Thursday, October 2, 2014

Dr. Phil Studio Audience (Second Row!)

I've heard that you can't leave Los Angeles until you've seen someone famous.  So I guess that means I am now allowed to go home.

In my second week alone in Los Angeles, I was perusing the internet, looking for things to do in the city.  That's when I came across television tapings.  Now, I remember my mom telling me, "Ooh!  You have to see if you can watch Ellen!" but I think I shrugged it off as something that was expensive and incredibly difficult to get.  Not the case.  Television tapings are absolutely free and available to the general public.  How to obtain tickets varies depending on the show and studio.  There are websites, such as tvtickets.com, tvtix.com, and 1iota.com, that distribute television taping tickets.  However, some shows (like Ellen) are only available via request directly through the show or studio.

Dr. Phil Studio

Getting TV Taping Tickets

As I was browsing the available television tapings, I looked for a show that was interesting to me and would be enjoyable to watch.  This is more challenging than one might think because I actually don't watch much television, and the TV series that I do keep up with (really just The Walking Dead, and as of recently, Orange is the New Black) either don't film in front of live audiences or weren't filming at this time.  As I read the filming schedule, there actually weren't any shows that I recognized.... except Dr. Phil.

Dr. Phil is a pretty neat guy.  My mother watches his show (or leaves the TV on and Dr. Phil eventually plays), so over the summer, I listened to it from the loft over our living room.... and sometimes it caught my attention enough that I'd lean over the railing so that I could watch.  But what was especially appealing about attending a Dr. Phil taping is that they show the studio audience on television.... I could be on TV!



I booked Dr. Phil through tvtickets.com where I filled out a form and was directed to a page with an electronic ticket to print out as a confirmation.  Reservations for Dr. Phil can also be made through his website.  My ticket was not a guarantee into the show.  The number of seats available in the studio audience can vary depending on how many guests of Dr. Phil or the guests of the show are present at the taping.  They also typically overbook the studio audience, as with free tickets, guests will sometimes not show.  TV Tickets advised that I arrive early to increase my chance of being admitted into the studio audience.

Something I took very seriously was the dress code required for Dr. Phil.  TV Tickets had mentioned the business casual dress code and advised not to wear jeans, solid white shirts, tank tops, hats, or clothing with large logos.  However, I found even better guidelines on the Dr. Phil website.... A taping of Dr. Phil is a very intimate setting. At some point or another during the taping, everyone may be seen on camera. Therefore, we ask that you arrive "camera ready". Please dress in dark solid color business attire. We ask that you avoid busy patterns as well as white or beige clothing because it does not show up well on camera. Please do not wear jeans or hats. Please note that the Studio is very cold and you should dress warmly!

As a Clemson graduate, a lot of my business wardrobe is bright orange, so I stressed a bit about what to wear.  I ended up going with a dark blue dress that had a high neckline with a navy Parisian jacket and nude heels.

Arriving at the Studio

On the morning of the show, I decided to open the Dr. Phil page to check the wardrobe guidelines again when I realized that the Dr. Phil site said to arrive at 8:00 AM.  TV Tickets just said to arrive no later than 9:00 AM... I was planning to get there around 8:30.  I ditched my bowl of cereal and hurried out the door.... and made it there at ten til 8.

It was surprisingly easy to get to the Paramount Studios.  There is limited street parking available, but I opted for the nearby parking garage which was $10 for the day and well worth the security.  No cameras or recording devices are allowed in the studio, and we were instructed to leave our cell phones in our car (I would recommend turning your phone off, or on airplane mode, so that your battery doesn't drain constantly searching for a signal in the garage like mine did).  If you took a taxi or walked there and had your cell phone with you, they collected them upon entry.

I joined the line of people on the street and immediately started freaking out about my wardrobe.  Everyone else was in black, and I was in navy.  Should I have worn black?  Navy is a dark color!  Was I dressed okay?

At about 8:30, they let the line in from the street.  We then entered a security line, and a man came around with a clipboard and checked our names off of a list.  "Name?"  "Shingleton."  "With an S?"  "Yes, an S-H."  There weren't even any S last names on the list.  "Do you have a ticket?"  "Yes!"  I showed him the ticket I printed from TV Tickets, and he told me to just show that when I got to the guy at the table.

When I got to the table, the guy there verified that I could stay until 1:30 PM (Dr. Phil tapes two shows in one day) and handed me a waiver to sign and a yellow card.

The Golden Ticket

After walking through a metal detector, I entered an outdoor waiting area with benches, coffee, and restrooms.  They continued to let people in, even after 9:00 PM.  I was standing there people watching when a lady came over to speak to me.  "Excuse me, where did you get that yellow card?"  I told her that it was given to me when I checked in.  "I was wondering because I didn't get one.  Do you know why you have one?"  "Honestly, I have no idea."

That's when I realized that she was right... not everyone had one.  So I started to look around and figure out how the people who were holding the yellow cards were similar.  The one connection that I was able to make by observing others was that the people holding the cards were the best dressed people.  Everyone with a yellow card was dressed in business attire and well-groomed.  They had given me a yellow card?  If my guess on the qualifications for it were correct, I was incredibly flattered!

Soon, a man came to inquire about my yellow card.  I told him that I didn't know why I had it, and that there were several different colors (in addition to yellow, blue and orange).  Others were also curious, and they asked a staff member who was walking around.  "Oh, it's just how we organize the seating process."  Another employee gave more information to a different person who asked.  "It's how we seat people.  Of course, the people who dressed up get to sit up front.  And we hide the people who are wearing jeans in the back."

Seating the Studio Audience

Around 9:30, they called for all yellow and blue cards to make their way towards the entrance.  Yellow cards were admitted first, and we walked straight through the holding room.  A lot of people commented on how cold the studio was, but I found it refreshing.  However, I was very glad that I decided to wear my jacket (it also added formality to my outfit, so win-win).

What I found really fascinating is that every single person in the studio audience was individually placed.  All of the yellow card holders (appropriately dressed guests) were seated in the front center section, right in front of the stage and on either side of the runway.  As a party of one, I was placed in a great seat on the second row, three over from the runway.  I then waited and watched everyone else be seated.

It seemed that blue cards were the second tier, and I'm not sure exactly how that was determined... perhaps they weren't dressed as nicely as guests with yellow cards, but they weren't breaking dress code by wearing blue jeans or t-shirts.  Blue cards were seated either on the edges of the lower section or the front part of the bleachers in the back.  The people without tickets were seated behind them.  There were also three school groups who were seated last and filled in all of the remaining seats, mostly in the back two rows (as the boys entered, the staff instructed them to tuck in their shirts).  A few of the nicer dressed school girls were brought to sit in the remaining seats in the front.  And, of course, they left empty seats at the front for the special guests of Dr. Phil.

Shortly after everyone was seated, a man on the production team who acted as our studio audience host (I made up that title... I don't know what his official title was) came out and introduced himself.  He explained that Dr. Phil loves working with a live audience because it allows him to get a feel for viewer reactions before the show airs.  We were encouraged to react to what was happening on the show as we would if we were watching at home.  When Dr. Phil entered, everyone was going to be standing except the very back row in the center.... because they were in front of a camera which was going to swing out over the audience, so it was very important that they remained seated.  And finally, he pointed out all of the exits and instructed us on how to leave the studio if there was an emergency.

He then had us introduce ourselves to the people sitting around us.  I had actually already been talking to the guy who was sitting beside me.  He told me that his wife loves the show, and that he brought her here as a birthday present.  She was so excited about their great seats.

Then it was time to dance.  I had heard we would be dancing earlier from the same staff member who explained the seating process.  She said that all shows with studio audiences have everyone get up and dance beforehand to awaken the crowd so that everyone is excited to be there, but Ellen is the only show who actually airs audience dancing (and that's because of the lighthearted and funny tone of her show).  The audience host called volunteers to come and dance on the stage, and they got Dr. Phil mugs.  I debated on whether it would be worth the embarrassment for a free souvenir, and I decided that I really didn't need a Dr. Phil mug.  I don't even drink coffee.

He called the lovely woman whose birthday it was to dance on the stage.  Then he noticed her husband (who, might I add, was an exceptionally good dancer) and asked him to come up for a dance-off.  They were funny and adorable, and they both got Dr. Phil coffee mugs.

After the solo dancing, Dr. Phil's wife, Robin, joined the audience.  She brought little stress balls to throw out to audience members, and the audience host on the stage was tossing stress balls, too.  I kind of wanted a stress ball, but I had a serious height disadvantage.  It's probably a good thing I didn't get one, though, because I tend to hold onto sentimental knick-knacks for far too long.

Then, the man himself, Dr. Phil came out, and we all clapped loudly.  He then read the introduction to the show, and after the video started playing, he motioned for us to be seated.

First Show Taping

The first show was about the owners of the now-closed consignment store, Tummies for Tots.  The husband and wife was afraid to leave there house because of a Facebook hate group targeting them in which members of their community posted harmful threats, even suggesting hurting their children.  But the owner of the hate group was a disgruntled ex-employee who was disgusted by the bad (and some illegal) business practices of the owner, and claimed she only started the Facebook group to raise awareness.

Both parties were immature and rude.  They would talk over each other, make snide remarks, and even be disrespectful towards Dr. Phil.  At one point when all four of the people on stage started yelling at each other, I was in disbelief.... this content seemed more worthy of Jerry Springer than Dr. Phil.

It was very interesting to watch the set changes and camera men.  It's very fascinating to see how what we see on television is put together.  The "commercial breaks" were not long breaks, but just enough time to rearrange the chairs to accommodate another guest.  Also, the chairs that they sit in seem much nicer on television than they are in real life.

The one thing that threw me off is that Dr. Phil encouraged viewers to live Tweet with the show.  I figured that is something they would add in later, but they went ahead and showed the results of an online poll and even read people's tweets.  How were people tweeting live?  It definitely wasn't us because we didn't have our cell phones.  Another audience member suggested that they have staff tweet along with the show.  Or maybe they're just making all of this up.  Oh, the magic of television!

At the end of the show, Dr. Phil walks out first with Robin, then the guests are dismissed from the stage, and we clap the entire time while remaining seated.  After the show, Dr. Phil came back out on stage, and Robin back to the audience.  He joked around a little bit with us and told us how his son, Jordan, actually wrote the theme song to his show, but he would never want anyone to know because he's a serious rocker (Stars in Stereo).  Then he asked the producer why he was out there....

It turns out, Dr. Phil had skipped a commercial break, so they filmed him sitting alone in the chair, saying "When we get back..."  Then, they had him do a lead-in for the Steve Harvey show.  And he re-did the introduction to the show.  I heard him stumble on the words a bit the first time and wondered how they were going to redo it.  He was reading Facebook posts that were poorly written, and the first time, he was trying to decipher what they actually said and make it grammatically correct.  So when he redid it, he read it exactly as written.  They were very careful to make sure that everything was the same in the studio as the first time he did it.

Break Between Shows

After Dr. Phil left the stage, again, our audience host came back out and told us how to exit the studio.  We would be taking a short break, and they were providing water and snacks.  He also suggested that we take this time to use the restroom if necessary.  When we came back, we would be in entirely different seats.

We then exited the studio and went back to the outdoor waiting area.  They gave us mini bottles of water and crackers, and I was grateful for the snack to hold me over (especially since I had ditched my cereal that morning).  The line for the bathroom was extremely long, so I decided to just not drink much water and hope that I could make it through the second show taping.

Again, they called yellow cards to enter the studio first, and individually placed is in the front by the stage, again.  They were trying to mix us up from before.  The couple who I had sat by during the first show was taken to the other side.  I, however, must not be too recognizable because I was seated in the exact same seat for the second show.

There were a few new audience members who weren't there during the first taping.  They also kept rearranging people a lot more than they did with the first show, I think partly because they wanted to make it look like an entirely different audience, and also because the second show guests had brought a lot more family members and friends to sit in the audience.  I found out after the show that the woman behind me was the sister of the man on stage.

Anyway, I didn't feel safe in my seat, as I watched the staff shift people around.  I also watched a group of three be seated in the front section on the side opposite the runway.  They were holding a blue ticket that said "VIP", and I noticed that one of them was wearing jeans.  I remembered what the staff member had said about seating people with jeans in the back, and sure enough, a few minutes later, someone came to tell them that she couldn't sit there in jeans, and that her friends could either stay there or go with her to the back.  They were good friends and went with her, but I started looking around and noticing all of the cases where it looked like one person probably unknowingly ruined it for their better-dressed friend.

Again, our audience host came out and reminded us of the exits and the swinging camera.  He then told us that this show was a lot more serious than the first and was going to be very interesting.  I think everyone in the studio audience was relieved because I heard a lot of comments during the break from others about how immature and ridiculous the guests on the first show acted.

Then we got up and danced.  This time, they did a dance-off between two high school teachers.  After dancing and giving out mugs, Robin came in and threw stress balls, again, and I still didn't catch one.

Second Show Taping

The second show was about a murder of a 7-year-old girl, Maria Ridulph, in 1957 (the book, Footsteps in the Snow by Charles Lachman, will be released on November 4th).  The case went cold for five decades until a deathbed confession of a mother who sold her son out as the murderer.  The murderer, Jack McCullough (or John Tessier before he changed his name), does not admit to being guilty, but he was put behind bars in July 2011 and convicted of murder in September 2012 after many pieces of evidence pointed to him.  One person, Jack's stepdaughter, does not believe him to be guilty of murder and thinks her stepfather's life was unjustly taken from him without proper evidence.

This show was really well-done because there were a lot of very relevant and important guests, and of course a lot of evidence.  They were also able to use clips from the documentary which aired on the Lifetime Movie Network that included an interview with Jack.

First, we met Maria's older brother, and he explained the day that she went missing.  Dr. Phil then introduced the sister of the convicted murderer, Janet Tessier, who heard her mother's deathbed confession and reported it to authorities, and she told us a few stories of her memories of her older brother when she was younger.  Then they introduced the stepdaughter of Jack, Janey O'Connor, who honestly believes that her stepfather is innocent, and had a lot of issues with some of the evidence presented and how it was interpreted during trial.

Some of the other guests on the show were the head prosecutor (via webcam), author of the book Footsteps in the Snow, Charles Lachman (via webcam), teenage girlfriend of John Tessier during the time the murder took place, and the childhood friend of Maria Ridulph and person who identified John Tessier as the murderer from a photo line-up, Kathy Sigman.

One thing that I found fascinating was how Dr. Phil's tone was so different during this taping than during the first show.  Here, he was calm and spoke softly due to the serious nature of the topic.  The guests were also all very respectful and would ask permission to speak.  They also were able to speak calmly and not let their emotions get the best of them.  The only guest who I found to be quite rude and sassy was the stepdaughter, Janey O'Connor, who would laugh at an inappropriate time or make a snippy remark.  This, of course, did nothing to help her case, as I found it hard to sympathize with someone rude and disrespectful.

Final Thoughts

Being a member of the studio audience at the Dr. Phil Show was fun!  It was really interesting to see how the shows are made.  But what really added to my enjoyment was my great seat in the audience.  Going to the show, I was worried that I might not even be admitted, so it really made my day to be chosen as one of the guests to sit by the stage.

A few recommendations for others who would like to be in the studio audience at Dr. Phil...

Follow the dress code.  Make sure that your clothing is professional and well-fitting.  Fix your hair and make-up as you would if you were going to a job interview or would be speaking in front of an audience.  Stay away from clothing that is revealing.  It's also a good idea to dress in layers because the studio is freezing, but the outdoor waiting area can be quite warm.  And remember that as soon as you get in line, you are being evaluated based on your appearance.  If your jacket doesn't go with your outfit, take it off.  Stand up straight, and look pleasant.  And it probably doesn't hurt to smile at the guy giving you your waiver.

Don't be an advertisement.  Before the second show, I noticed that a crew member came and looked closely up and down our row, at our laps and the floor.  "Just checking for brand placement."  Dr. Phil doesn't want to give away free advertisement.  So it might be a good day to leave behind your purse covered in Coach "C"s or to not wear your Mickey Mouse tie.

Eat a good breakfast.  They told us we would get out around 1:00 to 1:30, but I didn't get out of the studio until 2:00.  I was glad that they had given me a snack to hold me over, and I was very hungry on the drive home!

Arrive early.  While they admitted people at least until 9:00 AM, there aren't many seats in front by the stage.  And depending on how many guests are there for Dr. Phil, that number could be even more limited.  Get there early to ensure that you have a fair shot at a yellow ticket.

Have fun!  Let loose and make the best of your experience by dancing in the audience and having a good time.  And go dance for that mug, if you feel like it!  As Max and I love to quote from Online Gamer, "Who gives a [shoot]?  We're never going to see these people again, anyway!"

Dr. Phil shoots Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.  Request tickets on Dr. Phil's website or TVTickets.com.

Now get your DVRs ready and watch for me in the studio audience!  I'm wearing a navy jacket with gold trim in the episodes Tummies to Tots and Footsteps in the Snow (Maria Ridulph murder).  Also, shout-out to reader Susan Wilson who recommended a TV Taping... I wanted so badly to tell you how spot-on your were, but wanted to wait so that it would be a surprise!

Update: The Tummies to Tots episode, "An Online Hate Group is Stalking us and Ruining our Lives," aired Wednesday, October 8.

I expect the Maria Ridulph murder story to air coinciding with the book release which is November 4.

Join me for my October series, 31 Days of Los Angeles for more Southern California fun!