Last week my new wife and I flew to Los Angeles on short notice. She had a business meeting on Valentine’s Day and asked me to go with her so we wouldn’t have to spend our first Valentine’s Day together 2500 miles apart.
I had the option of cooping myself up in the hotel room and working or heading on down to CBS Television City and waiting in line for 8 hours to get into the studio audience of The Price is Right, a game show I have watched off-and-on since I was a 4-year old in Wood, South Dakota. Despite the fact the Beverly Hilton promised me free and fast WiFi, a mini-fridge, a 42-inch plasma TV with HBO and a very comfy bed with a Simply Sleep mattress I chose to get up at 5:00 AM and drive the deserted streets of Beverly Hills and wait in line with 150+ other people to get a line ticket.
At 6:00 AM, they started handing out line tickets which only gets you into the studio lot and the audience waiting area; a covered-bench area with highly-uncomfortable steel benches. You are instructed to come back to the studio at 8:00 AM. Most people wandered off to find breakfast. The waiting begins.
At 8:00 AM, they let the line-tickets holders in and if you have a ticket the pages write your audience member number in big letters on it. My number was #126. Tickets can be requested before the show via mail or online. I got lucky and was able to get one of the last online tickets on February 6. Their online system emails you a confirmation, which you process and then you simply print your ticket and take it with you. Very simple. After you are numbered, they ask you to come back at 10:00 AM. More waiting.
At 10:00 AM everyone is asked to line up on the uncomfortable, covered benches by number. The benches have number ranges printed on them, and it takes a full half hour for this wide cross-section of Middle America to get in line. Only after people realize that you can’t really line-cut do they start moving to let others in who have numbers lower than theirs.
Once this is done everyone trades their line-ticket for a green studio audience ticket. You write in your full, legal name and Social Security Number on one half and the other half has your ticket number in large print. The CBS pages then collect these tickets and 2-3 other pages start the process of writing name tags for 300+ people. This takes several hours. The page (whose name was Mike) couldn’t fit “Cameron” on the name tag on the first try so he had to use a marker with a skinnier tip on the second try. The result is I have a spare TPIR nametag with “Camer” on it.
By 1:00 PM, they start processing the first 100 studio audience members. The first 80 are asked to walk around the corner to a quieter area, where a very brief screening is done. This is done by taking 8-10 people at a time, lining them up against a railing and a cheerful guy in a goatee starts asking the same questions over and over again. “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?” Audience members, all of who have been standing in line and waiting around for at least 6 hours (some for 12 hours!) are expected to remain happy and animated when answering these questions. Most people answered quickly and the screener went on to the next person I line. I was the last one in my group of 10 and answered “I’m Cameron and I’m from NYC. I’m a blogger and a consultant.” The screener asked “A what?” I repeated myself and he said, “A blogger? Well, enjoy the blogs!” which made no sense to me at all. It’s important to mention that I was also wearing my old navy blue Blogger t-shirt with the big letter B in an orange square.
After you are screened, you are asked to sit in another set of benches until about 2:15 PM. The audience is then led into the studio and seated. You do not get to pick your seat, but rather they fill up the rows from the front to back with the center section filling first. I ended up about three quarters of the way back in the right-center section, nowhere near an aisle. My plans for quickly running down to Contestant’s Row were foiled!
The first thing you notice about the studio is that is very small; far smaller than it looks on TV. You also notice the stage which is a gleaming white. On TV, it is white but you don’t realize it. The second thing you notice is that it’s FREEZING in the studio, probably about 60 degrees. I have pretty good blood circulation and can tolerate cold offices and apartments pretty well, but even I thought it was freezing in the studio. I felt bad for all those Middle Americans who showed up in shorts and t-shirts.
Once the audience is seated, the announcer Rich Fields warms up the audience, tells a few jokes and has us practice screaming and yelling when Bob Barker comes on stage. They also go over a few things. They realize that the audience makes so much noise that people cannot hear their names being called so they instruct people to look at one of the assistant producers up on stage who will be holding cards with a contestant’s name on it. They also test the sound system and wow is it loud. I realize this is partly to accompany the sheer decibel levels of 300+ screaming audience members. They also reiterate some of the rules they announced while waiting outside: no gum whatsoever. Most people do not realize how awful they look while chewing gum and the last thing the producers want is for some schmuck to spit their gum out on national TV or get it in Bob Barker’s hair or whatever. They also mention again that if you are a contestant and are caught with a price-list of any kind, you will forfeit any prizes you have won. This includes price-lists on family members or members of a group you are with. It never occurred to me that someone might try to cheat on this show, but the fact that they have this rule means that someone must have tried at some point in the past.
After 10 minutes or so of warm-up, including the announcer picking 6 people out of the audience to dance on stage, the show is about to start. Rich Fields announces the names of four people and the audience looks around to see who the lucky people are. Once they are down at Contestant’s Row, Rich announces Bob Barker and he comes out onto stage. He’s looking old. It’s amazing he’s even doing the show anymore. Part of me respects the man for his commitment but another part wonders if he’s going to kick the bucket in the next couple of years.
As soon as Bob is on stage, the show starts almost immediately. I figured that taping would take nearly two hours, because of commercial breaks and prize/game setup but I was wrong. The entire taping of the hour-long show took about 70 minutes (before commercials are added in, the show is about 42 minutes). And boy do they move fast. They really have it down to a science. The camera operators know exactly where to go and what to do at exactly the right time. During the taping, there are no less than 8-10 people on stage at one time. This includes Bob, the contestant, 2-3 camera operators, the Price is Right girls and the prizes, the guys who move the games (Plinko, Card Game, Double Prices, Flip Flop, etc.) into place, a couple of assistant producers and some other people who I couldn’t identify. Watching them move around stage was eerily like a watching a ballet with big television cameras on wheel.
In hindsight, I realized that contestants are not picked at random. The screening we all go through serves a purpose: it gives the producers a chance to craft the right mix of people to be contestants. They tend to choose people who wear home-made t-shirts that reference TPIR or Bob. Brand-name logo-ed shirts are not forbidden but it drastically reduces your chances of getting chosen to be a contestant, since CBS does not like giving away free advertising. Generally, it is a good idea to wear a custom-made t-shirt, a college t-shirt or sweatshirt or something that has no logo on it. Recently, the producers have been choosing a good number of people who show up in military uniform or who wear clothing that says they are “military wives” or some other kind of military affiliation. If I were to go again, I would spend the $10 or whatever and get a “Blogs for Bob” t-shirt made. It probably would increase my odds of getting chosen.
Lastly, I truly enjoyed the experience of being in the studio audience of TPIR and am not disappointed that I did not get chosen to be a contestant. It was fascinating to go through the process and see how a TV game show is made. As a learning experience it was very interesting, but after living in NYC for six years, waiting around for 8+ hours with a bunch of people I’d rather not be around was truly a test of my patience. I’m not sure if I’d go again if I had the opportunity to be in L.A. with a day to kill.
All six of the contestants on the show I attended a taping for lost their Price is Right games, only the 71st time that has happened in 34 years. The show I was part of was #3544; it taped on February 14, 2006 and airs February 23, 2006 at 11:00 AM EST.
Posted by Cameron Barrett at February 20, 2006 04:20 PM