Being part of the audience for the taping of a television show might be the quintessential L.A. experience. This is a great way to see Hollywood at work, to find out how your favorite sitcom or talk show is made, and to catch a glimpse of your favorite TV personalities. Timing is important — remember that many series go on hiatus between March and July. And tickets to the top shows are in greater demand than others, so getting your hands on them takes advance planning — and possibly some waiting in line.
Request tickets as far in advance as possible. Series shows may start booking a month or so ahead, and some shows pop up for availability just a few days in advance. Most tickets are given away online these days, and calling is not required. Several episodes may be shot on a single day, so you may be required to remain in the theater for up to 6 hours (in addition to the recommended 1-hr. early check-in).
Each show has its favorite ticket broker. On those sites, you'll be shown a list of shows that are currently filming, and you may not recognize some of the titles; studios are always taping pilots, few of which end up on the air. But you never know who may be starring in them. Look at all the famous faces that have launched new sitcoms in the past couple of years. Tickets are always free, are usually limited to two per person, and are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Many shows don't admit children under the age of 10; in some cases, no one under the age of 18 is admitted.
The sets of most talk shows are kept at a cool temperature (the hot lights raise the temperature on stage and the talent starts to sweat on camera), so be sure to bring a sweater or jacket. But remember that you may have to wait outdoors before the show, so be prepared for that, too. And if you dress well for a show that films the audience — look like you're going to a nice dinner; no tee-shirts or shorts — your chances of getting a front-row seat increase dramatically.
Tickets are sometimes given away to the public outside popular tourist sites like Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and at Universal Studios in the Valley; L.A.'s visitor information centers in Downtown and Hollywood often have tickets as well. But if you're determined to see a particular show, contact the following suppliers:
1iota Productions (www.1iota.com) has some of the most prestigious talk shows such as The Talk (taped at CBS's Radford complex in Studio City) and Jimmy Kimmel's live concert series, held in a parking lot behind his studio on Hollywood Boulevard. It as a wide range of options because it also does some red carpet events and concerts. It has the best website of the three. It even breaks down its future tickets by celebrity on its site—when they're booked by the talk shows, their headshot appears in a list—you can click on their face to sign up to go.
Audiences Unlimited, Inc. (www.tvtickets.com) distributes tickets for sitcoms, including The Big Bang Theory, and for Dr. Phil and America's Funniest Videos.
On Camera Audiences (www.on-camera-audiences.com) specializes in game shows and reality shows, including The Price is Right and Dancing with the Stars (CBS Television City on Fairfax) and Big Brother (CBS Studio Center in Studio City).
Since some shows, such as The Price is Right, tape a few episodes in a day, if you book the first show of the day, you may be asked to stick around and see additional tapings.
It won't do you much good to show up at a studio before showtime and ask for a ticket. Security measures are such that most of them want to have a list of attendees in hand well before showtime.
Jimmy Kimmel Live! is handled by 1iota. Of all the shows, it's easiest to reach by public transportation; the Hollywood/Highland Metro site is underneath it.
The Ellen DeGeneres Show is on the Warner Bros. lot and handles its own ticket distribution through an online calendar at send.ellentv.com/tickets/. Tickets are usually sold out 6–8 weeks ahead.
Conan O'Brien also tapes on the Warner Bros. lot and distributes tickets via http://teamcoco.com/tickets.
Real Time with Bill Maher broadcasts live from CBS Television City on Fairfax on Friday evenings. Book that at www.real-time-with-bill-maher-blog.com. You can also call 323/575-4321 to request tickets by phone. Fun fact: This is the same studio that The Price is Right uses—there are big glittery dollar signs hidden behind the set's black curtains.
Judge Judy, the highest-paid entertainer on TV, flies in on her private jet and records multiple episodes in marathon sessions at Sunset Bronson Studios, then spends the rest of the year elsewhere counting her money. The gallery in her courtroom is usually occupied by paid extras, because they behave better and are willing to pretend like they're talking to each other in between cases. You can try begging for seats by writing her production staff, but don't count on it: Judge Judy, P.O. Box 3049, Hollywood, CA 90078
How to Be a Game Show Contestant
So you've been thinking of taking a chance on fame and fortune the next time you're in L.A., eh? Well, both are more attainable than you might think — Kirstie Alley and Markie Post's careers began with game show appearances; and as far as fortune goes, somebody has to win the big money.
If you're serious about trying to get on a show, be sure you have some flexibility in your schedule; although most production companies go out of their way to give priority to out-of-town contestants, you should be prepared to return to Los Angeles one or more times for a final audition and/or taping. Here are some tips that might help you prepare:
The Bubblier, the Better: Be friendly, cheerful, and bright at your audition and during taping. Be good-natured when you lose or make mistakes, and above all, be exuberant if you win the "big money." When you're onstage, nothing feels quite real.
Dress for Success: Contestant coordinators look for players who won't alienate viewers. It's awfully hard for a granny in the heartland to relate to a trendy big-city type. So dress as conservatively as possible for your auditions, and avoid the fashion no-nos — white, black, loud stripes, metallics — that would require lighting and camera adjustments.
Most Unglamorous Advice: Remember income taxes. Should you be lucky enough to win big, bear in mind that all cash winnings, as well as the retail value of all your prizes, will be reported to the IRS as earnings.
Some Game Shows Currently in Production:
Jeopardy!: Trivia quiz not for the fainthearted (the contestant, that is; watching isn't nearly as difficult!). Being a contestant (it's shot on the Sony lot, which was once the MGM lot) involves passing a round of difficult tests, but you can begin the process at www.jeopardy.com. Audience tickets are found at www.jeopardy.com/show-tickets/.
Wheel of Fortune: Less about your skill with the "Hangman"-style puzzles than your luck spinning the carnival wheel. Apply to be a contestant at www.wheeloffortune.com/jointheshow and apply for audience tickets via www.wheeloffortune.com/be-a-contestant/request-tickets/. It's Jeopardy!'s neighbor on the Sony lot.
The Price Is Right: This is a rare game show for which contestants are actually chosen from the studio audience. If you get tickets to the show, you'll be lined up in groups and interviewed by producers, who select contestants based on that short interaction. On Camera Audiences (above) handles bookings.
Let's Make a Deal: CBS's Wayne Brady-hosted franchise is handled by On Camera Audiences (above) but tapes in an inconvenient location in Van Nuys, deep in the San Fernando Valley. You have to wear a costume, but producers will hook you up with one for $10–$25.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.