Friday, June 13, 2008

Oh no! A break!

I'm afraid I have to take off for a few weeks. I've nearly run out of shows. I've had no time because of work, and now I'm roaming Appalachia for the next few weeks. Know that Conan, Tyra, the View, and a mysterious new judge show are on the back-burner. After that, who knows? There are only so many TV shows in New York. But I'm not quitting, at least not yet. As long as there is hope for syndication, I'll be fighting to keep reviewing live TV experiences. I just won't for a few weeks.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Morning Show with Mike & Juliet

Breakfast: Au Bon Pain coffee and strangely heartburney danishes (though I shouldn't complain; free breakfast is free breakfast)
Fellow audience: The most white and out-of-town audience yet.
Free gift: a book from "Money Guru Dave Ramsey"

Mike and Juliet are a curious bunch. According to the Times, she is "an attractive over-30 woman who has pursued her career rather than marrying and regrets it...[not a] giggly hot mom like Kelly Ripa; [nor a] model of rectitude and self-sacrifice like Ms. Vieira." She's more than a sad, hot career woman to some, though; unlike her partner, she has a fan blog.

Mike, on the other hand, seems a stalwartly un-self-aware boob full of cheesy, outdated humor. Sample line: when, late in the show, we saw a brief video of a pig poking around with his nose, Mike addressed us when the cameras weren't rolling: "that looks like it hurt his nose. The vet said he'd get him some oik-ment!" That Times article accuses Mike of "leer[ing] at girls like an old stage ham," but I see him as little more than a Fred Willard character come magically to life:

The warm-up guy, apparently a fresh college grad who wants to make it big in TV and won't let a setback like an internship at the Morning Show damper his spirits, gushed about the day's show, and when we responded with tired grumbles instead of enthusiasm, he encouraged us to drink up that coffee. "Hey, it's free!" he said with a boy-next-door smile. "You're gonna love today's show," he gushed. "It's got all kinds of craziness." I seriously doubted that.

We were seated. As we waited for the show to start, I noticed someone had left the camera turned the wrong way. I could see the teleprompter. This is what it read:


And that's when I realized this show might bring some spunk.

Five minutes later, Mike and Juliet were in a heated (though pitched) discussion with a female-to-male transvestite, a doctor who specialized in sex-reassignment therapy for adolescents, and a Christian moralist who opposed them. We'd just gotten back from a lead-in to the show where Mike had said, "Coming up next: a hospital that provides sex-changes...for children as young as seven!"

Doctor: Mike, I'd like to clarify something before we get started. I've never heard of a sex change for a seven year old. What we do is delay puberty for 10-12 year olds if they're having serious gender identity issues. That way they can have a little more time to figure out what their gender is, and how they want to respond to that.

Moralist: What's most alarming to me is that so many children can act on a whim and undergo life-altering surgery. They're just not old enough to make that kind of decision.

Transvestite: With all due respect, I was one of those kids. I've known my whole life that I was a man trapped in a woman's body.

Mike: Yes, that's a good point. But still, don't you think that seven is a bit too young for a sex change?

The show was hectic, with our warm-up guy rushing out at every quiet moment to try and entertain us. Asking us audience members to come down for quick dance sessions, to tell jokes, to offer tickets to a free comedy show (this one was actually free), etc. He tried very hard to be entertaining, and was sadly unsuccessful.

The last section was opened with the teaser: "Can cell phones harm your unborn baby?"
They interviewed a random doctor. He said, "essentially, no. The study was done in the 90s and all it proves is that some women of the women who used cell phones back then had children who ended up with behavioral disorder. I would continue recommending pregnant women not to smoke or drink alcohol."

The warm-up guy was trying to get us to laugh again, lamely, when Juliet walked by and threw a comment to us: "cell phones hurt your baby? Give me a break." That bit of honesty gave me a hearty belly laugh.

The warm-up guy looked up at me from a sweaty failed joke, thinking I was laughing at him. "Thank you! See, guys, at least one person up there thinks I'm funny!"


Take one more Fred Willard. For the road:

Thursday, May 29, 2008

On the Record with Bob Costas

I stood outside a midtown hotel waiting for what was to be the classiest television experience yet. I mean, this is Bob Costas doing a panel-style, sports journalism show, and it's for HBO. Unfortunately, the people in line with me weren't quite as refined. I overheard two dudes (Boston sports fans, I might add, so I should have expected):

"Yeah, her brother did six months in Costa Rica for that thing...Americorps?"
"You mean Greenpeace?"
"Some shit like that."

Anyway, we were seated in a really nice theater. It was a live show, which is such a blessing: it means you know you're not going to be held for two hours after you're supposed to. Just sit back, relax, and wait for the show to start.

A woman came up to the mic. "Guys, we have a great show tonight. Bob's got some great guests, blah, blah blah. But right now we have a special treat..."

A special treat? I thought. Ice cream? T-shirts? We're going to all be guests on the show? Obama's here? We get Hummers?

"Here he is, ladies and gentlemen. Grammy award winning New York comedian...Paul Mecurio!"

Faithful readers know my stance on this man already. Again he did the style of humor that is entirely based on singling out a member of the audience and mocking them. It's not even good-natured. He walked up to a really big guy.

"Whoa! You're like a building with a head! What's your name?"

"David Stein."

"Whew, you're Jewish; you won't fight back."

Then he found another guy. "What do you do?"

"I don't have a job."

Paul was silent. That was the punchline. The guy probably felt great about himself that night. Then he found someone in the audience who had a job that would make one wealthy. He did the "give the poor man a dollar" joke he did at the Daily Show. Again, though, I seemed in the minority in thinking him a total tool. The Boston sports fans in the crowd ate him up.

In parting comments, he reminded everyone to be loud and excited; this is a TV show!
As was the case when Mecurio opened for John Stewart, I breathed a sigh of relief when he left the stage for our the host. Costas came out and said "The comedy stylings of Paul Mecurio. I want to amend something Paul said. While I welcome your enthusiasm, please keep it within reason. If I hear someone yell 'whoo', I'll have them thrown out.

You know, I've said before this blog is to talk about TV experience and definitely not to comment on race. But this was the most interesting of several interesting moments.

On his last panel, Costas spoke to two black sportswriters. To the first, he said "You have said, and I quote [though Kevin is paraphrasing]: 'a lack of good fathers as role models in the black community is to blame for why so many prominent black athletes fail to act responsibly.'"

To the second, Costas said "You have said, and I quote [though again Kevin paraphrases]: the values, or lack of values, of most pro-gang and pro-violence hip-hop is a major catalyst for this country's genocide of young black men.'"

The audience, let me add, was almost entirely white.

Then, three things happened in very short succession:

1. Costas said "I agree with you."

2. The audience, sitting rapt with attention and tension, immediately burst into applause.

3. Costas quickly stood up and addressed the audience, palms out. "Please stop. Stop." He then turned back to the men on his panel to say, "but I feel I can't bring this up. It's not my place. I have to wait for you to say it."

And the audience all said, inwardly, collectively, "whoops".

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Paula's Party Air Date

I just got this from Paula's Party staff. Note that instead of "best wishes", the letter signs off with "best dishes". That's a cooking reference. And that even though it's not Paula who wrote it, the salutation is still addressed to Y'all. She is very southern.

Hey Y'All!

Greetings from Paula's Party!!

We'd like to take this opportunity to THANK YOU for being a part of our studio audience. We hope you had as much fun watching the show as we did putting it together. The show you attended on April 14th in
New York City, “Rainy Day BBQ,” will be airing Friday, May 30th, 2008 at 10:00PM EST on the Food Network. Please be sure to let all the members of your party know. We wouldn't want anyone to miss it!

Thanks again and Enjoy the Show!

Best Dishes,
The Paula's Party Staff

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Paula's Party

Warm-up guy: Former Ms. New Jersey! She's now a mom.
Main dish of the show: "beer-in-the-butt" chicken.
The beer they used: Natty Light.
Paula's husband: Is a tugboat captain. And, as it happens, Beard Papa:
(Many thanks to Danders for making that jpeg when I lacked the tools.)

Paula Deen is a restaurateur and cooking personality best known for being Southern. Apparently she has quite a following. When a woman I know in West Virginia ate at Paula's restaurant, that woman's daughter became so excited that she cried. I want to know that kind of passion. I have never cried over a restaurateur. To be honest, I haven't even really sniffled over a waitress.

Paula's Party is normally taped in Georgia, but my friend Sarah gave me the tip that they were doing a few spots at the Food Network's studio in Chelsea. This was the first time that while standing in line I had to sign a waiver that I wouldn't sue if I got food poisoning as a result of the taping.

The seating was fantastic. It's set up like a dinner theatre, meaning everyone in the audience sat at small tables, with snacks already provided. Though it was just Fritos and cornbread and lemonade, the fact that you could munch the whole show long instead of simply slobbering all over yourself while you watched Ms. Deen cook was a very appreciated gesture (Martha should take notes). The cornbread, I should note, was extremely sweet. It tasted of preservatives. I asked a food and drink-refilling employee (yes, they did that) what the deal was with the cornbread and he said they just baked it recently. I secretly doubted that. I think it was weird, store-bought cornbread.

Dena Blizzard, an honest-to-God former Miss New Jersey, warmed us up. She's a funny, funny woman, though as evidenced by this photo, quite small. Since the show hadn't been to New York before, they had a lot of scheduling kinks to work out, so Dena kept on coming up with stuff to keep us entertained. Stand-up. Dance parties. Trivia contests. Sample question: "What does Paula's husband do for a living? He's a tugboat captain!" Then Dena walked to Paula's husband, who was in the audience, so he could confirm that.

Then more stand-up. Then open mics for people who knew jokes. My girlfriend's contribution, "What was Beethoven's favorite fruit?" and singing "Ba-na-na-na," to the tune of the famous lick from his 9th symphony, went criminally unappreciated.

Anyway, once the show got rolling, it became apparent Paula had no idea what was going on. She did little to no cooking, and spent most of the time talking. That was probably mostly not her fault, but that of her guest host.

Rosie came out like a prom queen, all grins and waves, trying to hold her poise but then breaking stride when she rushed to girlfriend. Why did she do that? We don't know why. The two had never met and in all likelihood will never meet again. Girlfriend later declared the experience "squishy".

Paula seems to have little structure to how she runs her show; she mostly makes chit-chat with the audience or her guest, cooks, and that's that. But when she'd try a little friendly banter with O'Donnell--"So how have you been?", it was met with less-than-entertaining material. "I've been pretty depressed, to be honest. No one wants to hire me--I do NOT want to talk about the View, or the Little One..."

O'Donnell talked about herself so much, and talked so much shit, that it held up the show for probably over an hour. God knows how much they edited out to make the actual episode. She talked about her kids, how much she disliked Donald Trump, how good she was at TV, and how she didn't like Paula's producer, who kept prodding them to get back on track. (The producer, a hulk of an Australian, didn't seem too pleased by the dissent.) She brought about a good bit of Bush bashing with absolutely no prompt but her own meandering monologues. It was a mess.

I was getting restless. I'd been there almost five hours and had work to do. I looked up to where Beard Papa was, to see how he took dealt with all this time wasting. He had bailed. So, so did I.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Guest Blogger #2: A West Virginian goes to the West Virginian Obama Rally! (Televised, therefore relevant)

A press release the Obama campaign randomly emailed me: "Today former Mountaineer Quarterback Major Harris and current Quarterback Pat White announced their support for Senator Barack Obama for president. Both have achieved legendary status in the hearts and minds of Mountaineer fans across the state of West Virginia."

Daily News's headline after the WV primary: HIL BILLY WIN

So again I'm using a guest to do my dirty work. My mom happened to go to the Obama rally Monday, right before he lost West Virginia. Don't worry, my writing will resume next week with a scathing report of Paula's Party, including a special celebrity guest who got weirdly close with my girlfriend without having any idea who she is. Anyway, here's mom and Obama:

Waiting Line time to pick up tickets: Maybe two minutes. I was able to order will-call tickets the night before since I was from "out of town". All of the "local" tickets were gone. [Ed's note: the speech took place in the Civic Center in Charleston, about 50 miles away from our town, Huntington.]

Security: Again, not much of a wait. I had to surrender my Coca Cola umbrella to a table of fellow umbrellas (no claim check, just faith that it would be there when I came out.) The airport type scanners were like those I recall from going to a John Kerry rally, which I guess was four years ago. The uniformed presence was pretty deep, including bomb squad specialists. On the drive back to work afterward, an AWACS plane flew overhead.

On the way into the Civic Center we had passed a multitude of button, poster and Tee shirt vendors. Sometime in the distant past, campaign buttons were free. As we entered the arena, we did find free buttons and literature from the Veterans for Obama for President. Veteran affairs and benefits would prove to be the focus of Obama's message. Since we had white tickets instead of the more desirable blue veterans tickets, we had seats toward the rear of the Civic Center, folding chair seats, that were padded and comfortable as far as folding chairs go. We were seated by 10:45 and the talk was scheduled for 12:15, so there was plenty of time to look around.

Our seats were right on the aisle, next to the press section. I watched one camera man slouch in his seat and slide into a nap. A young woman with the press group dug through her backpack, methodically applied moisturizer and then with the help of a mirror completed the rest of her makeup routine. The camera man awoke and trained his camera on a man on a two step ladder who I assume was his reporter. The reporter stood there for a very long time, his microphone positioned just so, about mid-chest height. Every once in a while he would adjust it just a little bit. He wasn't speaking into the mic, so I can only guess his motivation. Balance practice? Meditation? Some type of isometric exercise? The local TV press was on the far side; I assume the cluster near us traveled with the campaign and they all looked tired and bored.

By 11:00 all the white ticket seats were full and people continued to come in. My husband never misses an opportunity to talk to those around him, so he had lots of conversations, including one with one of Obama's press people. I worried that I would have to fight to defend his chair, because he was in and out of it a bit, but people were polite and respectful of a purse-saved seat. There were a few chants from the crowd but they really didn't gain much momentum. The first was "Yes we Can!", but I must confess I thought they were saying "Let's go Herd!" It was difficult to make out the words. [Ed's note: "Let's go Herd!" is a chant usually heard at Marshall University sporting events.]

The warm up:
Finally a little bit after noon a man came up to the mic and said something to the effect of "testing, testing," to which the crowd responded with cheers and applause. You have to remember we had been sitting there for an hour and a half and this was the most exciting thing that had happened so far. Senator Jay Rockefeller came out next and gave a glowing endorsement introduction. With the audience on their feet, Barack Obama took the stage.

Obama's speech in Charleston. Let me warn you that it's 20 minute long.

At this point I could see nothing at all, being somewhat height challenged and I was grateful when Obama invited everyone to take their seats. With some head bobbing on my part I was able to see him most of the time that he spoke. His talk was largely about Veterans and improving Veterans' programs. When he did say that he was grateful to see so many supporters in light of the fact that Hillary was likely going to be the winner in West Virginia, the audience booed loudly. Obama made a point of taking a jab at a McCain stance on some Veterans issue. The point made was that he was running against John McCain, not Hillary Clinton.
I wanted to write that he was very eloquent, but I've since read that somehow that is an insulting thing to say, somehow implying that it unexpected or surprising that he is an eloquent speaker. Nevertheless, I found him to be compelling. He also looked tired.

Exiting the Civic Center was orderly. And I was pleasantly surprised to be reunited with my Coke umbrella, lying on the table with hundreds of other umbrellas, right where I had left it.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Guest Blogger: Making the Band Season Finale

Kevin's note:

Many thanks to Shannon Bambenek. I had tickets to the finale of making the band but was out of town. I hated to see this opportunity go to waste, so I sent out a few choice inquires to see who most deserved them. Shannon got back to me almost immediately and displayed a vast knowledge of the show (in that she knew at least one band on it). She was a shoo-in. So, without further stalling for time, Shannon's entry:

Arrival time:** 4:45 pm (taping will last until at least 9pm)
Dress:** No hats, No large Logos on shirts, dress casual like you are
going out
You and your guest must be over 16 years old.
You MUST be available for the entire taping.

After reading the invite, I knew I would fit right in, me being a 25 year old 5'10" chick from Texas. My friend and I showed up 'kinda' early and there was a line wrapped around the block of 16 year olds wearing hooker wear... They let the first half in and gave wrist bands out to the rest of the people "that were on the list"... VIP bitch... So as soon as we got our wrist bands, my friend and I headed to the closest bar to get lubed up for ditty. When we returned to the line, we literally were in the same place in line, the end, behind the devout crowd.

Now the second round of people got to go in. We were whisked away, warned if we talk to famous people then we will get thrown out. The group split up into different closets so we could check our coats, bags, and concealed weapons, then filed through the metal detector. In this process, we jumped way ahead in line leaving a good amount of die hard fans behind.

While waiting to get into the studio, the show started without us! Diddy brought an extra 30 people and did not inform MTV, so a bunch of us were stuck in a hallway. Needless to say, we started getting a little riled up. Danity Kane, the only band I actually knew anything about, was up first. We watched the taping on televisions they had mounted to the wall and everything was how I expected. The girls were a little annoying and looking easy. At first I was a little disappointed about missing the only group I had a clue about, but as the show kept taping the people behind me were getting all worked up.

All the thoughts that were running in my head (Damn that weave is bad, she's fat, bad tan, blah blah) were being full on yelled at by the chicks behind me. I was in heaven. The die-hard fans were turning against the bitches and I loved it. They were coming up with shit I didn't even notice, like panty lines and I learned about the best comb to use on weaves.

So after each segment, all the 'celebrities' would dash out of the studio and back into hair and make up. That's where we come in. Since I cut in front of line so much, my friend and i were up close to see them get whisked away. Exciting, I know. When Diddy ran past, I got a glimpse of his iced out cross. His cross literally made me a believer.

Before the next band came on, the boy band, another set of people got to go into the studio while they kicked out others. We inched closer and closer and were the last people to get rejected. shit. But once again, got to see 'stars' scurry. This time when Diddy walked by he said something like, 'Are we still doing this bitchassness shit?' I should have expected he would talk to his lowly crew like that but I was still a little shocked.

Finally, after the boy band, we get to go in and stand in an area in the back. I guess you could call us in the audience but really we are behind the audience, cameras, and crew. I got there just in time to hear Donny, the solo douche from jersey, do his little performance, in which Diddy performs too (!). Diddy has his part in the bridge or something and after he recited his words, he danced. He danced like hes never danced before. Seriously. He dances like hes 50. Pretty awesome. This happened twice cause Diddy fucked up the first time and made them do it again. Live TV it is.

After all the performances were the interviews. At some point, Diddy starts boasting about the word he made up, 'bitchassness'. He has now coined the word 'bitchassness'. Sean John is branding this word and placing it on tshirts that we can all buy and enjoy. He tried to give
the definition of the word, and from what I remember, "it's a disease that is taking over America."

I think it will catch on.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Daily Show

Waiting for the Daily Show is probably the worst wait of any show in New York.

This is the first reason:
Standing in line, a comedian named Paul Mecurio came by and explained how hard-working he is and how hard it is to make it doing stand up. I do not doubt that. He says he had free tickets to his upcoming show. Cool! All you have to do is sign a form that asks for your name, address, email, and phone number. I just gave my email. They'll contact me, he said, when the show's near, and then to redeem my free tickets, all I have to do is pay $10! Plus, they're special tickets, either better seats or cheaper or something. Later, he called out for me by name: "Kevin! Where's Kevin? You forgot to put your phone number!" I didn't really want to give it, but he promised not to abuse it, and I sheepishly finished the form.

Second: Not one, but two guys came out and addressed the audience as the Head of Daily Show Security. One of them gave this tirade:
"Expect airport security. If you are carrying any guns, knives, mace, nunchucks, etc., you must give them to me. Go to the bathroom now because you will not be able to when you enter the studio."
"When will we enter the studio?" I asked.
"I don't know, so everyone go now."
I correctly guessed that we would not enter the studio for over an hour after he said this. This guy does this same thing, we must assume, every day at the same time, five days a week.

This is the second-and-a-half reason.
Several adults in bright, orange-safety colored vests led a large group of children to the street corner where I stood. Breep! went their whistles. Breep breep! Then they crossed the street. Then they turned 90 degrees counterclockwise and crossed that street. Breep breep! They just made loop after loop. Apparently is was "let's practice safely crossing the street" day. Inadvertently it they made it also "let's annoy Kevin with incessant shrill noises" day.

Then, a van drove up, stopped at a stoplight. "Jon Stewart's dead!" he said. "But it's not his fault!"

Undetterred, they finally allowed us inside. Our warm-up guy was no other than Paul Mecurio. This is his style:
"All right, all right! Let's hear you go crazy!"
Those in the audience who are prone to the power of suggestion go woo a lot.

"That was not enough energy. Let's hear you go crazy!"
The same people repeat the same level of woo.

"You know what? I like this guy."
He goes to a guy in the front row.

"What's your name, sir?"
The guy mumbles.

"'Bluh bluh bluh bluh?' That's not a name. Why don't you speak up? Three hundred people are trying to hear you."

"My name's Robert Thompson."

"What do you do, Robert? Are you in finance, or a lawyer?"

"I'm a banker."

"A banker! Did I call it or what?"
Mecurio looks to another person in the front row.

"You, young sir. What's your name?"
"Peter, what do you do for a living? Or is wearing a shirt that ugly your full-time job?"
"Haha. Actually I'm...I'm unemployed."
"He's unemployed!"
Mecurio walks to Robert.

"Peter needs some money, Robert. Give him a dollar."
Robert is hesitant.

"Go on, Robert, you've got tons of money! Give him a dollar. Don't be a scrooge. Give him a dollar."
Robert gives him a dollar.

"Now hug!"
Robert does not want to hug anyone. Mecurio grabs Peter, puts his hand on his back to guide him, and the two awkwardly hug. Mecurio addresses the audience.

"Are you ready for Jon Stewart tonight?"
The audience woos.

"Don't be surprised when you see him come out."
His voice drops to a whisper and he puts his hand out flat, about three feet from the ground.

"He's this tall."

That joke would be funny, I guess. But I went to a taping of the Daily Show about two years ago, before this blog was a twinkle in my eye. And I don't remember who the warm-up guy was, but I remember him being this abrasive. And I remember that same joke.

The audience didn't seem to hate Mecurio nearly as much as I did, but surely at least some were being polite because they were afraid of being called out.

Finally, Stewart came out. I breathed a big sigh of relief. He entertained some questions from the audience before starting the show.

One lady:
"Will this show air today, or do you do several shows a day and have a backlog of them?"

"Miss, are you familiar with the name of the show? Do you ever wonder how we're so topical?"

Stewart really is a professional. Not that I expected any less. He was still chatting with us as his producer counted down to roll tape, seemingly unaware, and then switched at the blink of an eye into total performance mode. I know this is a few years old, but Stewart's the real deal: