Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Day At Television City With Friends And Idols

The "G" in "GOSHtastic" stands for Game shows, so why I've had this blog for about two years and haven't posted this yet is beyond me.  It crossed my mind when the folks at work started seriously grasping my level of fandom, and I recalled an amazing recount written in an email to someone (in January '14, well after starting this blog, so D'Oh :-P) about my trip to see The Price is Right in 2007, in the final months before Bob Barker's retirement.  It was a sad day for fans everywhere when they found out it wasn't just a Halloween hoax that he was leaving the show, so we all scrambled to buy plane tickers and accommodations for a trip to Los Angeles.  At the time, I was a sophomore at Northwestern University.


So, back in 2007...


It was our spring break, and myself plus 21 others from Northwestern (mostly from the marching band or friends of members) were leaving cold, snowy Chicago to head to LA which wasn't exactly all that warm that week either.  Many others in line weren't prepared for that, but having just come from 23 degrees & snowing, we still had all our winter gear with us. :-P  It was clear that many others were having to buy sweatshirts & blankets from the nearby Kmart.

We arrived in line at 4:40 PM for the 1:45 PM taping.  We were taking it that seriously, but figured at that rate, we'd have a really good shot at getting in. Well, in fact, we were the first folks in line.  That meant I got Order of Arrival #0001 and Priority Number #001 for the day (I still have that piece of paper somewhere).  Once we got there, a bunch of others who had been scoping out that spot jumped in right behind us, and we had a pretty good line going after just a couple hours.  I tried to make a point to meet everyone else in line, but when it got to be well past the farmer's market and onto the CVS, it became a bit impractical.  One lady I met (named Sabrina) spent her last dollar getting there, and bummed extra tickets from someone else in line who had extras; she was lucky enough to get to play the Dice Game on that episode.  I think everyone was rooting for her to win!  I met LJ Johnson (Gamefro from golden-road.net) and we had a long conversation on our favorite moments, favorite directors (mostly debating the merits of Breslow vs. Alter), etc.  By then, TPIR was still on its 3rd director -- now they're on their 7th!  As the night went along, the LAPD treated us to a nice police chase show with squad cars zipping up & down the street at ridiculous speeds, plus a helicopter searchlight overhead that caused the several hundred fans in line on the sidewalk to jump up & down & scream & wave.  I'm sure that made it real helpful for them to spot who they were looking for. :-P  By then, other people had lined up for the 4:30 taping as well, so people were waiting on two different tapings.  They finally opened up the studio gates at about 6 AM, handed us our OOA numbers, and dismissed us for a little while.

Everyone waited under the awning outside the studio for quite a while on the way in, seated on benches or jubilantly dancing and playing around.  We really tried hard to keep ourselves awake & entertained during that time, so sitting was not an option for us.  The interviews went super-fast, and then there was a bunch more waiting.  The only thing I had to eat the whole time was a cheap snack at the commissary; I don't even remember feeling hungry the whole time I was there!  Walking up the stairs into the studio felt like entering an important religious site.  However, the whole set looked so small, which made me feel super-small in the grand scheme of things.  I mean, seeing a real life nametag for the first time, first off, was mind-blowing.  I'd have thought even those would be bigger.  They played dance music for a while, then finally Rich Fields did his announcer's warmup bit, including having people practice Ooohing & Ahhhing, which of course goes right out the window when you really react to a prize.  :-P  He emphasized to us not call Bob "Bob Barker" or "Mr. Barker" or anything else besides "Bob".   At last, he had some people come up & dance on stage, and then ... "timpani roll... Production number 3592K of The Price is Right, VTR date 3-19-2007, airdate 4-17-2007, take 1!  <cymbal crash>"

Turns out this was a pretty special taping, since not one but two clips from this episode are available on YouTube.  But for me back then, next thing I knew after that cymbal crash, Bob Barker was out on stage.  I was caught up in the frenetic yelling and cheering in the audience, and didn't even hear any names get called, nor see Bob come through Door #2 (granted, I think something was blocking it from my angle).  The whole opening to the show can be seen here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0fG7fAWerY), including where Bob chastized a contestant for bidding $999 after a fellow before him bid $1,000; just watch and see how he did!  The second game was the cash game 1/2 Off, and let's just say that from my vantage point, I did about as well as the contestant did at guessing which prize was indeed half off.  However, the contestant came into the game with a premonition about which box had the money in it, and his fate can be observed here (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Icajp7Z0_g4).  Also pretty good stuff!

Honestly, I was surprised at how chinsy some of these props looked.  The prop for Dice Game, where the letters on top light up, resembled some kind of old seedy restaurant's billboard where they haven't cleaned the sign in 20 years and it was all yellowing and aging.  However, it looks great on TV, as I'm sure you all are well aware.  The Big Wheel was pretty much as I expected it, as I read how they actually push it through one of the Big Doors while a big curtain is down obscuring the stage, and then when it's time to resume, they lift it up and there it is!  Having watched the show so closely, nothing else about the set besides its sheer size (or lack thereof) really surprised me, except how angled in Door #3 was; I was basically sitting perpendicular to it, in the far back corner of the studio, where I could see just the side of it.  I got a really good view of the turntable area & Rich Fields, who was fun to watch.  One other observation I made is that the curtains in the back were a real stiff linen, and rather transparent because they weren't tightly woven.

Little did I know exactly what went on during the commercial breaks at TV City.  They would dim the lights and Barker would have even more fun with the audience than he just had with the contestant who was just up on stage.  People would ask questions and he'd usually shout out some kind of sarcastic answer.  He always snarkily refused to sign autographs, and when someone asked him to say the line from Happy Gilmore, he said "The Price Is Right, Bitch!"  We all roared with laughter.  He'd give "pep talks" (in his own special way ;) to the contestants who weren't doing so well in Contestant's Row.  I think he pretty much talked with every large group of people out in the audience.  We had 22 people from Northwestern, and UNLV had an even bigger group than us there too.  I wish CBS would have just not bothered with airing commercials in between segments, and simply shown Bob during the breaks.  The show is basically one big, long commercial anyway, and you get to see a side of him that seldom comes out on camera.  Some of my group members were a bit turned off by this, feeling like he was just a big fake who was putting on a show for us while he's really a completely different person.  I know this, and in fact I probably could have made an excellent attorney or witness on behalf of Dian Parkinson during her suit (knowing well some instances on-camera where she might have felt a bit embarrassed by him), but nonetheless I still admire Bob Barker's work & his personality, even when he is grumpy.  While he was talking with us after showcase showdown #1, we sang him a special version of the Northwestern fight song with all the football references replaced with Price is Right references, during which time I ran up & handed him a shirt similar to one of the shirts we were all wearing in the group.  I shook his hand, which was really cool (man his teeth are really not straight at all :-P), and caught a glimpse of the set.  Having paid close attention to the show in my time, I knew they kept a list of pricing games and the general "show order" on some big cue cards right in front of the turntable area by the producer's booth.  Sure enough, I caught a glimpse of it and saw which games they were going to play next.  I couldn't help myself. >-D  But it didn't even matter, because by the time I got back to my seat, I forgot what I had just read!  I told the group I saw the board but couldn't even say what was coming up next.  That's what happens when you try to spoil surprise.  :-P

For how much I watched the show, honestly I'm glad I wasn't called because I was botching everything up.  I couldn't have guessed how many eyes I had on my face that day, it was that bad.  They played Line' em Up fifth, and the contestant pulled off a pretty good come-from-behind win there too; I would have been stumped.  Then all the sudden, it was onto the showcases, and it was really weird to see the prizes just all over the set; they look so neat & organized when they're shown on TV.  Shortly after my taping, I interviewed a contestant who in fact made it to the Showcases back in 1992, and he remembered a real long taping break between the showcases & SC reveal where he almost took a short nap on the stage waiting for the results.  I don't remember such a long break on my episode; it seemed like they went right into calling the results.  Maybe they did have a big stop-down, but it really flew by.  Bob kept the pace up during the breaks for sure, and it was amazing to see how he'd transition so smoothly from joking around with the audience, and in the 2 seconds when the big studio lights would kick back on again, he'd segue right into calling the next player!  Sometimes on the broadcasts, you can hear the audience still laughing at his last comment; he was that good at timing.

At the end, it was a long day and we were all quite tired.  Alas, no one from our group (and oddly, no one from UNLV as well) got called to Come On Down.  Oh well.  On our way out, Rich had to record a couple pickups because he jumbled some words during the live taping.  They asked us all to be very quiet as we filed out of the studio while he did this.  One person went "Whoo!" a little too quickly after he finished, so he had to do some of them over yet again.  That kind of irritated the staff. ;)  After the show, most of the audience was milling around outside and at the Farmers Market still wearing their nametags as proud badges of honor, having just gone through an important rite of passage as American citizens.  Almost two and a half million people have gone to see the show in person over 42 years, and there have been many tens of thousands of contestants; an off-the-cuff calculation of 9 contestants for 180 episodes per year for 40 years brings you to 64,800 contestants.  (Of course, the real number is more difficult to come by, factoring in half-hour years, different lengths of seasons, specials, etc.)  Unlike Bob's comments from that second clip, though, I don't think anyone got to take advice from Kyle ($10,000 winner) after the show since he was so busy filling out all the paperwork you have to when you win something on the show.  It was kind of sad that I didn't really get to talk to the participants afterward.  We re-assembled at the various cars that brought us to the studio, which were parked in the gigantic Farmer's Market parking lot, and headed over to Beverly Hills to a huge mansion (allegedly one of the houses adjacent to Arnold Schwarzenegger's) and recomposed ourselves with some naps & refreshments.  Everyone else in my group went on to explore the sights of Los Angeles the rest of that week; I couldn't have cared less about the rest of that city, and flew back to Dallas the very next day to spend the rest of my break at home, where it was actually a nice temperature. :-P

Epilogue


Next time I attend the show, hopefully I could go backstage or into the director's booth.  I've been into production booths before, but this one would be a very special place.  (Heck, with BriteBlox, maybe I could pay for that product to be on the show and sit in the VIP seats. :-P)  So many great shows have taped at that studio.  To this date, I haven't returned to LA, but have attended a couple "live" shows -- one at Bally's in Vegas in 2008 with David Ruprecht, and the other this past November in Dallas with Jerry Springer.  Jerry was truly a riot, and was real charming with the contestants.  He didn't dwell a whole lot on the Jerry Springer show, but made some funny comments about politics in front of a very red-leaning audience, and made fun of a contestant from Oklahoma (because he knows Texans always like to make fun of Oklahomans).  I miss that level of personal interaction, and could really see a glimpse of Bob in Jerry's hosting.

What did this mean for me while a student?


The front page of my regular website (shameful now that I'm a professional :-P) features a couple stories that some of the Northwestern journalists wrote about me & The Price is Right on slow news days:
On a campus of roughly 8,000 undergraduates, even coming from all sorts of countries, backgrounds & pursuing totally different activities & majors, you can get a reputation for your personality pretty quickly.  It can feel a bit incestuous* at times when you keep seeing -- not just seeing, but forced to do activities on a regular basis with -- a small group of people.  Forget the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, it's more like the two degrees of the person sitting next to you at the dining hall that you'd never guess knows half the campus.  I'd say quite a few folks were aware there was a kid on campus with a huge TPIR obsession; some even knew who I was!  What was really creepy was when girls I dated ran into each other at random in a big group meeting and I'd come up in conversations, with them not knowing that they both went out with me at different times.  Not that I'm that narcissistic; I wasn't even present in the room to steer the conversation to the topic of me, it just happened (at least once...that I know of).  Oh well, it's better than being known as a harlot or something scandalous. :-)

* Incestuous, let me clarify that: At the time, I was dating a girl from ΣΑΙ, and when her sorority sisters would ask me "How's ΦΜΑ?", the fraternity with which they exclusively and frequently did activities, I would tell them I wasn't in ΦΜΑ and their heads would start spinning. :-P  In fact, many of the people on the Price is Right trip were members of ΣΑΙ and ΦΜΑ, and/or in the marching band (NUMB).  In addition, my wife (yes, @DoesItPew, of Android fame) happened to be in NUMB for a year (plus other orchestras and choirs), but was in a different sorority and did not go on the trip with me.  Thus, it was hard for me to avoid musicians while at Northwestern!

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