Now, Wave for the Camera

By Bruce Cherry

Your complete guide to attending TV show tapings in New York City.

On the set at “LIVE! With Regis and Kelly.” Photo courtesy of Disney-ABC Domestic Television

On the set at “LIVE! With Regis and Kelly.” Photo courtesy of Disney-ABC Domestic Television

Hollywood may be the main taping hub for movies and TV shows (“Law & Order,” R.I.P.), but New York still has the network morning shows and many of the top late-night comedy shows that feature an in-studio audience, such as “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” or “The Daily Show.”

The degree of difficulty for obtaining tickets varies per show. In the case of “Saturday Night Live,” you might have more luck auditioning to be a cast member. Watching “The Today Show” or “The Early Show,” though, merely entails setting an alarm clock and showing up. All the ticketed shows have methods for applying online, and also have stand-by tickets available for those with luck, tenacity, and the opportunity to keep trying.

To attend a taping of “The Late Show with David Letterman,” I stopped by during the posted hours (see next page), armed with essential knowledge, to request tickets in person. The Letterman website warns that, “A ticket will only be issued to those individuals who correctly answer a random trivia question about the show,” and I discovered that they slip that in rather casually. As I filled out a form, a staffer engaged me in small talk, asking what my favorite Letterman bit was. Another staff member with a clipboard listened in, so I figured this might be my trivia moment. I said, “Know Your Cuts of Meat,” and silently hoped that they still do that bit. Evidently they do, because I got a call later in the day confirming my tickets.

My friend and I showed up at the theater at the appointed hour, and as we waited in line, Letterman employees put the audience through a series of applause and laughter drills that are part vaudeville and part basic training, clearly designed to instill the sort of group cohesion necessary for successful show business — or, for that matter, military — undertakings.

All shows that tape or air live have some mechanism for ensuring that the audience exudes the proper level of enthusiasm and understands how to respond for the cameras. This often involves the use of a warm-up comedian. While these comics are trying to get laughs, they also have to impart practical instructions about how and when the audience should applaud.

The extent of instruction and the style of the preshow performance vary. At “The Daily Show,” audience warm-up comedian Paul Mercurio sticks to the basics during his routine, telling the crowd to voice their approval whenever it feels right, and making sure they shut off their cell phones.

While the late night shows generally use professional comedians, “Live! With Regis and Kelly” employs that show’s executive producer, Michael Gelman, who is well-known to fans for his frequent on-air banter with the hosts.

Unlike at Letterman or the other late-night comedy shows, a morning show audience doesn’t have to be primed to laugh. Gelman’s warm-up focuses on applause cheerleading, like advising the crowd to rev up their ovations by clapping faster, not harder. The expectations of the audience are set, in part, by the show’s family feel, which even carries over into commercial breaks. While David Letterman spends those breaks behind his desk, only occasionally addressing the crowd, Regis and Kelly both spend that time going into the stands to chat, sign autographs, and pose for pictures. The hosts’ trademark easygoing style tends to prevent any overly enthusiastic reactions. As Gelman put it, “I think they take their cue from us in terms of politeness and friendliness.”

Tickets for “Live! With Regis and Kelly” must be obtained in advance, and seating is first come, first served. You have to show up early if you want to sit near the front, although how early depends on the eagerness of the other attendees. At a taping I attended, the first spot in line belonged to two women from St. Paul, MN, named Mary and Shari, who got there at 5:30 a.m. Personally, I’m willing to sit a few rows back in exchange for some extra sleep.

For those who like making last-minute decisions and don’t mind rising early, you can be in the crowd for “The Today Show” just by showing up at Rockefeller Plaza before the 7 a.m. start time. The audience stands outside the studios, watching the show on monitors set up inside a bullpen on the Plaza. If you get there early enough, you can stand on the northwest corner, where studio cameras frequently show the crowd behind the anchors. In addition, Al Roker or Stephanie Abrams will do a weather report from inside the bullpen, chatting with people lined up around it like some sort of meteorological petting zoo. The people they choose to talk to on camera tend to have the most colorful and all-American signs, like “Hi Daddy, I Love You” or “My First Time In NYC!” This is one place you might want to disguise the fact that you’re a New Yorker, as “Flatbush loves the Today Show!” might not make it on the air. My advice is to make up a fictional but picturesque-sounding town, something like “Hello, Dewy Springs, Colorado!” Just remember not to wear your Eli Manning jersey.

HOW TO GET TICKETS

THE LATE SHOW WITH JIMMY FALLON

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: latenightwithjimmyfallon.com/about/tickets
PHONE: 212.664.3056
LOCATION: 30 Rockefeller Plaza

GETTING TICKETS IN ADVANCE: Go online or call for tickets, which are booked about one month in advance. You can request up to four tickets and must be at least 17 years old.

There is also a special seating area called “Band Benches,” where fans of the musical guests can watch from an area that surrounds the studio floor. Go to fallonbandbench.com for details.

STANDBY: For standby tickets, show up by 9a.m. on the morning of the taping under the “NBC Studios” marquee on the 49th Street side of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Only one ticket will be issued per person. If any standby tickets are not handed out at 9 a.m., they’re made available at the NBC Studio Tour Desk on the second floor of the NBC Experience Store in Rockefeller Plaza. A standby ticket does not guarantee admission.

LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: cbs.com/late_night/late_show/tickets
PHONE: 212.247.6497
LOCATION: Ed Sullivan Theater. 1697 Broadway, between West 53rd and 54th Streets

GETTING TICKETS IN ADVANCE: Submit a ticket request online, or go to the Ed Sullivan Theater and submit a request in person Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday from 9:30 a.m. to noon, or Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. If you’re selected, someone from the show will contact you between the time you submit and the day of the taping you requested. To get a ticket, you have to correctly answer a Letterman trivia question. You must be 18 years old.

STANDBY: Call at 11 a.m. on the day you wish to attend a taping.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: nbc.com/tickets
PHONE: 212.664.3056
LOCATION: 30 Rockefeller Plaza

GETTING TICKETS IN ADVANCE: Ticket requests are handled by lottery — but only in the month of August — by sending an e-mail to snltickets@nbcuni.com with your contact information. You can’t request a specific date — winners get two tickets to whichever episode is available. Audience members must be at least 16 years old.

STANDBY: Tickets are distributed at 7 a.m. on the 49th Street side of 30 Rockefeller Plaza on the mornings of the tapings. You may choose a standby ticket for either the 8 p.m. dress rehearsal or the 11:30 p.m. live taping. Only one ticket per person. A standby ticket does not guarantee admission.

THE DAILY SHOW

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: thedailyshow.com/tickets
PHONE: 212.586.2477
LOCATION: 733 11th Avenue, between West 51st and 52nd Streets

GETTING TICKETS IN ADVANCE: Check the website for ticket availability for specific dates. Keep checking back, as sometimes dates do open up. You must be 18 to attend.

STANDBY: Call during the week to see if any tickets have become available for that week’s shows. Standby tickets do not guarantee admission.

THE COLBERT REPORT

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: colbertnation.com/tickets
PHONE: 212.586.2477
LOCATION: 513 West 54th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues

GETTING TICKETS IN ADVANCE AND STANDBY: Same as “The Daily Show.”

LIVE! WITH REGIS AND KELLY

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://bventertainment.go.com/tv/buenavista/regisandkelly/get_tickets.html
PHONE: 212.456.2410
LOCATION: Southeast corner of West 67th Street and Columbus Avenue

GETTING TICKETS IN ADVANCE: Request tickets online or by mail at least 6-8 weeks in advance. It’s wise to include multiple back-up dates, as there can be up to a 12-month wait for tickets, which are mailed out approximately one to three weeks prior to the taping date. To request tickets by mail send your name, address, phone number, email address, and the dates you’re able to attend, to:

“Live With Regis and Kelly” Tickets
Ansonia Station
P.O. Box 230-777
New York, NY 10023

Children from 10 to 18 years old can attend if accompanied by an adult.

STANDBY: Show up at the studio before 7 a.m. to get a number for the first come, first served standby line.

THE VIEW

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: theview.abc.go.com/tickets
PHONE: N/A
LOCATION: 320 West 66th Street

GETTING TICKETS IN ADVANCE: Submit a ticket request on the show’s website. New York residents cannot request a specific date. There is a one- to two-year wait for tickets, which are mailed out three weeks prior to the show date. You must be 16 years old to attend.

STANDBY: Show up at the studio between 8 and 9 a.m. on the day of the taping to get a number for first come, first served tickets. Any available tickets are distributed at 10:20 a.m. for an 11a.m. taping.

GOOD MORNING AMERICA

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/gma-audience-good-morning-america-tickets-requests/story?id=9501140
PHONE: 212.930.7855
LOCATION: 7 Times Square (between 44th Street and Broadway)

GETTING TICKETS IN ADVANCE: Use the online form at the GMA website. Include second- and third-choice dates. There is no minimum age to attend a GMA taping.

STANDBY: Go to the studio at 44th and Broadway at 6:45 a.m. and get in the standby line.

THE TODAY SHOW

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: today.msnbc.msn.com
PHONE: N/A
LOCATION: Rockefeller Plaza between 48th and 49th Streets

GETTING TICKETS IN ADVANCE: No ticket is necessary, just show up. The show begins at 7 a.m., but you should arrive 30 minutes or an hour earlier if you want to be in the front row. All ages are welcome.

THE EARLY SHOW

OFFICIAL WEBSITE: cbsnews.com/sections/earlyshow/main500202.shtml
PHONE: N/A
LOCATION: GM Building, 767 Fifth Avenue at 59th Street

GETTING TICKETS IN ADVANCE: As with “The Today Show,” just show up. The audience watches the show from the plaza outside, where various segments are taped. The show begins at 7 a.m., but plan to arrive a little early for the best view. There is no age requirement.

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