Thursday, February 25, 2010

Old News: Some Television Shows Actually PAY People to Sit in the Audience!

Radar Online is reporting that Craig Ferguson, the guy who hosts "The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson," pays some people to sit in his audience:
“The Craig Ferguson Show is currently using a service for their audience procurement,” an insider tells “They have 100 seats, of which 10 are reserved for house guests, and 30-40 members are through requests for tickets. The rest of the seats, about 50-60, are each paid for by the show. At around $20 per person, that’s almost $1,000 per hour-long taping, which is one expensive laugh machine.”
What is so shocking about this story is that the usually quite sophisticated Radar online is pretending to be surprised by it. As anyone who's ever spent any time in Hollywood can tell you--

Most television shows with an audience pay people to sit there and laugh.

It's true. Many years ago, I did it myself. Three times, actually. Once for Bill Maher's annoying "Politically Incorrect," once for the Kirsty Alley nightmare "Veronica's Closet," and once for something called "The Mike O'Malley Show." I was temping at the time, and the same agency that would send me to offices around Hollywood and Burbank also helped with audience procurement. I didn't take them up on their offers very often, but there were three Tuesdays when I was bored, and curious about the process, so I went.

Let me tell you, I earned every motherf*cking penny.

Have you ever sat through a taping of a television show? It is tedious. The same scenes are shot over and over again, and the audience is instructed to laugh each time. A warm-up person who can't be too entertaining (lest he distract from the show itself -- I heard more than a couple of stories about warm-up guys being fired for being too entertaining) tries to keep the audience primed between scenes, when cameras are re-set, and writers do rewrites. A good show, like "Frasier" (a show that did not have to pay people to sit in the audience; they always had too many who wanted to see it) would be done in two hours. I know because that show filmed on the lot where I worked many years ago. A bad show, like "Veronica's Closet," took more than four hours.

I don't know how long "Veronica's Closet" took, because the temp agency only paid me for four hours and so I left before they were done.

Audience shows don't charge admission. They can't, by law. So they give away tickets, at places like Universal Citywalk and Hollywood Blvd. People get free tickets, but they often don't show up. If it's free anyway, and it's either a show you haven't heard of or a show you just don't care about, you're not terribly motivated to attend. For this reason, the shows contract out with an audience service. The audience service will then go through a temp agency, or use some other means, to ensure warm bodies in the seats.

Now, it so happens that I also worked for awhile for a couple of different audience services. And I can tell you that sometimes we didn't want to pay those premium temp agency prices. Sometimes we'd get groups of high school or college students looking to do a little fundraising, and we'd pay them a small fee to recruit as many (enthusiastic) people as possible.

Sometimes we didn't want to pay those premium HS fundraising prices, so we'd contract with rehab centers to bring people who were struggling with sobriety and needed a little extra scratch. We had to pay particular attention to them, because there's little that is more tempting to someone who's trying to stay clean than the opportunity to sneak away onto a studio back lot and get loaded.

We always tried to seat the people who were there for free, with tickets, first. Then we'd start with the paid audience members. Because seating was limited, there were times when not everyone got in, so they would earn something like an hour's pay. Very little. And boy were they angry. They'd been waiting in line for who knows how long, and then they're turned away with only a fraction of what they'd expected to make, which was probably just enough for one small rock.

Oh, the stories I could tell.

Anyway, it's not just that Craig Ferguson is paying people to sit in his audience -- a lot of the people he's paying are probably from rehab centers. (I don't know which audience service does his show, so I really have no way of knowing if they actually use rehabbers; hence the "probably." But it wouldn't surprise me.)

What does surprise me is this, also from Radar's story:
“No one else in late night pays for any portion of their audience. There’s beyond enough of a demand for tickets to Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon,” said our source. “They regularly have too many people who want to attend,” adding that their studios are much larger, averaging around 200 seats or more.
Leno used to have people lined up at his Burbank studio beginning very early in the afternoon, so I'm not surprised by that. And I've heard that there is a long waiting list to get in for a taping of Letterman's show over in NY. But Jimmy Kimmel doesn't have to pay people? Jimmy Fallon?

With his Scottish accent, his charm, his urbane wit, and his immaculately disheveled appearance, why must he pay people to watch him?

Ferguson pic source.


A.Jaye said...

You ever watched A Question of Sport? I haven't. A friend of mine went to a taping but I didn't listen to what he had to gush 'cos I was suprised he bothered. I always thought only morons offered themselves to be studio audiences - the kind of people who cattle crowd at red carpet events. Now I know different. Thanks to you. Boy the stories you could tell.

So why don't you?

I want more.

(These views are not neccesarily those of Ricky 'Robot' Sprague but they are published on his site so send him your protestations.)

shampoo said...

how weird of radar... I kind of figured this (some audience members get $$) out from just watching tv.

although, I didn't know the rehab stuff until roseanne talked about it and you explained it.

it's interesting to hear the details of it. I figure they get a certain amount of curious tourists who want to see a real tv show being taped, but i'm sure the novelty wears off unless it's a good show. also, tourists tend not to be reliable.

I started thinking about this when I noticed even shows that were horrifyingly bad had full audiences at the taping laughing at non-funny stuff. people don't lol all that easily, really.

well, unless they're drunk. hehe

Ricky Sprague said...

AJaye, most people who offer themselves up as paid audience members are generally unemployable. I was just a temp, and having trouble getting Tuesday night dates. I bet that, given the current state of the economy, there is now a much larger pool from which to draw.

I might just tell some stories. The truth about audience shows is surprisingly dirty.

shampoo -- how long did Roseanne's show last after she "pulled back the curtain" re: audience members? They cancel you for stuff like that.

shampoo said...

ricky, I heard about her saying it in 2009. she said it happened late in the run of her show. I don't know that she spoke about this until recently. but, i'm not sure.

yeah... I would imagine they want to maintain the illusion that everyone in the audience is your fan. during the last two years, roseanne's show got pretty strange... knowing this now makes me wonder if she was trying to make her new audience happy.