the front row — the Garcia sisters, as it turns out. After the taping ends at 7:15, they are still in a state of thrilled shock. "Holy crap! Never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that I would visit my sister in California and get a hug from Orlando Bloom on the Jimmy Kimmel show!" Gina says.
'The Megan Mullally Show'
After lining up by 11 a.m. and passing through security at Tribune Studios on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, the audience for Megan Mullally's new syndicated talk show is escorted to a big tent, where they sit and wait comfortably in the shade. A wrangler asks for volunteers to show off their singing or dancing talents, and a number of people readily acquiesce.
Friends Erik Cooper of Tennessee and Peggy Jurita of Florida, both in their mid-30s, are in town for Disneyland's inaugural half-marathon. But watching beloved entertainers in action has been a major part of the trip — this is their third show taping in less than a week, having already seen "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Kimmel."
The taping for "Ellen" was something of a marathon in itself. Even with tickets, "you had to be there at 8:30 a.m.," Jurita says. "Then they handed us a priority ticket and told us to come back at 1 p.m. We came back and sat around, and they didn't even shuffle us into the studio until 3:15. We got out of there close to 5." But, Cooper hastened to add, "Ellen is an extraordinary personality, so it was all worthwhile."
Another one of the "Mullally" audience members, Kevin Gallegos of Santa Clarita, estimates that he's attended at least 15 tapings. The 19-year-old likes all the free entertainment. "After all, I'm a poor student," he explains. He already has tickets for an upcoming Kimmel show featuring Justin Timberlake. "I check three different websites daily — ocatv, tvtickets and 1iota — and then plan accordingly." But his favorite show is a true classic. "My goal in life is to be called down by 'The Price Is Right,' " Gallegos says, having enjoyed the view from the audience. "Bob Barker's a legend."
The brightly lighted "Mullally" studio fits about 150 people. A bag of candy sits on every seat. Warmup guy Billy Sindelar pumps up the crowd, while the sound system plays a great mix of old disco and funk.
The taping starts at 1 p.m. with Mullally singing a silly number about the show, to the tune of "Hair." Then her first guest, Will Ferrell, comes out in a pair of bright blue jockey shorts, his microphone stuck to his bare chest with an X of black duct tape, as the crowd goes bananas.
During a break, production assistants pass out handfuls of chocolate kisses. Smart move — give the audience a little sugar rush.
The taping ends shortly after 2, close to its real running time, as Mullally sits in the audience with her parents and thanks everyone for watching.
' 'Til Death'
The new Thursday night Fox sitcom " 'Til Death" centers on two couples. Brad Garrett and Joely Fisher play long-suffering long-marrieds; Kat Foster and Eddie Kaye Thomas play the annoyingly happy newlyweds next door. In line at Sony Studios in Culver City for a taping, Lily Derway and her mother-in-law, Joan, speak warmly of the time they watched Garrett's previous show live. "I don't know if they'll do it here, but on 'Everybody Loves Raymond' they gave us pizza for dinner, and bottles of water with their pictures on it," Joan says. "I still have the bottle."
Adds Lily, "She keeps it in the refrigerator with a note that says, 'Do not drink!' "
From Orange, the Derways brought along family visiting from upstate New York. "They live out in the country area, so they don't get to see any of this excitement," Joan says.
Sitcoms take longer to shoot than do talk shows and game shows; the minimum is about 2 1/2 hours, and the maximum can run from 6 p.m. to well past midnight, depending on the number of scenes, the complexity of the shots and whether the jokes are working.
The upside to all this downtime is that it's the only way for a civilian to witness the real world of scripted production.
The audience of about 200 sits on risers high above the sets, facing a bank of monitors above them. There is only a narrow field of vision to the action below. TV cameras often block the scenes as well; for the most part, one has a better view looking up at the screens.
The warmup guy, comedian Ron Pearson, gives the audience two rules: (1) If something is funny, laugh. (2) If you're not sure if something is funny, laugh anyway.
The actors in this ratings-challenged sitcom come out and say hello before shooting starts. The first two scenes have been shot, so the audience watches them replayed over monitors.
6 p.m.: First hour down, first scene done. During the breaks, Pearson asks where everyone in the audience is from. West Africa, Sweden, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, England, Italy, Japan and all over the U.S. Student groups are in attendance from UC Irvine and Loyola Marymount University.
7 p.m.: Hour 2. The audience now knows all about Pearson's wife, children and in-laws. Down on the set, a dozen people stand around looking at monitors, doing what appears to be nothing. "The producers," Pearson deadpans.
8 p.m.: Hour 3. Pearson juggles pingpong balls with his mouth. Ten audience members quietly gather their things and exit stage right. What's impressive is how many more people don't leave. They keep laughing, take after take. The actors are impressive too, managing to stay fresh and playful as the night wears on. Though the downtime for making fixes between takes is wearying, the jokes they come back with afterward are better.
9 p.m.: Hour 4. About 15 more people have deserted. After an especially long time between setups, Pearson turns to the studio set and yells, "Whenever you're ready." Brad Garrett steps up to the handrail to thank everyone for their patience. Someone in the audience asks if he'll buy them dinner.
9:30 p.m.: Hour 18 or so. Cari Daly, a 33-year-old Angeleno who has been brought to the taping by a friend, says, "I think I'm experiencing the Stockholm syndrome. I have come to love my captors."
The last scene is completed. The stars come out for a curtain call. Everyone applauds with their last scrap of strength and heads out into the night.
'Deal or No Deal'
For NBC's hit game show "Deal or No Deal," airing Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays, a line forms at 10 a.m. along the sidewalk outside Culver Studios in Culver City and proceeds inside in groups of 25 to a huge soundstage that was once used to film "Gone With the Wind." Wrangler Tony Salazar tells the group the taping won't be longer than three hours and that if anyone needs to take a break during the show, they should raise their hand and a seat-filler will take their place until they return. It's a bit like the Oscars that way.
In the studio, 360 seats surround the stage in a broken U-formation. The room is meat-locker cold. The show's famous flock of models stands on a wide staircase, shivering. No applause signs here; 10 cameras are positioned throughout, so everyone and everything is likely to be caught on tape.
Brooke Barlow's mother, Brenda, is visiting from Mississippi. "This is one of the things we do when I'm in town, if we can," Brenda, 54, says of studio tapings. "I like to see how everything goes on behind the set," adds Brooke, 28. They ask a wrangler to be seated where they can be seen. "So I can watch it back home and see me again," Brenda says.
As Marlon Grace warms up the audience, a Steadicam operator walks between the rows of models, filming them as orders are given out: "Teeth!" They all smile. "Unclench!" They relax their faces. Then the women clear out. At 11:30 a.m., host Howie Mandel comes out to a standing ovation, and the show begins. With the audience cheering them on, the models appear over the horizon and come down the stairs armed with shiny silver briefcases, like a battalion of gorgeous accountants.
During a long break to fix a technical glitch, Mandel amiably greets audience members and fields questions. One asks how he ended up working on the show. He replies that when he first got the offer he thought it signaled the end of his career and wanted to turn it down.
"My wife told me I was an idiot, and to take the job," he says. The crowd applauds. Good deal.
After the first contestant wins a good chunk of change, the audience cheers. She then learns she lost out on five times that amount, and the crowd moans.
Her game over, the audience gets a break. In the lobby, a model in slippered feet talks to a couple of acquaintances. Salazar points out the obvious: "The minute the show is off, the models change into their slippers, because the heels are so uncomfortable."
A few minutes later, back in their seats, the crowd watches the second game begin, but true to Salazar's promise, at 2:30 the game is put on hold, and the audience is released back out into the natural light of day.
How to score a seat
Tickets for TV tapings can be obtained free online at a variety of websites that offer directions, parking info and the minimum required age for attendees (usually 18 to as young as 10). Ticket-holders aren't guaranteed seats, though; the system is first come, first served.
Tapings take place virtually every day of the week. A few shows tape on weekends, such as FSN's "Poker Dome Challenge" (Saturday evenings) and ABC's "America's Funniest Videos" (both weekend days).
For those who need added incentive, ticket websites such as Audiences Unlimited offer rewards to repeat visitors. After an initial orientation, AU issues gift certificates worth $50 to those who attend five tapings. It also offers fundraising opportunities for student groups and nonprofits, as does On Camera Audiences; attend a show and receive money for your cause.
And the deep dark secret of studio tapings is that one can even get paid to sit there. Nobody will discuss it openly, but ads for paid audience members can be found at AtWork Entertainment (atworkentertainment.com).
Yes, sometimes even the audience gets cast. That's Hollywood.
A sampling of TV taping options and locations:
Its website, tvtickets.com, offers tickets to the following shows:
"According to Jim" (ABC)
"All of Us" (CW)
"America's Funniest Videos" (ABC)
"The Class" (CBS)
"Cory in the House" (Disney Channel)
"George Lopez" (ABC)
"Happy Hour" (Fox)
"The New Adventures of Old Christine" (CBS)
"Poker Dome Challenge" (FSN)
"Rules of Engagement" (CBS)
" 'Til Death" (Fox)
"Twenty Good Years" (NBC)
"Two and a Half Men" (CBS)
"The War at Home" (Fox)
"The Winner" (Fox)
At 1iota.com, or (866) 546-6984 from noon to 4 p.m. weekdays, the company provides tickets for:
"Jimmy Kimmel Live" (ABC)
"CD USA" (DirecTV)
"Last Call With Carson Daly" (NBC)
Currently on hiatus: "Mind of Mencia" (Comedy Central)
At ocatv.com or (818) 295-2700, it offers:
"Best Damn Sports Show Period" (Fox)
"Celebrity Duets" (Fox)
"Dancing With the Stars" (ABC)
"Family Feud" (syndicated)
"Hannah Montana" (Disney)
"The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson" (CBS)
"The Megan Mullally Show" (syndicated)
"The Rich List" (Fox)
"Talkshow With Spike Feresten" (Fox)
A number of shows offered via On-Camera Audiences are on hiatus; see list below. For some hit shows, a wait list is available:
"American Idol" (Fox)
"America's Got Talent" (NBC)
"Last Comic Standing" (NBC)
"The Chelsea Handler Show" (E!)
"So You Think You Can Dance" (Fox)
"Def Comedy Jam" (HBO)
"Rockstar Supernova" (CBS)
"The Showbiz Show With David Spade" (Comedy Central)
"The World Series of Pop Culture" (VH-1)
Hollywoodtickets.com overlaps other sites and also offers:
"Deal or No Deal" (NBC)
"The Greg Behrendt Show" (syndicated)
"Dr. Phil" (syndicated)
"Wheel of Fortune" (syndicated)
Tvtix.com, another overlapping site, also offers a wait list to those looking for "Tonight Show" seats.
Tickets for "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" are available by U.S. mail. Info is available on nbc.com. Or if you want to take your chances, standby tickets are available at the NBC Guest Relations Bungalow, 3000 W. Alameda Ave., in beautiful downtown Burbank.
For tickets to "Real Time With Bill Maher," the HBO website directs fans to call (323) 575-4321. (hbo.com/billmaher)
NBC Studios, 3000 W. Alameda Ave., Burbank
CBS Television City, 7800 Beverly Blvd., Hollywood
Culver Studios, 9336 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City
Hollywood Center Studios, 1040 N. Las Palmas Ave., Hollywood
El Capitan Entertainment Centre ("Jimmy Kimmel Live"), 6840 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
Fox Television Studios, 5746 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood
Paramount Studios, 5555 Melrose Ave., Hollywood
Radford MTM CBS Studios, 4024 Radford Ave., Studio City
Sony Pictures Studios, 10202 W. Washington Blvd., Culver City
Sunset-Gower Studios, 1438 N. Gower St., Hollywood
Tribune Studios, 5842 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood
Warner Bros. Studios, 4000 Warner Blvd., Burbank