That’s the Ticket! Live From New York, it’s TV Talks Shows of the Nineties
I sat in the audience of Saturday Night Live and many other popular shows of the nineties to report this story.
By Laurie Sue Brockway
April 19, 1992
It’s 5:30 on a weekday afternoon and I’m sitting snugly in the NBC television studio where “Late Night With David Letterman” is taped. The prospect of seeing Letterman in person is exciting and a bit unnerving: After all, I’ve only seen him about a foot high on my bedroom television screen, and here I am, wondering whether he’ll embarrass me publicly.
About five minutes before tape time, Letterman saunters out, wearing white sneakers and his trademark gap-toothed grin, a jacket slung over his shoulder. Stepping into the audience, he schmoozes and tells a few jokes, behaving like a charm school grad.
Then it’s showtime. Lights dim, cameras roll and my heart starts beating faster than Anton’s drum when Paul Shaffer and the band play the theme music that has been my bedtime lullaby for more than a decade. Then I discover things only someone behind the scenes at a TV show can: Dave, live, looks just like he does on the tube, except taller; Shaffer and Biff Henderson, on the other hand, are shorter than I’d thought. The band plays whole songs, not just the snippets you hear on TV as they cut away to a commercial. And, after the show, Dave shoots out of the studio faster than Cinderella at midnight.
In New York City, the hub of TV talk show land, “Late Night With David Letterman” is the hottest ticket in town; it used to take two years to score. Now, lotteries are held every four months, and two tickets are sent to the winners three to four weeks before the show. So if you’re lucky, it may be less than a four-month wait. (If you’re not lucky, you can send in new requests every four months.)
Serious fans might want to plan a Big Apple outing around the time that tickets become available. But if you’re already planning a trip to New York, there are many other TV show tapings you can attend on shorter notice. Or if you want to gamble, there’s always the chance a standby ticket will become available.
Most of these shows depend on the audience — to laugh, hoot, make facial expressions and participate in heated question-and-answer sessions — and are delighted to provide tickets. Admission is free, and you don’t have to “know someone” to get in. Many shows are flexible about providing tickets for out-of-towners during a requested time period, but keep in mind that the “hot” shows have tighter ticket policies — and longer waiting lists. Just make sure you request your tickets in advance.
When you write for tickets, specify the dates you’ll be in town. Most ticket coordinators prefer to hear from you on postcards that include your address and phone number, although some request a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Keep in mind that most television shows take sporadic hiatus periods and are subject to schedule changes, and always call to confirm before going to the studio.
To join the lottery for “Letterman” tickets, requests should be made on a postcard — one postcard per show, no letters — addressed to “Late Night With David Letterman,” NBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10112. You must be 16 or older to attend a taping. Standby tickets are given out each tape day, Tuesday through Friday, at 8:15 a.m. at NBC on the mezzanine level, 50th Street side of 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Standbys are limited to one ticket per person and do not guarantee admission.
Among other New York shows that offer free tickets:
”Saturday Night Live” is the ultimate in exhilarating TV experiences. As you sit in NBC’s expansive Studio 8-H at 11:30 p.m. on Saturday, anticipation sizzles and a shot of adrenaline pumps through you as that familiar phrase blasts through the roar of applause: “Live from New York, it’s ‘Saturday Night’!”
From the audience vantage point, you’ve privy to all the things the camera never shows — actors scuttling from one scene to another, camera people maneuvering among nine different sets, celebrities getting last-minute makeup. Stick around in the lobby 15 minutes after the show and the stars will sign autographs and pose for pictures on their way to the cast party.
To join the lottery, requests should be made on a postcard — one postcard per show, no letters — addressed to “Saturday Night Live,” NBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10112. For information, call 212–664–4444 or 212–664–3055 (a recording). Audience members must be 16 or older. Standby tickets are passed out on the day of the show at 9:15 a.m. at NBC on the mezzanine of the 50th Street side of Rockefeller Plaza; standbys are standbys are limited to one ticket per person and do not guarantee admission. (When an especially popular guest host is scheduled, people have been known to camp out overnight for standby tickets.)
“Donahue” is an institution and, like Niagara Falls, should be viewed from up close at least once in a lifetime. Host Phil Donahue is taller, thinner, more striking and a bit ditzier in person. This is also your big chance to be on national TV: The producer often starts off the show by revealing some of the upcoming topics and asking if audience members or acquaintances fit the bill.
Request tickets three to five months in advance from “Donahue,” NBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, N.Y. 10112. Information: 212–664–4444 or 212–664–3055 (a recording). Audience members must be 16 or older. The standby ticket line forms about 2:30 p.m. on show days in the Main Hall of Rockefeller Center, and several standbys are usually let in.
The only catch: You have to win a lottery for tickets. (Seats for the afternoon dress rehearsals, which are half an hour longer than the live shows, are available too. Lottery winners receive tickets for either the live show or the rehearsal.) The ticket lottery for next season’s shows will be held at the end of August, and all requests must be postmarked in August (if you mail one earlier it will be discarded).
“Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” sizzles with the energy of live TV. Regis “does” the audience — fooling around before the show, during breaks and after the show, signing autographs and posing for pictures. He’ll even read you his ratings. This is your opportunity for 15 seconds of fame, because cameras pan the audience regularly. Producer Michael Gelman preps the audience on how to clap and smile for the camera. The show is broadcast live, weekdays, from 9 to 10 a.m.
Request tickets on a postcard eight months in advance from “Live” Tickets, Ansonia Station, P.O. Box 777, New York, N.Y. 10023–0777. Information: 212–456–3537. Audience members must be 18 or older. A standby section is set up at 8 a.m. at 67th Street and Columbus Avenue. Empty seats are filled by standbys after the general audience is admitted at 8:30 (there’s a 50–50 chance you’ll get in).
“Sally Jessy Raphael,” the teary-eyed sweetheart of the talk show circuit, makes her audience feel as if they’ve come into her home. The warm-up by executive producer Burt DuBrow is like a comedy routine. Raphael schmoozes with the audiences before the show, and sticks around for photos and autographs afterward.
Request tickets on a postcard two or three months in advance from “Sally Jessy Raphael,” P.O. Box 1400, Radio City Station, New York, N.Y. 10101. Information: 212–582–1722. Audience members must be 17 or older. Standby tickets are available on taping days around 9:45 a.m. at 515 W. 57th St.; the chances of getting in are good.
“The Joan Rivers Show” … Well, can we talk about this? It’s one of the most tightly controlled talk shows: The producers place several audience members in key camera positions, and audience questions are screened. Rivers is a hoot and a half during the breaks, practically doing her act, cursing and saying “Oh pleeeeeeese” a lot.
Request tickets on a postcard or with an SASE two to three months in advance from “Joan Rivers Show” Tickets, Columbus Circle Station, P.O. Box 20701, New York, N.Y. 10023. Audience coordinator Daniel Golden: 212–975–5903. Audience members must be 18 or older. Standby tickets are not available.
“The Maury Povich Show” serves coffee and doughnuts before the show; at the end, you can shake hands with Connie Chung’s hubby. During taping, Povich is very warm and encouraging when members of the audience stand up to ask a question. “This is a talk show, not a listen show — we want you to participate,” says a producer.
Request tickets by postcard or letter four to six weeks in advance from “The Maury Povich Show” Tickets, Chelsea Studios, 221 W. 26th St., New York, N.Y. 10001. Karolyn Kelly, director of audience services: 212–989–3622. Or you can call the day before to see if seats are available for the following day’s taping. Audience members must be 18 or older.
“Geraldo” has a glitzy feel to it. Host Geraldo Rivera is well-groomed and striking, and is reasonably nice to people when they stand up to ask a question, although he asks them before the camera rolls what they’re going to say.
Request tickets by letter with an SASE one month in advance from “Geraldo” Tickets, CBS Television, 524 W. 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019. Information: 212–265–1283. Audience members must be 16 or older. About 45 minutes before taping, standby tickets are sometimes available at 530 W. 57th St.
“A Closer Look With Faith Daniels,” a new daytime talk show produced by NBC News and hosted by “Today” show news anchor Daniels, airs Monday through Friday. Celebrities and prominent newsmakers appear as guests on the show, which spotlights women’s issues, health and finance issues as well as breaking news.
The show resumes taping April 27 at NBC, 30 Rockefeller Plaza, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at noon. Request tickets on a postcard three to four weeks in advance from “A Closer Look With Faith Daniels,” P.O. Box 4682, New York, N.Y. 10185. (You can request a specific date.) Information: 212–664–5482. Audience members must be 16 or older. Standby tickets may be available an hour before taping.
“Attitudes” is one of the most fun tapings in town. Producers don’t harangue the audience about how to applaud and smile, the staff is young and energetic and the hosts are informal. New York City television reporter Rolonda Watts and California talk show host Dorothy Lucey host the show in girlish-giggles and real-life-revelation fashion.
Taping will resume June 15 at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens on Mondays and Tuesdays at 12:15 and 4:30 p.m. through November. There’s usually no waiting list for tickets, but the earlier you request them the better, from “Attitudes,” Lifetime Cable, 34–12 36th St., Astoria, N.Y. 11106. Information: 718–706–3575. Audience members must be 16 or older. Standby tickets are often available about a half-hour before tapings.
“Jane” host Jane Pratt breezes into the studio seeming carefree and funky, garbed in anything from vintage clothing to biker shorts with army boots. Billed as a “young adult talk show” and similar in style to Sassy magazine (of which Pratt is the editor), “Jane” covers topics like snooping on your boyfriend, tattoos and body-piercing, and planned teen pregnancy.
Shows are aired live Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 5 p.m., followed by a 7 p.m. taping for later broadcast. Call or write (include phone number) for tickets at least two weeks in advance from “Jane” Tickets, Times Square Studios, 1481 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10036, 212–730–8001 or 212–730–8011. Audience members must be 18 and older. No standby tickets.
This appeared in newspapers around the country, including The Washington Post, with this bio: Laurie Sue Brockway is editor of the New York-based Star Reporter News Service.