Friday, June 29, 2012

Getting tickets to see TV shows

Wrapping up the week and month with Friday Questions.

Unknown starts us off. At least he’s not Anonymous.

I have a friend who is taking his wife and teenage kids to L.A. in August and wonder if you have any "insider" suggestions for studio tours and the like. Is it too late to try to get tickets to a filming of show? Or are these something they'll have the opportunity to get same day (assuming they pick the right day)?

Call or write the networks ahead of time to get tickets to watch tapings of sitcoms or talk shows. Or at least when you get here. There used to be a booth at Farmers Market on 3rd and Fairfax that would issue tickets to TV shows.  There might also be one in Hollywood. 

First thing you need to know is this: tickets to all television shows are free. That goes for THE BIG BANG THEORY, AMERICAN IDOL, even DR. PHIL. So don’t let any scalper or studio executive try to sell them to you.

Some shows are in great demand and have long waiting lists. Typical capacity for TV studio audience is about 200. Popular shows are a tough ticket as are game shows like THE PRICE IS RIGHT where audience members could become contestants and win crap.

On the other hand, new shows have trouble getting audiences and often have to hire companies to bus groups in. It’s pot luck what you get. It could be the next FRIENDS or the next JOEY.  But it's a show. And it's air conditioned. 

If there’s a specific show you want to see, contact that show directly.  The sooner the better.

Most sitcoms film from August to March.  Game shows are on cycles.  I believe JEOPARDY resumes in July.  Alex should be sufficiently recovered by then.  

Also, note that sometimes game shows tape two or three episodes at one time. They’ll tape one show, change wardrobe, take a break, and a half-hour later tape the next one. So allow yourself some time.

As for tours, they’re all very touristy. Universal is the biggest.  Don't expect to see any real movies being filmed.  You will see authentic gift shops however.  But it's cool to be on the lot.   Paramount used to have a walking guided tour that was an absolute joke.  They'd take tours into the studio barbershop.  Now that there’s even fewer shows on the lot, if the tour still exists it’s really bogus.

I don’t know whether 20th, Sony, Warners, or CBS Radford have tours. Check them out though. Either one of those lots would be worth seeing.

Tom in Vegas has a question I’m often asked.

What exactly does a show runner do? I've never seen this title listed in an credits, and I'm wondering if it's the same as a producer?

It’s fascinating that there are so many titles and yet not one for the person who’s actually in charge.

In short, the show runner is the ultimate boss. He has final say on scripts, casting, post production, hiring staff and directors. He dictates the tone of the show, and has final cut. Along with all that power comes tremendous responsibility and pressure.

The show runner must deal with the actors, network, studio, business affairs, agents, managers, and critics. In addition to whatever creative gifts they have it is most helpful if they have a Masters degree in Economics, Psychology, and child rearing.

And if possible, they should be able to function at peak capacity under severe sleep deprivation… for nine months.

You’d think for all that they’d be entitled to a less generic title. It’s like calling astronauts “space guys” or Supreme Court justices “top deciders.”

From Amy:

When stars get their own sitcoms, why do their characters tend to share their first name, even in cases (unlike Seinfeld, for instance) where they're playing an entirely different person? Do the networks think that we won't recognize them otherwise?

This is one where I’d have to take a guess, and your guess may be as good as mine. In some cases I think it’s a way for the star to subliminally remind you (and everyone else) that it’s THEIR show.

And in other cases, the actor is just so identified with their name that it would seem weird to have them answer to anything else. I mean, Lucille Ball was LUCY. You could call her Madge but who are we kidding? She’s LUCY.

And finally, Scott Miller has a question that relates to my new book, which you should buy already.

How did you find high school/college age radio geeks around the country pre internet? I would have joined you in NYC or Pittsburgh, but I'm a couple of years younger than you.

I used to write radio stations from around the country asking for tapes of their programs and jingles (thus making me the all-time King of Nerds). A few would comply, most would ignore, but some sent me the names of other radio geeks who had also requested tapes. I contacted them. A few already knew others and a network of guys who couldn’t get a date was born.

What's your question?  Leave it in the comments section.  Thanks! 


Tod Hunter said...

FWIW, Warner Bros. has a studio tour. It winds through the studio lot and a couple of display setups like a WB museum and a room where they have a bunch of prop cars like oen of the Batmobiles (which has Batman emblems on the tires instead of treads) and the General Lee, but the real draw is that the tour goes through the sets of what's in production that day.

Universal does a great tour, and millions of people go there every year, but Universal doesn't go on real sets. They present what it looks like on a set. The upside is that it's always ready no matter what the production schedule looks like.

You can check out the Warner Bros. tour here:

Roger Owen Green said...

JEOPARDY! tapes 2 or 3 shows in a row (with time in between for the winner and Alex to change clothes) then a meal break, then 3 or 2 more shows. At least that was my experience in 1998. The two sessions require separate tickets.

The Ames Family said...

What Tod said!!

I've been on a few tours and Warner Bros. was fantastic!! I HIGHLY recommend this one to So Cal visitors.


Blaze said...

It is a strange and mysterious rank, this "show runner". I'd never heard the term until I first stumbled on your blog. For the longest time I thought you were being satirical and humorous (being a comedy writer) about the business in some way i wasn't getting.

I worked for a season on a tv show and met the Producers, Directors, the Head of Art Department and etc etc. No one was ever introduced or pointed out as the Show Runner.

When I joined IATSE, they gave me a little pocket reference to terminology, so a newbie could find out what a "gaffer" or "best boy" was without bothering people. "Show Runner" is not within its pages.

Are you sure there isn't a more common title? That "show runner" isn't a slang term (like "gaffer") that just hasn't spread far and wide?

Tim Dunleavy said...

Re sitcom stars getting characters named after themselves:

It's not just for sitcoms. In the original pilot script for THE ROCKFORD FILES, the detective was named Tom Rockford. James Garner asked that the character be renamed Jim, supposedly because the thought that giving the actor and the character the same name would make things less confusing on the set.

On the other hand, I wish that the stars of HOPE AND FAITH would have exercised more power. As you may remember, that show starred Kelly Ripa and Faith Ford. You'd think that Ford would have played Faith, but no, she played Hope, and Ripa played Faith. Imagine the confusion on that set! "Now, Faith - no, not the real Faith, the fake Faith..."

When Lucille Ball wanted to sign Vivian Vance as her sidekick on her second sitcom, THE LUCY SHOW, Vance refused to do it unless her character was named Vivian. She was tired of being called "Ethel" by strangers on the street.

Muzza said...
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Muzza said...

I second Becky, (and third Tod) that the Warner Bros tour is worth a half day out. I did the tour the day after Ken's most recent Sitcom Room, so was already buzzing.

If you can, ask when tour guide 'Scott' is on shift - I had heard beforehand that he was the best guide of a good bunch, and he really knew his stuff.

I also recommend that you buy Ken's book. It might just save your life.

angel said...

I just did the Warner Brother's Tour last weekend. They have trams, tour guides, museums and the "Friend's" set, still ready for action. It is not cheap, but it lasts 2 1/2 hours. They mentioned Conan and Ellen tickets can be gotten by checking online. Good luck and have a great time in LA.

Tom Quigley said...

I used to work for a company that distributed tickets as well as handled the booking of audiences for most of the sitcoms and syndicated talk shows filmed/taped in L.A. (other than Paramount and Fox which handled theirs internally), which is how I ended up working on a lot of different shows. I know Ken doesn't allow advertising on his blog but if you do a Google search under "TV Tickets" it should come up right at the top. Now is a good time to request tix for August, as that's when network shows start filming again, and ordering a month or so beforehand will probably guarantee that you'll be able to see one of your favorites. They also have a kiosk near the entrance of the Universal Studios Tour if you're planning a visit there.

katenhor said...

Too bad about the Paramount studio tour...I took the tour in the early 90's and it was amazing. Star Trek Next Generation was still on TV then and while we couldn't go on the bridge of the Enterprise, we were able to see the sets for the cargo bay and alien planet scenes....oh and I can't forget the shuttle craft. Also saw part of a rehearsal for WINGs and Tim Daley and Valerie Mahaffey said hello to our group. I seem to remember walking through the set for a Glen Frey show - South of Sunset. Never saw the show but really enjoyed the experience of walking around the set.

Johnny Walker said...
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Johnny Walker said...

A few already knew others, and a network of guys who couldn’t get a date was born.

And that network would ultimately lead to the creation of the internet.

Currently reading and loving your book on my way to work, Ken. It's nice to start the day with a smile on my face!

Barbara McT said...

The Warner Brothers tour is fun but it largely depends on who your tourguide is. Some are great, some are duds. It's very interactive, ask questions, they'll try to show you what you want to see.

Be warned! I learned some stuff that kind of diminished the "magic" of TV and filmmaking. My friends and I went on the tour after attending several panels at Paleyfest where we had one of those William Shatner/Star Trek moments where we realized that we remember/care/assign massive significance to a lot more about our favorite show than the people who make it (who tend to view it as, you know, a job).

We called the whole week "Disillusionment Tour 2012"

Regarding tickets: Ellen is booked forever. Seriously. But if you are on Hollywood Boulevard, you can definitely score tickets to Jimmy Kimmel and maybe tickets to Craig Ferguson. (Pick Craig.)

Edward Copeland said...

I know it was before your time on M*A*S*H, but I've always wondered if Klinger spent so much time and energy trying to get out of the Army on a Section 8 (or any other means), how did he get promoted up as far as corporal while doing all that?

Dana Gabbard said...

I don't know how long the phrase showrunner has been used in the industry, but I remember the first time I saw it used in the media was an article about Everwood and Greg berlanti being creator and showrunner. And use of the phrase has become fairly common in media coverage. With the proliferation of titles there needed to be some way to distinguish who actually was in charge (or to borrow from Harry Truman, who of all the Producers etc. is able to say The Buck Stops Here).

Edward Copeland, while it is true Klinger was trying to get out of the Army there was no sign of him being less than diligent in performing his duties. In fact he showed some initiative in various episodes which is (well, allegedly) the basis for being promoted.

Brian Phillips said...

I'm happy that the titular sitcom trend didn't leave us with a comedy about a wacky redhead and her Latino husband called, "I Love Ball".

Doug said...

I haven't taken it, but Sony runs tours on their lot in Culver City. It used to be the MGM lot.

alex said...

Will Smith recently did an interview where he says, when he started Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Alfonso Ribeiro gave him the advice "Make your character's name YOUR name... because that's what people will call you the rest of your life." Sure enough, two decades later, when seen in public, people yell "Hey, it's Will Smith and Carlton!"

So there's that. Of course, the question was probably geared towards more established actors starting new shows, so maybe not applicable.

cadavra said...

Regarding actors using their real names as their characters: This actually goes back to the silent era, when comedians often played "themselves." No doubt you remember the frequent introduction, "I'm Mr. Hardy, and this is my friend, Mt. Laurel." Our Gang, Charley Chase, "Fatty" Arbuckle and many others did so as well, and while the last names may have changed, Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon were always "Harold" and "Harry." (Chaplin usually didn't even bother with a name; he was simply The Tramp.) This continued into the sound era as well, most notably with The Three Stooges. And when they moved to radio and TV, they almost always played themselves (Jack Benny, Burns and Allen, W.C. Fields, Abbott & Costello, etc.).

kent said...

For TV Tix go to:

BigTed said...

I took some family on the Warner Bros. studio tour a few years ago, and I agree that it's pretty good. You see a lot of familiar sets (the "Friends" coffeehouse, the former "Gilmore Girls" town square, a "New York" street used for just about everything) and get glimpses of currently working productions. It's as close as you can probably come to seeing the "real Hollywood."

Andrew said...

Friday Question: Thoughts on Daron Sutton being suspended from the D-Backs broadcast booth for wearing a suit instead of team required polo shirt?

Tom said...

Character names question: Don't know if this ever came up at the Mary Tyler Moore Show, but I remember wondering why there were characters named Mary (OK, that one I get...), Murray and Marie...wouldn't you want your characters' names to be dissimilar? Also, Hill Street Blues, which had a character whose last name was Hill... why pick that name and invite confusion with the show's title?

Jeffrey Mark said...

And let's not forget The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet - Ozzie & Harriet Nelson, with, of course, Rick and David Nelson. What a great show that was...everybody has seemed to forget that - damn brilliant show. 14 seasons...damn great.

mark said...

Hi Ken,

It's Mark from Los Angeles

What did you think of Warren Littlefield's book "Top Of The Rock"?

BobMastro said...

I always thought it was interesting that practically the whole cast of "What's Happening" had some form of their own name in their character's name. I never knew if that was a sticking point for some, or just made it easier.

Roger Thomas (Ernest Thomas) - Fred "Rerun" Stubs (Fred Berry) - Dwayne Nelson (Haywood Nelson) - Mabel Thomas (Mabel King) - Shirley Wilson (Shirley Hemphill) - Dee Thomas (Danielle Spencer)

Tony Tower said...

Question for next week: on a TV show adapted from another medium, how is it determined whether the "inventor" of the show is given a "Created By" or "Developed By" credit? Is it just negotiated with the owner of the source material, or is it adjudicated by the WGA? I've been watching GAME OF THRONES recently, and the "created by" credit baffles me. From what I hear, each season is based specifically and in detail on one of Martin's books. And yet shows that are more loosely adapted (JUSTIFIED and SMALLVILLE come to mind) carry a "Developed by" line.

Any insight you can share is appreciated. (To try keep it relevant to Ken's work - I thought the credits on FRASIER were pretty darn fair: "Created By" in the opening credits for the Seattle team, and "Based On The Character Created By" in the end credits for the CHEERS folks.)

Mark said...

Regarding show runner... for someone just watching the show & credits, could you make an educated guess as to who the show runner is based on titles? Would it be one of the producers, etc?

John S said...

Tony Danza has said in interviews that he was hired to play a character on Taxi named Phil. After a little while, the character was renamed Tony. Danza assumed this was because he had made such a terrific impression in the part. He later found out that the change was made because producers worried that an actor as inexperienced as Danza wouldn't turn his head when another actor onstage addressed him as "Phil"

Johnny Walker said...

That's hilarious, John S!

Wendy M. Grossman said...

Ken: I guess it's a Friday question to ask what you think of ANGER MANAGEMENT. I see that Shawnee Smith, who I haven't seen since BECKER plays Charlie Sheen's ex-wife.


Paul Duca said...

I agree with what others said..the Warner tour is the hip, in thing--Universal is strictly for tourists.
And if they take you up the water tower, say hello to Yakko, Wakko and Dot for me.

rchesson said...

I also vote a big thumbs-up on the Warner's tour. Took it a few years back and it is definitely non-tourist (mostly) highlight. You might be in luck and see something being filmed. You might even get a impromptu visit from a star.

Andy Cook said...

A coupe of Friday questions…

Why is change so rare in sitcoms? i.e. the situation is re-set by the end of each episode. After all, in reality life changes all the time and wouldn’t more change allow for more plots and situations to become possible?

Occasionally there is change - Sam and Diane got together, Daphne and Niles got together, er… maybe some other examples too but it's rare. How come?

Also, how do you track continuity in an ongoing series? Does someone have the job of noting when the characters have birthdays, who they said their first girlfriend was, what they said their Dad did for a living and so on. Or do you just rely on the writers and cast's collective memory to avoid problems?

Cap'n Bob said...

Did anyone mention that just because you have a ticket to a show is no guarantee you'll get in? Some shows overbook to insure a full house.

Speaking of sitcoms, let's take a moment to remember Don Grady, co-star of My Three Sons.

Cap'n Bob said...

Sorry, "ensure."

By Ken Levine said...


You're welcome to email me.

Greg Ehrbar said...

Probably the sitcom that had the most actors playing characters with the same first names was "The Mothers in Law."

In her autobiography, Kaye Ballard also recounts Vivian Vance's frustration at always being called "Ethel." Vance advised Ballard to use her own first name on the show.

Five of the six lead actors -- Eve Arden, Kaye Ballard, Herbert Rudley, Jerry Fogel and Roger C. Carmel -- used their first names for their TV characters (Deborah Walley did not have this option as she was hired after another actress originally playing her character was let go).

Of course, when Roger C. Carmel left the show in its second season, Richard Deacon played "Roger."

Tim Simmons said...

Ken: Got a friday question.

I love the deleted scenes from the office on their website. They are usually real quick jokes. Do writers add short, non-story related jokes to pad (or if running long delete) to fit time?

DBA said...

Blaze and Mark,
Show runners are almost always credited as Executive Producer. That said, there are also plenty of other executive producers who are not the show runner. But does that help you narrow it down?

Mike Barer said...

Once you sit in on a TV taping, you it's never the same watching. You know that the when the audience bursts into aplause, there is a lit sign telling them to do that.

Matt Neffer, Boy Spotwelder said...

Hi Ken, There is indeed a tour on the Sony lot, formerly MGM. I was working on a sitcom there a couple of years ago and the walking tour would frequently pass by our decaying writer's building. Jesus, it was terrible. We felt so badly for the poor schmucks who had plunked down something like 30 bucks to walk past old bungalows and sound stages that may as well have been warehouses that manufactured lady's pants.

Obviously, this was a storied lot some 40 or so years ago, back before MGM sold off the old back lot to developers for what would become Culver City. These days, what is there to see? No facades, no Western town, no old England, no nothing. It's all gone, save for a "New York Street" which stretches about 15 yards. My favorite part was when the tour guide would stop in front of our building, (named after Myrna Loy, outside of which I could usually be found having a cigarette), and would tell the group a story about Louis B. Mayer. According to the tour guide, the writers back in the Golden Age would assign a "lookout" to hang by the window. The lookout would then notify the writers in the building when LBM was walking by, which would their cue to start fake-clickity-clacking on their typewriters so that the boss would think work was being done. A cute story, but -- as we all assumed -- likely bullshit. It's incredibly hard to believe that Mayer's hearing would have been that good, or that any writer would volunteer to hang out of a window when he could be inside, folding paper airplanes or fucking Lana Turner. But there it is.

cadavra said...

Matt: That story IS true, but it was Harry Cohn, not Mayer. I believe it was Garson Kanin who remembered it.

David Russell said...

Friday question for next week:

Have you had debates on set about the use/frequency/volume of a laugh track, especially on a show allegedly performed in front of a studio audience? Sometimes, a little laugh sweetening must seem prudent but some shows it seems they rely entirely on it to the point of distraction. I can't even watch "Rules of Engagement" (it began as a mildly entertaining show) now because the laugh track is so overbearing it actually distracts from the show. Every little line gets a HUGE laugh. Do the writers have any say in this?

Deb said...

Regarding showrunners, they are usually Executive Producers and are most often the show's creator. Check the Created By credit and see if that person's name shows up also as Executive Producer.

If they are listed as Consulting Producer, then they're not the showrunner and usually spend very little time actually working on the show. If the creator also has a big film career, they're not the showrunner (read: JJ Abrams).

Regarding who keeps track of characters' info, that would typically be a writers' assistant. However, if there is only one writers' assistant, and he/she is always in the writers' room taking notes, then it's a safe bet that he/she doesn't have a lot of time to read the scripts and catch those sorts of mistakes. The reality of the situation is that the turnaround time for a script is very, very fast, especially the further you get into a season While you think you'll have the time to remember that the main character has one brother instead of two, you actually hardly have time to remember the main character's name.

Mike said...


I've always loved the FRASIER episode, "The Show Where Sam Shows Up." The scene where Sam meets Niles and Martin is probably the cleverest (and funniest) retcon I've ever seen. What brought that about?

Mike said...

Were there angry Cheers nerds screaming for blood at the changes to Frasier's background?

(continued from previous -- sorry, hit send too soon!)

Mike Barer said...

The Dick Van Dyke show was one of the few early shows were the star's character used a different first name, that is amongst shows that were named after the actor.