Celebrities are the most accessible, oddly enough, when they’re at work. If you’re a Jon Stewart fan and you show up at his favorite deli while he’s eating, chances are you’re probably going to disturb him. But if you get tickets to a taping of “The Daily Show” which he hosts in New York City, your chance of shaking his hand and getting him to sign something is much better.
The stars who work in live television depend on the audience to help them do their job. For sitcoms, the audience provides the laugh track. If the audience doesn’t laugh at a joke, the writers will scramble to modify it or come up with a new one. So when you watch a television sitcom like “Friends,” you’re hearing the actual audience laugh that was at the taping that day and know that they had some input into the final version as well. For late night shows like Stewart’s, the host needs you to laugh at his jokes or he’ll be left high and dry on national TV. And on talk shows like “Ellen” and “Oprah,” the host and producers need to be able to feel out the audience so they know what’s working or not working.
Most TV shows that have a live audience also have a “warm-up guy” whose job is to tell a few jokes, lay out the ground rules, maybe do some audience participation and get everyone in the studio totally warmed up for the show. If there’s a delay or a break in shooting, this guy has to keep things going so the audience doesn’t get bored and leave. He’s also your best bet to get to the on-screen talent and sometimes will even bring a star up to the audience section.
Some stars will hang around after and talk to the audience one on one. Some won’t, but the warm-up guy will talk to anyone, and if you can make him feel important, he can quite often help you get to the people you really want to get to.
Don’t ask the producer if you can go backstage–he’ll say no. Don’t ask an intern if he can get something signed–he’ll say no. But that warm-up guy is usually working so hard (and is maybe even a little annoyed that he’s not the star of the show) that you can sometimes get him to do you a favor if you play your cards right.
TV show taping tickets do not cost money, except for special circumstances like concerts, awards shows and sporting events. Sitcom tapings and game shows are free of charge. Often the audience will be much small than you expected (“The Daily Show” seats maybe 100 people) while half the audience noise in a “Wheel of Fortune” taping is from the crew itself.
The peak television production season is generally August through March for most of the major networks. These include ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, UPN, WB, TNN, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Situation comedies, reality specials and game shows are the ones most likely to require a live audience since dramas don’t require audience interaction.
Remember that a TV show taping is not a quick prospect. You’re not there for just the half hour you see during the final product. You’ve got to be there early, you’ve got to sit around while things are getting set up, you’ve got to go through the “warm up” then the cast will likely do one rehearsal from start to finish. Then they’ll film several takes for each scene so the editors have plenty of options. This can take a long time (often up to eight hours) and they’re not going to serve lunch or dinner partway through (although of course the actors can eat all they want from the catering table backstage and often come out on stage eating to rub in the fact that they’re eating and you can’t). But it’s still fun. Just make sure to eat before you go in, make sure to use the restroom before you take your seat, and turn off your cell phone!Often the funniest part of a live TV taping isn’t the acting itself, it’s what goes on behind the scenes. If an actor is making a joke, the actors off camera will often react to what he or she is saying in an unexpected way. People will crack up, others will adlib, shots will get messed up and have to be repeated. It’s an interesting look at what goes on behind the scenes of television, even if you don’t get to meet the star of the show.
To get a ticket, see the resources below. You normally have to make reservations for popular shows months in advance because they fill up quickly. If all else fails, you can sometimes find studio workers handing out tickets in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater at 6925 Hollywood Boulevard (where the famous handprints are) and in front of the Hollywood & Highland shopping complex next door.
Once you have your ticket, the rules are simple–applaud when you’re told to, laugh when you think something is funny, don’t yell out at random times, don’t curse, don’t disrupt other people around you, stay seated until the end of the show (toilet breaks come before the show, not during) and don’t take photographs.
Remember, if a scene has to be redone, you’re going to have to laugh all over again. Know going in that this isn’t so much about your entertainment as it is your assistance in putting together a good show. If you get bored easily by repetition or having to sit for a long period of time, attending a live TV taping probably isn’t for you. On the other hand, if you enjoy watching how television shows are created and don’t mind following the rules, you’ll have a lot of fun, learn a lot, and