Monday, May 12, 2008

Where's the gong?

For part of the Mother's Day festivities, we returned to the Planet Hollywood Hotel and Casino, this time to attend a taping of the NBC summer series America's Got Talent. At first we considered any combination of picnics, art walks, or community festivals to mark the day, but in the end we could not deny the sheer marquee power of host Jerry Springer and judges David Hasselhoff, Sharon Osbourne, and Piers Morgan.

We had good (free) seats in the auditorium right next to the main cameras, which was ideal: we were close enough for a great view, but still hidden under the cameras. (Many have the desire to be captured on television; I am not one of those people.)

Before anyone famous showed up, the production crew filmed the audience doing things like standing ovations, seated applause, concerted booing, and the ever-usable collective shock and anger. Presumably, they'll add these moments where appropriate during the editing process. But it confirmed what I've long believed about television: it's all fake.

[Dramatic aside: After all that phony audience interaction, I became nauseous. I looked right and left, searching for ANYTHING that seemed real. And there he was, God's gift to Germany: David Hasselhoff. Thank you, Herr Hair.]

The judges ran down the aisle to their seats amidst timely applause, and the show began. After a few opening remarks in which he reminds us that he's not talented, Jerry Springer tries to invoke an anything-can-happen atmosphere, and reports that last season's winner has a recurring gig at the Las Vegas Hilton. So it's appropriate that the showrunners (including exec producer Simon Cowell, who didn't appear) wanted the competition here.

We witnessed about 16 acts perform, and some were clearly there for the sake of television. We were coached by the warmup guy, a Lewis Black wannabe, to chant "Off! Off! Off!" when we desired a performer to stop. (To me, this is a poor word choice. We were already cheering on Mr. Knight Rider with "Hoff! Hoff! Hoff!" so anything similar just made things confusing.)

Frequently I felt the need to act upon my wiseass tendencies in this venue. For example, when a mother/daughter pair of whistlers (they performed "Climb Every Mountain") interacted with the judges, the daughter -- who said she was about 40 -- started getting sassy. She mentioned to David Hasselhoff that she used to keep a life-size poster of him on her bedroom wall. "So did he," I yelled as a reply. I doubt he heard that, and I'm sure the adjacent cameras cut out the ambient noise, but at least I entertained those around me.

I met my sarcasm Kryptonite when a U.S. Army serviceman came on stage wearing fatigues and a guitar, and mentioned that he'd spent the past 15 months in Iraq. As he chatted with the judges, each of his responses was met with applause. Which was fine, but then he started singing that dreadful Edwin McCain song "I'll Be." Whether or not he was good enough, I sure as heck wasn't going to say anything.

Overall, it was an okay experience; I can kind of see why shows like American Idol have such a young, Stepford-esque audience willing to behave like idiots on cue. I would like to think that a taping of something like The Daily Show would be more entertaining, though similarly filled with stops and starts.


Mainline Mom said...

Very interesting post. I've been thinking of attending a taping of our local Philly NBC talk show, mainly for the free giveaways. I guess I'd better get my ass in gear and do it before we move to H-town.

Neel Mehta said...

I've been thinking of attending a taping of our local Philly NBC talk show, mainly for the free giveaways.

Sounds like a good idea. Any chance you can attend a newscast hosted by that crazy local anchor chick? I have a feeling that would be entertaining.

Mainline Mom said...

I don't actually know what happened to that girl. We all (listen to me, speaking for the whole of Philadelphia!) speculate she will surely end up in Hollywood doing some kind of gossip TV show. Kinda like what happened to Jerry Penacoli after the HUGE Gerbil fiasco of 1985.

patricia said...

Actually, I can tell you that the Daily Show taping is fairly smooth and is approximately as funny as watching it on TV. No schticks to get camera footage for later, what you see is generally what the audience experienced. And, in the words of the immortal Canterburians, it's all good.....