Monday, January 31, 2011

Game Show Lessons: Never Partner with a Pot-Head!

By Barry Dutter

Of all the lessons I’ve learned on various game shows over the years, probably the most important one is this: never partner with a pot-head!
In 2010, I saw an ad on Craigs List looking for people who wanted to surprise a friend by secretly signing them up for a game show for GSN -- one where the friend was unaware that they were a contestant!
As soon as I saw the ad, I figured this was a good chance for me to help a friend win some big money -- and make a few bucks for myself at the same time.
I have a friend named Kelly who is a schoolteacher. She's smart and quick, and has been on game shows before. I pitched her to the network, but for whatever reason, they weren't too excited about her. So I decided to try again with a different girl.
I decided to go with someone who was the opposite of Kelly. I had another friend, Amber, who was an actress/model. She was 25, very tall, pretty, and with huge natural boobs. Because of her Amazonian body, Amber got a lot of work in movies and TV shows in L.A. (You can see her in PIRANAHA 3-D, wearing a bikini!) Amber loved the beach, and amusement parks, and, oh yes, she had one other hobby-- like many Los Angelenos, she liked to dabble in pot-smoking.
The premise of the new game show was that you were not supposed to tell your friend you were setting her up to be on TV. She was supposed to walk into an office, thinking she was going on a job interview, and then be stunned to see legendary game show host Wink Martindale walk out and reveal that she was about to play a game for the chance to win $5,000!
I sent a picture of Amber in to the casting agents for the show, which was called INSTANT RECALL. They liked Amber and they agreed to book her on the show as a contestant -- if I could guarantee that she would show up. Even if she didn’t win, Amber would get $500 just for playing the game. I would get $100 for setting her up, regardless of whether I was there for the taping not. I thought it would be fun to be there when they sprung the trap on her.
In L.A, it’s hard to get people to show up for anything, even if there is money involved. I told Amber that I had arranged a job interview for her with a catering company. I then tipped her off that it would be in her best interests to show up for this interview, because there might be a TV game show going on at the same time.
The producers I spoke to were very concerned that Amber not know she was being set up to be on TV. They wanted to make sure she wouldn’t be suspicious, that she wouldn’t have any reason to suspect there might be something going on. They asked me if I had ever gotten Amber job interviews before. I assured them that this was a very common thing, that I have often hooked her up with waitressing gigs in the past.
This was a total lie, of course, but hey, I‘ll say anything to get on TV!
The producers were very excited about the idea of surprising Amber when they revealed that the “job interview” was a phony. They really wanted to see genuine reactions of the people they were ambushing.
Having worked on various reality shows over the years, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that all the contestants on INSTANT RECALL had been tipped off in advance by their friends. I mean, all you have to do is say to your friend, “Dude -- you get $500 just for showing up! Just act surprised and then you’ll have the chance to win $5,000!”
It’s much easier to get people to show up for stuff when you lay it all out there like that.
The premise of Amber’s episode was that she and one other unsuspecting contestant would show up in the lobby of a big hotel in L.A. where several odd people are waiting for job interviews. All of the oddballs would interact with Amber and the other contestant a little bit. Then suddenly host Wink Martindale would pop out and reveals that it's all being taped for TV. Wink would then lead the contestants to another room which has been transformed into the set of a TV game show. The two contestants are then grilled on everything that they saw from the moment they walked into the hotel lobby. Whichever one of them got the highest score would win $5,000.
I was invited to come in and watch all the action from inside the control room. At the end of the show, I was to be brought out to either congratulate or console my friend.
I arrived about an hour before Amber was scheduled for her “job interview.” I met the producers of the show, and I met Kimberly, who was setting up her friend, Claudia for the same episode.
The show was being filmed in a fancy hotel in LA. The crew had transformed a banquet room into a makeshift control room. There were a bank of monitors showing multiple views of the lobby. There was a crew of about a dozen people, as well as half a dozen actors who had been hired to play the oddballs in the lobby.
I sat and waited for Amber to arrive. At one point, Wink Martindale came over and said hi -- a super nice guy.
I texted Amber to make sure she was coming. She texted back and assured me that she was on her way, fighting rush hour traffic as best as she could. At around 5:45 pm, the actors were told to head out into the lobby to await the arrival of our two unsuspecting contestants.
Amber’s opponent arrived first -- a Mexican girl named Claudia. Claudia entered the lobby of the hotel, where she was told to have a seat and wait for her job interview along with the other applicants. Claudia sat and filled out her bogus job application as she waited.
The clock ticked closer to 6:00 p.m.-- and still no Amber. The producers started to get really stressed. They didn’t want to leave Claudia alone in that lobby with those actors for too long. They were afraid she would catch on.
I was the one who had promised I could deliver Amber, so all eyes turned to me. I didn’t know what to do. Amber was not picking up her phone and had stopped returning my texts. I wished I could magically reach into my pocket and pull out Amber, but that obviously wasn’t going to happen.
All I could do was smile feebly and say, “She’s on her way. She must be stuck in traffic.”
The producers were not impressed. Their feeling was, if Amber thinks she is going on a job interview, she should be on time.
They producers were all looking at their watches. The director was saying that they could do the show without her if they had to -- just do the show with one contestant.
I had set up this whole thing so that I could help out my starving actress friend and make both of us some money. It was looking like she was going to blow the whole thing. I was wondering if I would even get my $100 if my contestant never showed up.
Finally Amber texted me to say that she had arrived and was parking her car in the garage.
Everyone was relieved. All we had to do was wait for Amber to come up the elevator. Five minutes passed. Then ten. Something was wrong.
Amber was not coming up the elevator. Again, she was not answering her phone. By this point, the producers had had enough of her tardiness and decided to go on without her.
Just at that moment, Amber entered the lobby. She was about 20 minutes late, but she was finally ready for her “job interview.” The show could now go on as planned!
Amber was given her fake application and she began filling it out as well.
The oddball actors were all seated around Amber and Claudia. The actors started making small talk -- little bits of conversation. One girl mentioned the city where she was from -- Anchorage, Alaska. A guy had a deck of playing cards and did a magic trick using the Jack of Hearts.
He wanted to make sure each girl got a good look at the card he was holding. He tapped Amber on the shoulder to show her the card. But Amber was so focused on filling out her “job application” that she wasn’t really paying attention to what was going on around her. Claudia had long since finished filling out her application, so she was able to give her full attention to the wackos in the lobby.
A bogus “hotel manager” came out and addressed the applicants, telling them some of the crazy duties they would be expected to perform, at a fancy banquet for a visiting Chinese dignitary. The joke here was that the job applicants would be shown some crazy ways to serve food and drinks, and told, "This is the custom of how things are done in China." Amber seemed genuinely freaked out by everything that was going on around her.
She certainly did a convincing job of playing someone who had no idea she was on a TV show!
After a few minutes of craziness, Wink Martindale popped out and sprang the big surprise on the girls. Amber and Claudia were both excited about the chance to compete for big money.
The girls were led to the “game show set” in the next room. Each girl stood at a podium while Wink asked the first question: what city was the girl in the lobby from? Amber struggled to remember, but she really hadn’t been paying attention. Claudia buzzed in: “Anchorage, Alaska.”
Correct! Next question. Which card did the guy in the lobby do the card trick with? Again, Amber got a pained expression on her face. She had no clue. Claudia buzzed in with the correct answer: “Jack of Hearts.”
The rest of the game played about the same way. Amber was completely lost. She had arrived so late, and had focused so much on filling out the job application, she hadn’t paid any attention to the antics of the actors around her.
The funny thing about that is that I had told Amber ahead of time that it was a bogus job, that she was going to be quizzed on everything that happened once she arrived. And she still got all the answers wrong!
It should come as no surprise to learn that Amber's opponent, Claudia was the winner. Claudia didn’t get the big prize of $5,000, but she still won a couple grand. Not bad for an hour’s work!
At the end of the show, I was brought out on stage, along with Kimberly, the friend who had set Claudia up. We all exchanged hugs, and smiles as Wink thanked the girls for playing and wished everyone a good night.
After the show was over, Amber was nice enough to take me out to dinner. She got paid $500 just for playing, she felt like she owed me a meal. She even threw me a few bucks as her way of saying thanks, and I definitely appreciated that.
As we ate our dinner, I asked Amber why she had taken so long to come up the elevator after she had arrived. She said, "I smoked a joint in the parking garage!” I asked her why she did that, when she knew she was already late and she knew everyone was waiting for her.
She replied, “I was nervous.”
So there you have it. I never partnered with Amber on any other shows after that. I mean, sure it was fun, and we both got paid ok for basically doing nothing, but still, the payoff could have been much bigger.
Back in my college days, I did a term paper on the harmful side effects on marijuana. One of the top symptoms of smoking pot is short-term memory loss. Probably not a good drug to partake in before you go on a show called INSTANT RECALL!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The “L.A. Yes,” or, My Love Triangle is Missing a Side or Two

By Barry Dutter

Ask any actress in L.A. if she wants to work with you in a TV show or a movie, and she will always say yes. And then, a few days later, she will say no.
I call that “an L.A. Yes.” Basically, people in Hollywood will agree to anything -- as long as they can back out a few days later.
I come from the East Coast, where if people make plans to do something with you, they actually follow through. In L.A., people are a lot more unreliable. They often make plans just so they can break them later.
If the regular people in L.A. are flakey, the actors are doubly so. I found that out first-hand when I attempted to recruit an actress to appear with me on a TV show called LOVE TRIANGLE. This was a “reality dating” show that involved either a woman choosing between two men, or a man choosing between two women.
Everyone who appeared on the show was to be paid a $200 performance fee. In addition, the chooser and the contestant they chose would win a trip.
The gimmick with this show was that they would use computer simulations to show the chooser what their potential partners would look like in 20 years, plus they would show what all your kids would look like. This seemed like a fun show naturally I wanted to try out for it. The first thing I needed to do was to find two girls to go on the show with me. As luck would have it, I was involved in another project with a handful of other actors. Two of the people I was working with were a pretty blonde named Rachel and a cute brunette named Pam.
I approached both girls, and much to my delight, they agreed to try out for the show with me. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it had been to line up the other two sides of my fake TV love triangle!
I made up a back-story about how I met Pam first, we dated for a few years, but we started to cool off a bit. Then I met Rachel, who was a few years younger than Pam and she got me seriously considering ending my relationship with Pam.
Both girls agreed that the back-story was fine, but Rachel was a little concerned that people she knew might watch the show and think it was real. Pam had just broken up with her boyfriend, and wasn’t sure she wanted to go on national television and potentially get dumped again.
I dismissed their concerns by reminding them that this was a daytime TV show that no one would ever see. I’ve done tons of daytime TV shows, and I know that when you are on a cable network that no one watches, it’s almost like the show never aired at all.
I sent in pics of Rachel, Pam, and myself, along with our bogus back-story. The casting department liked us and called each of us individually for a phone interview. They asked Rachel if she had done any reality shows in the past year. She said she had. They told her, “Sorry, but we’re looking for fresh faces. We can’t use you on this show.”
Rachel had forgotten the first rule of auditioning for reality shows. Whenever a casting agent asks you if you if you’ve ever done a dating show before, the correct answer is always an unequivocal, “No!” Reality shows like to keep up the illusion that their shows are legit, so they prefer not to hire actors who have been on a bunch of similar shows. It might spoil the illusion!
With Rachel out, I now had to find another side to my triangle. I started going through my contact list, seeing if I knew any actresses that were reliable and willing to be on a reality show. One girl I called said she didn’t ever want to be on a reality show, because she thought it would hurt her career as a serious actress. I thought this was a dumb excuse -- I mean, half the shows on TV are reality shows, and many of them use actors, so if you are willing to do reality shows, you can double the amount of work you can get.
But no, her mind was made up. She was convinced that appearing on one episode of a dopey reality show that no one would ever see would somehow derail her career as a serious actress.
I asked another actress I knew, and she said she couldn’t do it because she had just been on an ABC show called DATING IN THE DARK. I knew she had been on that show, but again, I don’t see why she couldn’t lie and say she hadn't done any dating shows. I mean, I can guarantee that the producers of LOVE TRIANGLE have never seen her episode of DATING IN THE DARK! People who work in TV do not have the time to actually watch TV!
I was still trying to find a girl to replace Rachel when the other shoe dropped and Pam said she was dropping out of the show. She said she just wasn't comfortable with it. I wasn’t sure what she was so uncomfortable with. I mean, it was a goofy fake dating show. There would be no kissing or sex or even hand-holding, for that matter. Yes, they would ask her about her sex life with her two lovers, but she could always dance around that and say she was saving herself for marriage.
Now my love triangle only had one side. I started wondering where I was going to find two new girls to be on the show with me. But then I started thinking it didn’t have to be two girls. Contestants on this show could also form a Love Triangle with two guys and a girl.
I happened to be working with another actor at the time. His name was Will. He was a DJ in L.A., and he had previously appeared on MTV’s THE REAL WORLD.
Will was a black man, so I figured it would be a fun episode having a girl choose between a middle-aged white writer and a young black DJ.
I approached Will with the idea and he agreed that it sounded cool. Now all we need was to find a girl. At the moment I was asking Will, Pam happened to be wandering by.
She heard Will and I plotting to get on the show, and she was instantly back in.
What had changed her mind? Simple. I my original scenario, I would be the guy choosing between her and a younger girl. In this new scenario, she would be the one doing the choosing. Even though it was a fake show and she wouldn’t actually be dating any of us, somehow, this made all the difference. She had to be the one who was the Decider.
I sent photos of Will, Pam and myself in to the casting department. They loved us and wanted to bring us in for individual interviews. We were told to pretend that our “love triangle” was real, to never break character, even in the audition.
It was essential that when the producers of the show viewed our audition tapes, that they believed we were in a real love triangle.
Luckily for us, they bought it, even if we didn’t get our story perfectly straight. (No matter how well you prepare a made-up story, they will always throw you questions you haven‘t thought of. I n my case, they asked how long I had been dating Pam. I said “Two years.” Then they asked if I had ever met her parents. I fumbled and said, “No.” Then they asked why not. I really didn’t have a good answer for them, so I said it just hadn’thappened yet. I know, it was a weak answer, but I didn’t want to answer a bunch of questions about two people I had never met.
The casting associates forgave the holes in my story. They still loved us and were eager to book the three of us on the show. They sent each of us a questionnaire to fill out -- the standard questionnaire they send to every contestant.
Now, I’ve been on a few dating shows and I’ve filled out a few questionnaires in my day, but never one like this. With most shows, the questionnaire has a few dozen questions, maybe 50 tops.
The one for LOVE TRIANGLE had 250. That’s right -- a whopping 250 questions you had to answer if you wanted to be on the show. Here’s a sample question they gave us: “Tell us about your last three relationships and why they didn’t work out.” That was just one question! There were 249 more after that!
I had to admit, filling out a 250-question questionnaire was a little intimidating. I didn’t know when I would have time to tackle that monstrosity.
Shortly after that, I caught a cold. Nothing serious, but I needed a few nights of resting at home. So it came to pass that I found myself home on a Friday night with nothing to do. I figured I might as well take a crack at it that questionnaire. It took about two hours, but I did complete that bastard.
But I couldn’t send it in just yet. I had to check with my partners in crime, and make sure we all had our stories straight. It wouldn’t do for us to go on national television and tell inconsistent stories about when we met and who knew about who and when they knew it.
I sent an email to Pam and asked her to get back to me about our story. She responded with an email saying she was dropping out of the show again.
Her reason this time? She felt that for the amount of money involved, filling out a 250-question questionnaire wasn’t worth it.
My attitude was that for the two hours it took to fill out the questionnaire, and the maybe 5 or 6 hours it would take to tape the show, $200 was not that bad.
Besides, it wasn’t like Pam had to tell the truth in the questionnaire. She could have made up all her answers, and no one would ever have known the difference. I mean, the whole show was fake, why tell the truth on the questionnaire? It wasn’t like she had to reveal intimate detail s about her real life.
I tried changing Pam’s mind, but there was nothing I could say that would persuade her. $200 was not enough money, and that was her final answer.
Most actresses in Hollywood will drop out of any low-budget project if given the chance. Pam had now dropped out of the same project twice!
In a lame attempt to save face, Pam contacted the producers of LOVE TRIANGLE and told them she had a “scheduling conflict” and had to back out of the show. The casting department had fallen in love with Pam and they were reluctant to let her go. They contacted me and asked what was really going on.
I explained to them that it was all about the money. The casting lady I spoke to told me that if money really was the issue, then we should hang in there, because she was going to approach the producers and ask for more money for all the contestants.
That sounded like good news to me, so I dropped a note to Pam letting her know that there might be a better offer in our future. Pam did not reply, so I started thinking about how we could replace her, just in case that bigger money offer never came through.
I contacted Will and told him that we had lost Pam. He told me he was still willing to do the show, if we could find another girl. I figured that as a DJ, Will would have access to lots of girls that he could ask. He even asked his own girlfriend, but she gave him that same line about not wanting to appear in “reality shows” that we had heard from several other actresses.
A few weeks went by, and my quest to find a new girl continued. Then I got a call from the casting lady from LOVE TRIANGLE. She had great news for me -- they had raised the “performance fee” for the show to $500 per person.
This was awesome news! If the money had really been her only issue, as Pam had said it was, then surely $500 would be enough to get her to fill out the damn questionnaire. (At this point, I was even willing to fill it out for her!)
The casting lady did say she had called Pam but Pam had not picked up her phone. It seems Pam was playing “the difficult actress.”
I was asked, “Do you think you can call Pam and convince her to do the show for $500?” I promised I would try, but I didn’t think I would have any more success than the casting lady had had.
I called Pam, and, as expected, I got her voice mail. I left a message, reminding her that she had said the money was her only objection to appearing on the show. Now she was being offered two and a half times the original amount.
Pam never returned my call. I called the casting lady and let her know that Pam was not responding. The casting lady just didn’t get it. She couldn’t understand why Pam would try out for a show and then back out.
I didn’t really have any explanation for her, other than the fact that Pam was “a typical LA girl.” The thing that bugged me the most was that Pam had not only cost herself $500, but in the middle of the worst recession the country had ever known, she had just cost Will and I $500 each as well. (Not to mention a free vacation for one of us!)
I never did hear from Pam again. But I wasn’t going to let the loss of one actress discourage me. I had filled out that brutal questionnaire, after all, and I didn’t want all my hard work to go to waste.
I figured a good way to find an actress would be by placing an ad on Craigs List. I posted an ad with the headline, “Looking for the Girl Next Door.” I found out that when you post an ad like that on Craigs List, you get a lot of spam from prostitutes who don’t actually bother to read your ad. I had a lot of offers for “dates” from hookers, but none of them were looking to be on a TV reality show!
There were a few girls who sent me pics, but I was having a hard time figuring out which ones were the whores and which ones were the real actresses. (There is probably a joke in there somewhere but I'm too classy to make it!)
But then one day I saw an ad on Craigs List from a girl named Amber. Her ad said she was looking for two guys to be on LOVE TRIANGLE with her. Apparently she had tried out for the show and the producers had told her she could be on it if she could just find two guys to do it with. This was perfect! It’s like it was meant to be.
I wrote to Amber and suggested a partnership. She wrote back and said she would be happy to do the show with Will and I. At last we had found a girl who actually wanted to be on the show -- a girl who might not flake out!
Amber sent me her pic, and I forwarded to the casting lady, explaining that Amber was our replacement for Pam.
I never heard back from the casting lady. About a month later, LOVE TRIANGLE went into production, without me, Will and Amber.
I think it was a combination of us finding Amber a little too late, and the casting people being so in love with Pam, they just couldn’t picture Will and I with any other girl.
I don’t know how they were able to tape a dating show in L.A. without me in it, but somehow they found a way.
I was disappointed, mostly because this show was paying five times as much as most reality shows.
My experience with LOVE TRIANGLE taught me that if someone backs out of a project once, they will most definitely back out again.
The lesson I learned is that there is nothing more certain -- and uncertain -- than an "L.A. Yes."

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Lowest Job in Show Business or, Getting Paid to Clap

By Barry Dutter

You might think that being an extra in a movie or TV show is pretty much the lowest job a person can have in show business and still be considered a “performer.”
But there is a job that is even lower. It’s being a paid audience-member.
That’s right, in Hollywood, people actually get paid to watch TV. Or , more accurately, paid to watch the taping of a TV show and laugh and clap on cue.
It doesn’t pay a lot of money. Traditionally, it’s $8 an hour. But you couldn’t ask for an easier job. I mean, what could be simpler than sitting on your ass and clapping? It’s the lazy guy’s version of the American dream: getting paid to watch TV!
When you live in L.A., you see a lot of ads on Craigs List looking for people to do audience work. Funny thing is, the ads always try to make the job sound much more glamorous than it really is. They almost never say the words “audience work” in the listings. Usually the headline says something like, “Looking for new faces for TV!” -- as if your face is actually going to be seen on television. On most shows, the people in the audience are just blurs in the background.
Or the ads will say they are looking for “background performers” for TV. As if the simple act of laughing on cue and putting your hands together qualifies you as a “performer.” That’s a very classy way of saying “person who is one step above a trained seal!”
I did audience work shortly after I arrived in L.A.. As a lifelong TV-lover, how could I resist? I found it easier than extra work, because as an extra, you are often spending your day out in the hot sun, or out in the rain, or out in the cold, or sitting on a cold concrete floor in some warehouse somewhere.
But as a paid audience-member, you are sitting on comfortable chairs all day in a nice air-conditioned studio. As an extra, you may be called upon to spend your day walking or running or doing whatever the scene calls for. As an audience-member, your job is to simply sit, smile and clap. And pay attention. You’ve got to remember to pay attention to the show. I actually saw an audience-member kicked off a job with no pay when he was caught sending a text message while the cameras were rolling.
Most of the time the days are short -- three to five hours, generally, meaning your pay at the end of the day is usually about $40.00 cash. Not a huge sum of money. So why do people do it?
My theory is that many people in L.A. simply don’t want to work. They came to L.A. with visions of having a career in show business, and they are determined to do whatever they can to not do any real work -- even if that means a lifetime of being no more than an extra and a paid audience-member.
To give you an idea of how eager people are to get paid to do nothing in Hollywood, here is how a typical show might work: a group of 250 people will line up in the morning to be the audience for a show. After four hours or so, that group will be sent home and another group of 250 will be brought in to watch the afternoon tapings of the same show. And there a group of hopefuls that that stand out on the sidewalk, waiting, just in case the show needs to fill extra seats. That's over 500 people on a typical day, showing up to clap on cue.
I’ll never forget a girl I had met -- beautiful girl, tall, voluptuous model-type -- who told me her family just didn’t understand that she had left her small town in Minnesota and come to Hollywood to pursue her dream. My thought at the time was, “Really? Your dream was sitting in an audience and watching TV for an $8.00 an hour?”
Whenever you do audience work, there is always a guy who is in charge of the crowd, usually a comedian. He tells jokes, plays music, and does his best to get audience-members pumped up for the show.
Often he will have volunteers from the audience come out and do dance-offs to songs like Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” For some odd reason, it’s usually the gay men who win these competitions.
There is a lot of down time during the taping of a TV show. As noted above, a one-hour show might take four or five hours to shoot. This means the audience can get bored and restless. The best solution to this is a quick injection of sugar. The audience-wrangler usually carries a bag of candy, and tries to get the audience energized by throwing out pieces of candy out to different sections of the audience.
You’d be amazed how easy it is to get grown men and women to behave themselves by tossing them a Tootsie Roll or a pack of Smarties.
Most of the time audience work is quick and easy. Occasionally it is grueling. I’ll never forget the one taping I attended that went for about 14 hours. Sure, it means you get paid more money, but try sitting and watching anything for 14 hours and maintaining interest. It isn’t easy.
The hardest audience work I ever did was for a court show. The set resembled a real courtroom. All the audience-members sat on hard wooden benches, like the kind you might find in a courtroom. They taped five episodes that day, and we had to sit through every one of them on those incredibly uncomfortable benches.
I developed a new respect for people who actually show up for jury duty.
Most people who do audience work are fairly young. Generally they are looking for audience members who are 18 to 30 and good-looking. If you’ve ever watched an awards show and noticed that all the people in the audience were young and sexy, odds are they were paid to be there.
One time I worked in the audience for a show called OUR LITTLE GENIUS. This was easily the most boring game show ever. A bunch of super-smart nerdy kids would answer super-hard questions for the chance to win big money, while some adult experts would testify just how hard these questions really were. The show was hosted by Kevin Pollack, who later went on to host MILLION-DOLLAR MONEY DROP.
When I watched the taping, I was suspicious that it seemed staged and phony. The kids seemed a little too knowledgeable about their favorite subjects. Sure enough, shortly before the show aired, the parents of one of the contestants revealed that their kid had been given all the answers beforehand. (More accurately, the kids were given factoids to study, and told, "These are the items you might want to study extra hard." Kind of like when a teacher tells you, "This will be on the test.")
When word leaked that the "little geniuses" had been prepped in advance, an embarrassed Fox had only one possible course of action. After weeks on intense promotion, the network canceled OUR LITTLE GENIUS before a single episode ever aired.
On behalf of those of us who suffered through the taping of several episodes, I can safely assure the rest of the TV-watching public that you missed nothing! Have you ever seen the promos for a new show and thought, "I wouldn't watch that show if they paid me!" Well, I was paid to watch OUR LITTLE GENIUS, and trust me, no amount of money would have been enough to make it worth your while.
Not every TV show needs to pay their audience. THE TONIGHT SHOW, for example, gets so many eager tourists coming from out of town to see it every day, they don’t have to pay anyone to be there. AMERICAN IDOL is a cultural phenomenon. They also get their audience for free.
Sometimes a show turns out to be more popular than the network had expected and they find that it‘s not necessary to pay an audience to watch it. When NBC launched a new show called THE SING-OFF in 2009, they hired 200 people to be in the audience. But so many fans wanted to attend the taping of the show, NBC sent all the “professional” audience-members home. I was hired to be there that day, but me and my fellow audience-members were each paid $16.00 cash for our two hours of waiting in line before they sent us home.
When you live in L.A., you can’t always get acting jobs every day. Sometimes, you find yourself with a day off. On those days, making $40 to $60 cash for some easy audience work does not seem like such a bad gig.
One day, I got an audience gig that wound up costing me big money, and I quit doing it forever.
It all started when I got booked to be a contestant on a new game show called LATE NIGHT LIARS. This was one of the dumbest game shows I had ever seen. It involved listening to statements from four puppets and trying to figure out which one was telling the truth.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again -- game shows and puppets just don’t mix! But the show paid every contestant $500 just for showing up. And if you won, you had the chance to make a quick $10,000.
So despite my misgivings about the show, I decided to try out for the show. When I arrived at the audition, I was pleased to see my old friend Sarah Jane was doing the casting. She had previously cast me on THE SINGING BEE and CATCH 21. I’ve auditioned for her many times before and she always recognizes me.
I hadn't won any money on either of those other shows. Now here was her chance to to make it up to em by casting me on this dopey show. Sure enough, a few days later I got the call saying I was in the contestant pool for LATE NIGHT LIARS.
Two days before I was scheduled to tape my episode, I saw an ad on Craig’s List looking for audience members for a “new late night talk show.” I called my contact at SRO (Standing Room Only -- the company that provides audiences for TV shows) and told her I was willing to work as an audience-member, though I didn’t know which show it was for.
The next day, I showed up at the studio and was horrified to find that the show I was doing audience work for was LATE NIGHT LIARS -- the same series that I was scheduled to appear on the next day as a contestant!
I should have walked away at that point and skipped the audience work. The show had never aired before, so if I witnessed a taping in advance, it would have given me an unfair advantage over the other contestants.
My instincts told me to take the $50 loss for the day and come back the next day for the $500 and the chance to win 10 grand. But I figured I had already driven all the way there, and maybe nobody would notice me sitting among 100 people in the crowd.
No such luck. As soon as we were seated, I looked up and saw Sarah Jane --
I thought that maybe she wouldn’t see me. But I was seated in the third row. I felt like I had a giant spotlight shining on me. She noticed me instantly. There was still time for me to get up and go home. But I decided to stick it out.
Stupid mistake. I made $50 for being in the audience, and lost out on the $500 or more I would have made as a contestant.
As soon as I got home, I sent Sarah Jane an email where I explained to her what had happened. She wrote back saying that she had noticed me in the audience and that I would not be allowed to be on the show.
She added that there were no hard feelings, and she even offered me the chance to be on a new dance competition show that she was also casting. I don’t dance, so I respectfully declined, but I was gald that she wasn’t mad at me. I was sure that our paths would cross again on some other show in the future.
That day marked the end of my career as a professional audience member. I decided that if doing audience work was going to possibly cost me better-paying gigs, it wasn’t worth doing.
I don’t miss it. Sure, I sometimes watch TV at home and think, “I could be getting paid for this!” But then I think back to the time I was waiting in line outside of a studio, getting ready to do some audience work. A tour bus drove by with a sarcastic driver. It was one of those cheesy Hollywood sightseeing tours that the out-of-towners eat up.
The bus driver looked over at me and the other people, in line and said over his loudspeaker, “Thank you for getting paid to clap.”
It was a funny line, one that he probably used every day. But none of us in line were laughing. How dare he mock our noble profession! We were professional audience-members, dammit. We had a proud tradition of laughing and clapping on cue.
Sure, we were only making $8.00 an hour. But we clapped like we were getting at least $12.00!
I’m not ashamed that I got paid to watch TV. Heck, I once met an L.A. resident who told me who was doing a sleep study.
Getting paid to sleep? Hmmm. Maybe that's the REAL American dream!