Live Jive!

I am turning into my father (aren’t we all). For my birthday (last month – August 9th), my sister hooked us up with some tickets to a live taping of BIG BROTHER. We watch the show religiously (three times a week!) and love every second. We’ve been watching since season 2. We might be fan enough to be called Superfans! How dorky is that?

Still, I’m growing more and more curmudgeonly in my old age. I don’t like being directed. I don’t enjoy watching TV with a large group of chattering cows. I’d rather be kicking it in my over-stuffed recliner, fast-forwarding through breaks, pausing for the restroom, as opposed to sitting straight-backed, waiting to cheer and clap like a good monkey as the show comes in and out of promo packages and Julie Chen teasers.


(I do what I want! Don’t make me use this thing!)

If you don’t watch BIG BROTHER, here’s how it works. A group of diverse strangers, psychologically screened and selected for maximum drama, enter a house rigged with tons of cameras and mics. They are cut off from the outside world – no TV, or books, or entertaining distractions to fight the boredom – and then pitted against one another in a battle of wills while the cameras roll and roll. Each week they compete in competitions for power (and prizes) and they strategize, voting each other out in an effort to be the last contestant standing. It’s great psycho-traumatic fun. The BB formula – guinea pigs in a fishbowl – is Reality TV at its very finest.

Watching from the studio audience was an interesting experience. I still prefer my couch and remote, but I’m glad I got to see how it all goes down. The show runs like a well-oiled machine. Production assistants run to and fro, positioning this, moving that, setting up shot after shot while the stage manager warms the audience and sets up applause cues.


(A little blurry, but there we are! I’m the guy in the center rocking the beard. My lovely wife, Michelle, is to my left, my awesome sister and her awesome husband are to my right.)


Julie Chen is lots of fun to watch. Like the finely tuned live broadcast whirring and whizzing around her, she is the consummate professional. It’s a trip following her as she hits her marks and reads from teleprompters like the expertly programmed Chen-Bot she is. Man, oh man, technology doesn’t get much better. Androids like Mrs. Chen represent the very finest in modern-day cybernetics. Her husband, Mr. CBS himself (Les Moonves), must have some deep connections in the replicant black market.

As the make-up lady prepped Julie between takes, brushing her nose here, powdering here cheeks there, Mrs. Chen moved her head and swung her hair just like a real woman! I might have even believed she was of the flesh, but I caught the steady glow of a tell-tale Neural Pulse Inhibitor at the base of her hairline.


(More human than human?)


The live show ingeniously jumps from Julie doing her thing, to pre-recorded packages, to live banter with the house guests via a video feed. It’s impressive how many cameras and mics are going on at once, flip-flopping, hitting their marks, building a cohesive show through an intricate series of synchronized attacks. I can’t imagine how nerve-racking it must have been during the show’s infancy. Already in its 13th season, every little thing runs smooth, smooth, smooth.

Okay, now that most of the technical details are out of the way, we can talk about the stuff we really want to talk about – screen time!

You know that’s the only thing that really matters here. Sitting there in the studio audience, we’re constantly aware of the swooping, swinging cameras, and the Chen Bot 3000’s placement within each scene. There were several times where she was actually standing directly in front of me (we had front row seats, yep!) and I purposefully leaned to my left to get my mug in the shot. If you watch it back, half of my face, sometimes my entire face,  gets lots of screen time during Julie’s interview with evicted houseguest, Shelley (suck it, Shelley! Good riddance, you back-stabbing traitor!). Most of the time I am trying not to laugh while trying not to look too ridiculously obvious.


(Please stop lip-reading from the prompter. You have thirty seconds to comply.)

It’s funny because in the beginning of the shoot, the stage manager, instructs the audience in the ways of studio etiquette. The best one is when he tells us not to read the words on the teleprompter along with Julie. The anarchist in me wanted to lip read sooo bad! How cool would it be to make The Soup as the whacked out studio audience member who sits there and dumbly lips along? A Joel McHale quip / barb in your honor? Priceless.

Michelle and I dared each other to behave badly and make some sort of spectacle of ourselves, but we both chickened out. What can I say? We’re too damn respectful for our own good. Growing up sucks.

All-in-all, I ‘d recommend the experience. If you get a chance to watch one of your favorite shows in a live, studio audience type situation, clear your calendar and go for it. You won’t be able to enjoy your program in the same way you do at home – no bathroom breaks or rolling back the DVR to catch something you missed – but your eyes will be able to take in the whole picture warts and all.



One Response to “Live Jive!”

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