Taping report - 5/15/2012

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Jim Ellwanger

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May 16, 2012, 3:18:39 PM5/16/12
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Even though I've been watching and enjoying Conan since 1993, I'd only
ever been to one show taping, at NBC in Burbank on November 11, 1999. (I
also saw the "Legally Prohibited..." tour at Universal City.)

I never made it to "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien" (figuring I'd
have plenty of time to go, if I ever had someone visiting from out of
town). I didn't want to make that mistake with "Conan," so I'd
occasionally remembered to sign up for tickets on their website, but had
never been awarded tickets.

I've been unemployed since the end of February, and since I don't live
too far from Warner Bros., I'd thought about going down to the studio
some morning to try to get a standby ticket, but never managed to get my
act together to do it. (The one day I ALMOST did it, I checked at the
last minute and discovered it was a hiatus day...whoops.)

Then, on Tuesday, May 15, when I didn't have much going on, Team Coco
made a post to Facebook at about 11:30 saying that a limited number of
standby tickets were still available if you could get to Warner Bros. by
12:30. I spent about 10 minutes dithering on whether or not to go, but
eventually decided to make the trip.

The entrance for "Conan" audiences is at Warner Bros. "Gate 8," which is
a parking garage that's actually across Forest Lawn Drive from the
studio itself. I quickly found a parking space on Forest Lawn and walked
into the garage, where a corner of the entry level has been turned into
a "Conan" audience waiting area with benches and a T-shirt stand. I went
through the metal detector, had my ID checked, got my hand stamped, got
a "Conan" wristband, and went up to the show "receptionist" and said, "I
heard you still had standby tickets available..."

"How many -- just one? I can actually give you a regular ticket," she
said, and handed it over along with a white laminated number 72 card.
"We're starting at 12:30. Make sure you use the restroom now if you need
to, since you won't get to once you leave here."

(The ticket: http://www.flickr.com/photos/trainman/7206094116/ )

I sat down and quickly discovered that I wasn't getting good reception
on my phone, so I was barely able to check in on Foursquare as suggested
on the ticket.

At 12:30, they started the procedure of lining people up. First they
called for purple cards, which I assume could be some kind of VIP, but I
don't think anyone had one of those. Then came the white cards, and it
was 1 through 10 and send them outside, 11 through 20 and send them
outside, 21 through 30...

The 70s turned out to be the last group of white cards; there were still
a few people holding yellow cards sitting on the benches, which I assume
were people who did get standby tickets.

With various Warner Bros. personnel in fluorescent vests directing us,
we crossed Forest Lawn at the crosswalk, had our hand stamps checked at
another security booth (and got to walk through a metal detector without
stopping if the stamp was intact), walked some more, and finally arrived
at a covered "pen" area that looked like the line for an amusement park
ride, with TV monitors showing last Thursday's "Conan" episode. (Along
the way, someone asked "What do you do when it rains?" The answer was,
"They bus the audiences up.")

I talked a bit to the older couple in front of me in line, who'd come up
from San Diego and had also seen "Ellen" and "The Big Bang Theory" on
their trip.

The "Conan" episode cut off after the second segment, and it wasn't too
much longer before people started being led away, in groups of about 20.

Eventually, I got to make the trip, led by someone else in a fluorescent
vest, a fairly long walk past Warner Bros. sound stages. I'd actually
taken the Warner Bros. "VIP" studio tour in 2001, so it all looked very
familiar. (Along the walk, one sound stage had its door open. It was
empty.)

Arriving at Stage 15, I finally got to hand my 72 card back, and went
inside and up the stairs to the top of the audience area. I was directed
to a single vacant seat on the aisle in the 6th row -- a good seat for
viewing the show, but not the aisle they use for any comedy bits that
take place in the audience. (Someone who came in after me got a seat on
the aisle in the 4th row. Maybe they thought he looked younger.)

Music played over the P.A. system; the one song I remember is "Dream
Police" by Cheap Trick. I saw a plainclothes WB security officer, who
looked a lot like Mark Pender, talking to the people sitting in the
front row (I assume warning them not to trip the cameramen), and a
uniformed security officer had a chat with someone who took a photo with
their cell phone. Despite earlier admonitions, some people were allowed
to use the restroom.

Not all the seats were filled -- the top row in the middle section, I
believe, remained vacant.

At about 1:40, Jimmy Pardo came out for his warmup, first introducing a
WB fire officer who spoke about safety procedures, and then doing the
warmup itself. It was pretty funny; he did a lot of "crowd work" as part
of it.

He then introduced the Basic Cable Band, which did pretty much the same
warmup I remembered the Max Weinberg 7 doing in 1999, including Mark
Pender showing off his note-holding ability.

And then the show started. I guess I could best describe it as
"workmanlike." I was a little disappointed that there wasn't a comedy
bit requiring elaborate staging (would have been fun to see in person)
or a musical guest. However, due to Conan and Andy, at least, leaving
after the show to travel to New York for TBS's upfront presentation --
hence the earlier-than-normal taping, and the fact that it was the last
taping of the week -- it makes sense that they wouldn't do anything
"complicated."

A few observations, based on both being at the taping in person and then
watching it on TV 6 hours later:

* Looking at the set background in person, it's obvious that the lights
on the "buildings" on the sides of the "bay" are just standard little
white lights akin to Christmas tree bulbs -- they look better on TV.

* Andy puts on headphones while doing the opening announcement ("oh, of
course he does," said I, veteran of college radio).

* The "Nickelback" guys shown during the monologue were on the other
side of the audience from me.

* During the taped "Peanut Players" comedy bit at the end of the
monologue, Conan stood with his head down, not actually watching it, as
far as I could tell. I couldn't help notice the "National Restaurant
Association" sign on one of the buildings in the bit, obviously left
over from when they did a similar bit involving Herman Cain.

* I don't think any monologue jokes or "Celebrity Survey" bits were cut.
(And incidentally, I wish they didn't go to the "Larry King is old" well
as often as they do.)

* Bill Maher almost immediately referring to the fact that the taping
was taking place at 2:00 was, of course, amusing.

* Gregg Allman was speaking quietly enough that, from where I was
sitting, he was competing with the sound of the air conditioner. It
seemed like his segment was running a bit long, and a portion of it was
cut, but I don't remember what was discussed during the cut section.

* I was trying to remember the name of Jimmy Carter's mother after she
was mentioned; it wasn't until I saw the show on TV that I heard that
Andy had said "Lillian" at one point -- of course he knew it offhand,
that's why he did so well on celebrity "Jeopardy!".

* Hannibal Buress seemed really nervous when he first came out (it
almost seemed as if he'd forgotten to really introduce himself), but
recovered. Over on the couch, Andy in particular was enjoying the jokes.
Unlike Conan doing his monologue, the comedians don't really face the
audience head-on; they stand even with the curtain, which is at a
diagonal.

After the show, it turned out that I was in the aisle that Conan uses to
perform his "end of the show song" (a new addition since 1999). So I was
briefly about an arm's length away from him, but I restrained myself.

Going down the stairs, I checked my watch: 2:59. (I think the
commercial breaks may be a bit shorter during the taping than they
actually are on TBS.) We were led out in groups, accompanied all the
way back to the crosswalk for Forest Lawn.

I crossed and went to my car, realizing that I hadn't paid much
attention to any signs when I parked -- I actually wasn't expecting the
taping to have started so early, and thought I'd have a chance to go get
lunch (and move my car in the process). Turned out that the only
restriction was "no parking nightly 2 AM to 4 AM."

I was home by 3:25, so the whole experience had only taken 3 hours and
45 minutes.

--
Jim Ellwanger <use...@ellwanger.tv>
<http://www.ellwanger.tv> welcomes you daily.
"The days turn into nights; at night, you hear the trains."
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