Monday, July 16, 2012

Spectator sport

There are perks to interning at a television studio. Besides all that I've mentioned before - including getting to go on tours of the lot and seeing sets for programs that I've watched on TV and never dreamed I'd get to walk on much less hang out in - there is this little concept called live TV show audience that I've finally experienced as of this afternoon.

I shudder at the idea of daytime talk shows. Besides Ellen, which is one of the only tolerable shows on television between 12 noon and 4 in the afternoon, most of them frustrate me at being so topical and bland, so filled with commercial breaks, so dull and mind-numbing.

After seeing a TV taping - of which show I won't say, but you can draw your own conclusions - I will admit that my opinions have not changed. Yet I can see what fun it is to be a part of a show like that, even if I can't quite see why someone would want to watch it from home.

We walked to the parking structure, from which we would be taken to the soundstage where the talk show was being filmed. We stood outside before shuffling in and being placed at our respective seats. A man came around and asked the ladies to come forward and the men to step back, forcing us all to sit in the front rows so that we could be seen by the cameras. Everything was overly enthusiastic and rushed, much like the rest of the show once it actually got started.

After sitting for a while, we were met by a sort-of warm-up comic-ish-type-person. He wasn't exactly your typical pre-taping comedian (of which I know much about since I've seen tapings of a sitcom that was on several years ago as well as a more recent one of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson), because instead of telling jokes like a stand-up comedian might, he spent most of his time revving up a crowd of most likely menopausal women and their daughters, dressed in bright maxi dresses and heels.

The whole affair was insane and exactly what I expected. After mornings of walking into the studio and seeing women lining up in the parking structure to be taken to the show, I knew what I was in for and I wasn't disappointed. But my judgment came prematurely, because eventually I found myself getting sort of wrapped up in the process as well.

That isn't to say I enjoyed being told to scream and clap and sigh and wooh and gasp and etc. etc. at the warm-up guy's beck and call. In fact, the trained monkey aspect was lost on me, and I ended up being lame and simply clapping for most of the show. But throughout the afternoon, I began to get why women come to a show like this and why there are even regular customers who go to the show every week - so regular, in fact, that they've had to come up with a policy to allow regulars to only attend one taping per week.

Though I had trouble allowing myself to let loose and scream when necessary, or go nuts when the cameras were turned on the audience, I started to find myself wrapped up in the process. Going to a taping is like getting to go on a studio tour - it's a backstage look into a world in which you might never get a chance to be involved otherwise. When you go to a daytime talk show taping, you see the smallness of the set, the plethora of lights, the weird set pieces that seem to serve no purpose save for ambiance, the masses of people that hang out around the audience making sure that everything from cue cards to cameras to the cast members' hair and makeup run absolutely smoothly.

And for someone who hasn't had the experience of working in or seeing that sort of environment - I have a few times, so perhaps I didn't achieve the full effect of the enthusiasm that the others felt - it's an intriguing concept.

As I sat in the audience, I felt the wonder of the people around me. At one point during the second show taping (there were two in one afternoon), a man sitting behind my friend and I started talking about something one of the hosts had said and just confoundedly arguing with himself and the people near him about whatever was going on. It was the kind of thing you might encounter in someone's private living room, except the conversation became all the more heated and enthusiastic. I would be stupid not to attribute that to the setting.

Because being involved in television is something unlike anything else. Even working on a film set or a stage show doesn't exactly compare. Because television is multi-camera and very hands-on. There are crew members everywhere, and it's fast-paced. Like a newsroom, but on crack. Because in television, everything is on a budget and on a time schedule. There's no room for dilly dallying or alterations, because when you do - your air time is gone.

I think that's what really draws people to a daytime show. Besides maybe those who get wrapped up in conversations about the sex lives of politicians or who the next judge on American Idol will be, or the people who get star struck by celebrity hosts - and those people to exist - there are also those who just want the opportunity to see inside a studio. To finally get out from behind the TV and get into it, even if that means just sitting and watching things happen.

From my childhood perspective of watching a TV taping of one of my favorite shows to sitting in the front row and getting on camera at a daytime talk show, I can see where I've come full circle. At first I was one of those people, basking in the glory of the television industry and finally understanding what life behind the camera was like. It gave me insights that I brought to school with me and into my life, giving me an awareness of the production process that most people don't quite have.

Then I became one of those people for whom studio sets became less of a novelty and more of something to study and understand. And over time, with my internship opportunity and otherwise, I've managed to become a student of television. It has made me appreciate daytime talk shows from a new perspective (which is crucial because for so long I didn't enjoy them at all). What I appreciate of these shows is their intricate plans and ways of pulling together in such short production times. In front of a live studio audience, they put together an hour-long program with guests and topical cue cards and co-hosts with hair higher than Mount Everest. And it all works out.

It makes one marvel as a spectator. And appreciate as a colleague.

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