Adventures in Television

I had a little adventure on Wednesday … a weird adventure, but it was interesting.

In addition to my job hunting efforts on the regular sites, my wife combs CraigsList for job listings. One day last week she found something that wasn’t a job exactly (though it did offer $20), but rather a chance to be in the audience of a pilot episode of a local talk show. I thought, Hey, I’d like to see how those are made, plus it’s 20 bucks, so I applied and got accepted.

Here are the high points:

1. They made us leave our cell phones and cameras in our cars! It’s Communism! I took my phone back, but kept my camera.

2. While we waited in the atrium of the building (with access to cold water and a wide variety of snack treats), I looked around at the facilities as best as I could. Apparently the place where the show taped produces a whole line of training and educational videos, specializing in the areas of security and first response. Near the entrance was a big, circular war-room type area, with lots of ceiling mounted monitors in a circle in the center, surrounded by curved desks for computer workers, and open to the waiting area via a glass wall. Also off the atrium was a small CNN type newsroom, also with the requisite wall of newsroom monitors in the background (one of the stories they were tracking apparently involved The Price Is Right) and the word NEWS in the mandatory Times Roman font repeated on the wall over the TV screens.

There were also some editing booths lining the atrium and visible via windows, one of which was in use, and a young woman was apparently trying to overlay the audio of a woman being interviewed (her video was on the right screen) with footage of an SUV pictured on the left screen.

Needless to say, I was in video-hobbyist heaven.

3, There were some delays, apparently due to not having enough audience members show up, so we were soon shuttled off to Audience Holding Pen #2, which seemed to be some kind of classroom area and which also doubled as the Toastmaster meeting room.

(Hey, I went to a Toastmasters meeting one time, and boy was I disappointed — not one damn piece of toast in the whole place!)

(Sorry, comedian’s reflex.)

ANYWAY: Got to talking to one guy named Dan — Hi, Dan, in case you’re reading this! (I gave him my blog card, of course) — and we got into a discussion of the future of free vs. premium content.

(My argument for free content is that in this Age of Bits, as opposed to the old Age of Atoms, value is determined not by scarcity but by abundance. This was outlined, of course, by Kevin Kelly in his seminal Wired article 10 years ago, and we’re still seeing that principle, The Law of Plentitude, unfold.)

And again we had water and snacks, with the addition this time of bananas.

(PS: Dan didn’t laugh at my Toastmasters joke either, just like you didn’t laugh at it.

4. Finally we were herded like the cattle we are into the taping studio — except that cattle aren’t scanned with metal detectors on the way into the corral.

That’s right, the bastards found my camera, and I had to take it back to the car.

We ended up sitting in the studio for about an hour before anything happened, and even then it was just warmup — but still, it was interesting. It started with local comic Craig Frasier (who I think worked with us in Comics On Tap about 10 years ago), getting the audience loose and laughing, and then the director came out to get sound levels, and a few fake reaction shots.

That was probably the wildest part: The got shots of the audience faking reactions. They had us laugh, and boo, and shake our heads in disgust — keep that in mind when you watch one of those talk shows.

5. Anyway, let’s cut to the chase:

They told us it would be a talk show on the order of Jerry Springer or Maury Povich, but, long story short, it turned out to be more like The Jamie Kennedy Experiment (or Punk’d, or Candid Camera) — in other words, an outlandish situation was put on and our reactions were caught on camera.

Except that several of us figured out that something wasn’t quite right early on: The set that was too small, the first guest who was barely controversial at all, the fact that the lines of the second guest (the setup, the actor posing as the outrageous individual) were on the teleprompter, the fact that the actor’s fake foreign accent was far from convincing …

In fact, when he first came out, he looked to me exactly like Michael McDonald — no, not the mush-mouthed lead “singer” that killed the Doobie Brothers, but rather the MadTV actor. He looked just like McDonald’s character of Stewart, the creepie overgrown child.

In fact, here’s some video of Stewart in actin, in case you’re unfamiliar:

ANYWAY: I don’t think it was actually Michael McDonald that I saw, because I think this guy was too young. I also think he wasn’t ugly enough to be Jamie Kennedy (hey, I’m just saying), although the nose was almost big enough.

But it was certainly the kind of thing Kennedy used to do on his show, and all his lines had over-the-top comedy writing all over them.

So it absolutely was not the real thing, but some of the other folks in the audience didn’t seem to catch on.

The only thing is, they didn’t even tell us, “You’ve been X’ed!” or “You’ve Been Punk’d!” or anything else to that effect. That’s probably because they had to retape that night, and wanted all different audience members (they sent me another email, saying that people who weren’t at the first one were desperately needed for the night taping). Maybe too many of us caught on, or maybe they weren’t satisfied with the actor’s lack of convincingness, or maybe they wanted a version without the audience fanning themselves because it was so miserably hot in the studio.

But anyway, it was a great experience, and I made some new contacts I can use with my job search.

Plus I got 20 bucks.

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