When television was in its infancy, most American programs were produced in, and broadcast from, New York. Over time, the majority of the major studios moved to California; the shows that remained here were primarily news, variety and daytime programs including soap operas, game and talk shows.
When I was a kid, schools around New York frequently sent students on excursions to the sets of local shows. I have memories of sitting with my classmates and obediently obeying APPLAUSE signs at game shows, but by 6th grade I was bored with the whole experience. As a result, I haven’t been part of a studio audience since junior high school — until today when, much to my surprise, I sat in on the taping of two daytime television shows.
The day began with a visit to The View, described on its Web site as a “morning chatfest, featuring a team of dynamic women of different ages, experiences and backgrounds discussing the most exciting events of the day.” There is a one-year waiting list for tickets and audience members must conform to a dress code (business casual, bright colors preferred).
Once we entered the ABC building on the Upper West Side, we were greeted by a warm-up comedian who engaged the (primarily female) crowd while we stood on line and watched busy staff members come and go. We were warned that there were no bathroom breaks, told to turn off mobile devices, and welcomed inside the studio. As we entered, we were handed packets of chocolate chip cookies and bottles of juice (I would have loved that during those 6th grade tapings of Tic-Tac-Dough) and shown to our assigned seats.
The show is broadcast live and once it began, it went at a furious pace. Hair and makeup people kept rearranging stray hairs, adding dabs of powder, and ducking out of camera range. The hosts for the day included Rosie O’Donnell, Elizabeth Hasselbeck and Joy Behar. Goldie Hawn served as a guest host and Brooke Shields and Gena Rowlands were the guests.
During commercial breaks the hosts waded out into the audience, answered questions and posed for photos. One audience member (sadly, not me) was selected for a trip to London and we all received gift bags containing a Barbra Streisand CD and an assortment of Tupperware.
We emerged onto West 66th Street where eager young men and women offered us tickets to the Montel Show. When? “Now!,” they cried. “You have to go now! Just take a cab and we’ll pay your cab fare!” Um, OK. But before jumping into a taxi, I asked for a note containing the name of the person who would give me the money and made sure to ask the driver for a receipt.
The Web site for the Montel Show says that it is, “entertaining, informative and relatable … a testament to Mr. Williams’ sincerity and compassion, in addition to his willingness to tackle complex issues head on.”
The differences between the shows were apparent even before we entered the building. While the line to get into The View was orderly and well-managed, with frequent announcements about how soon the doors would open, no one seemed to be in charge of those waiting outside The Montel Show. People milled around, pushed and shoved for position and quarrelled about where the line began and how long we’d have to wait for admittance.
Finally, the doors opened. We were herded into a dark, dingy room equipped with pots of tepid coffee (no cups), several large, plastic garbage cans, a broken soda vending machine and a large color photo of the show’s host, Montel Williams.
When the doors (which bore a large sign warning us not to take photos) finally opened, we were told to keep mobile devices in sight (“hold them up next to your face”) so the security staff could examine them and passed through metal detectors. Finally, we entered the studio. Smaller and darker than that of The View, there was no warm up, no snacks, no comedy. We sat and waited until the host himself came out and sternly recited a long list of rules that his audience must follow (“If I point at you, I mean MOVE NOW!”).
The single guest was self-proclaimed psychic Sylvia Browne. The audience members included several who claimed to have come from as far away as Greece and Australia, simply for the opportunity to ask her a single question.
For the next two hours, the raspy-voiced psychic clicked her long, lacquered nails, the host barked out orders and the audience members meekly did their best to obey, lest they joined those who failed and were in disgrace (“Nope, you can’t ask your question. You blew it.”).
The show is taped and several times during the production the host halted the action and ordered some changes to the equipment or demanded that a segment be repeated. The most bizarre moment occured off-camera when an unidentified man, who was clearly a staff member, stood up and prompted the host to discuss his hawkish political views and ambitions.
At the end of the taping, as the audience was being herded out the door, I began to search for the person who was supposed to pay for our cab fare. Good thing I’d obtained a note from the people who’d given us the tickets and had a receipt from the driver.
It took a while, and there was a bit of quibbling when I insisted on being reimbursed for the tip, too, but they finally came through. I felt sorry for a mother and daughter duo, though. They had been approached outside The View, too, and the people who’d given them tickets promised that lunch would be served after the taping. Nope, no food was available, not even a piece of gum; the promise was just a way to fill the empty seats.
By the way, just for the record, I’m not a regular viewer of either show.
Rosie & staff member with Goldie Hawn & Brooke Shields
Originally uploaded by annulla.