Have you ever wondered what it is like to be at a taping of a late-night talk show? Wonder no more. A few days ago I was able to attend a taping of CBS' Late Show with David Letterman in New York City. (Not a perk of having this job, mind you. It came about through a "lucky coincidence.") So here is my painstakingly detailed account of the show, from start to finish.
I was walking along Broadway (I know... be jealous) and I walked past the Ed Sullivan Theater, where I saw a sign for "free tickets" to attend a taping of Letterman. I thought, well, I'm in town for a few days, why not? So I went in, and I gave them my name and contact information, which they then put into a lottery. They said that if my name was drawn, they would give me a call to let me know.
So I went on throughout the day, doing various stuff. (I was in NYC with other Collegiate editors for a journalism conference, so I was in lecture for the afternoon) Later, after a speech, I checked my phone and lo and behold, I had a voicemail telling me I had won the lottery! (For the Late Show, that is.) So I called back, we exchanged more contact information, and they told me to be at the theater between 4:30 and 5:30 on Monday.
Come Monday, I arrived back at the theater lobby at approximately 5:25 to get my ticket. (Long story on why so late... It involved subways and tours that say they are 1-hour, when they are, in fact, 2-hours long.) They then said to come back to the theater at 6:15. So, I did. Obviously. Because a column on how I didn't see a show could be kind of boring.
Come 6:15, I was standing in ropes to be seated. They had assistants, staffers, interns, whoever, talk to the crowds to warm them up. (Terrificly awesome people, I should add. They were all extremely nice, charming, and funny.) They explained to us that the show has no laugh track, so we needed to laugh at everything. And that the more we laughed, the better the show would be, because then Letterman would know it was going well and would be more comfortable on stage. (Fair enough...) They then began to randomly seat people (and boy, was it random!). I got in to my seat maybe at 6:40, 6:45. I got a balcony seat, which was still okay, because the Ed Sullivan Theater is pretty small in person. Those wide-angle lens on the cameras really do help create the impression that the stage is really big.
Also, the set is a big brighter in person than comes across on the broadcast. The blue on the set were, in person, this brilliant color that I can only describe as Disney Store-blue.
They had their in-house comedian come out and give his own little monologue to warm the crowd up. It had topical humor, which surprised me, because I've heard most in-house comedians just repeat the same act. Over. And. Over. So he warmed us up, the band warmed up, and everybody took their places. A few minutes before the show starts, Letterman likes to come out and talk to the audience for a bit.
Remember how Letterman had heart surgery, and who knows what other health ailments? And he's starting to get up there in age, too. Not old, really, but, he's aging. Well, when it came time for him to come out on to stage and talk to the audience, Letterman RAN on to the set. In one or two bounds, he was there. He is amazingly spry for his age! He didn't have much time to talk to us, about two minutes, then he had to go backstage and wait for the curtain to rise for the show.
You know how you see the graphics on TV when you watch the show? All over the audience are TV monitors that show you the graphics and the camera, as it will appear on broadcast. So you are not only seeing the show on stage, but you can also watch it on TV, before it actually airs on TV.
Interestingly enough, and I don't know why I never thought about this before, but they do edit the show for time during broadcast. The show taped on Monday, but aired on Wednesday. Monday was St. Patrick's Day, but it obviously wasn't on Wednesday. When Letterman came out for the show, I was almost positive he made a joke about how "it still feels like it's St. Patrick's Day." Which was funny for the audience, because we were in on the joke. But either that joke was during the warm-up, or it was too "inside joke" for national television.
Another broadcast edit - and this is a major one - was during the Top 10 list with the cast of Battlestar Galactica. When Letterman was introducing Lieutenant Sharon Valeri, he messed up on the pronunciation of "Valeri" and kept trying to say it in different ways. It was fun, it was cute, and the actress seemed to take it in good spirits. And after the Top 10, Dave made another joke about him trying to pronounce the name. But, for whatever reasons, that was cut from broadcast as well.
Watching the show in the audience, I won't lie, made the show feel like it was just flying by extremely fast. On TV, the Brooke Shields interview lasted a good long while. But in person, it felt like just two minutes and that was that. (Another editing thing: I'm not sure, but that monkey clip may have been longer... Brooke made a joke about "her role" as the woman being attacked by a monkey)
One tough thing is making yourself laugh for all of the jokes, or when you think people should laugh. Because I know when I was TV, the most I'll usually emote is a chuckle or a smile. But here, you had to laugh, because you had the microphones in front of you, you know?)
Did you know that the background can move? Bridges, lights, everything. Behind the skyline is a screen, which hides the band equipment. During the long commercial break before the guest band plays, the skyline is quickly moved, the band set up, and the set put back as quickly as possible.
What about during the other commercial breaks? you ask. Not much happens! The band plays, a video montage of crazy Letterman stunts plays on the monitors, and Letterman & crew go over stage notes, interview questions or whatever else needs to be discussed.
And as soon as the show was over, we all left. On the main stage, there are three main doors to exit. Well, people would flock to just one of the three. So the assistants kept saying "you can leave through this door, too!" but then the whole crowd would move to just THAT door. One person said people were like "lemmings" that night, and, it was hilariously true. (I can report that I was told I was not one, thank you very much.)
If you missed Wednesday night's show, you can read a full recap of it here. And I have to say, considering I chose to recap Lipstick Jungle for this blog because it was something unique, different and unusual for me - and then wound up hating the show - it is pretty funny that I wound up seeing Brooke Shields in person. (I should remind everyone that my problem has always been with the writing, not the actors... The actors are usually the only good thing I have to say about the episodes.)
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is my unnecessarily long and detailed report.