It’s fascinating to watch an old dog learn a new trick… almost as much fun as watching him chew toffee. The incident I refer to was my experience at the Pantages Theatre in LA. If you haven’t been there it’s an excellent old theater in the unfashionable end of Hollywood where the homeless meet to mingle. I was there to watch a recording of Americas Got Talent. Ever since Howard Stern (blessed be his name) joined the show, I have become a firm fan of its eclectic mix of dancing dogs, jugglers, comedians, and singers. A long time a go I worked at a TV studio for a year. I was mostly the “Studio Gopher” (Gopher Tea, Gopher coffee, lunch, etc), but I did get to see a lot of recordings and it’s almost shocking to see how little the entire process has changed in 30 years. It’s still lots of very important people talking into headsets and ordering the poor benighted studio audience around; much like the guards at a WWII POW camp… come here … go there… no food or water for you… stop screaming!
The tickets were free and I’m always looking for interesting and exciting new places to fight with my lovely wife at, so we grabbed a hotel and went on an AGT adventure. On a side note, I used a new app called “Hotel Tonight” to get a room. It only sells hotels for that day, and doesn’t start selling until 12 noon local. Unlike Hotwire, it let’s you see the hotel before you commit. It has some decent deals and the price actually dropped as I was booking.
We arrived at the theater to begin several hours of waiting in line in the sun and general hanging about before we were brutally strip searched by the camp guards, given a change of clothing, deloused, tattooed, and finally admitted to the theater to be further bossed around. I was actually pleasantly surprised at how they managed the process of recording the acts, the delays between each contestant were manageable and the audience wrangler did a good job of keeping us reasonably entertained. At the beginning of the recording, they asked the entire audience to learn a simple mini dance routine to “living in America” for use in the opening credits (maybe). It was all fun and games for the first dozen or two runs but by the time we had passed 20 the natives were getting restless… we were about three more forced repetitions from an all out camp uprising.
So what about the old dog learning new tricks? Well, it wasn’t much of a trick…but it was interesting to watch. The audience is patrolled for the entire show by what can only be described as video bouncers. They watch avidly for anyone trying to sneak a pic or video of a dog dancer or belly dancer (yes we had one and yes she went through to the next round). Any attempt at video is leapt upon, water cannons are turned on the audience the offending person is dragged out, beaten senseless and in some cases water boarded on stage. However in a massive break with tradition, they did allow the audience to video the judges’ progress from the back of the theater to the stage. In fact, the audience is actively encouraged to do that… and post the pics or videos on their Facebook, Twitter, Vine or Instagram. In a further concession to the real world, all the busy and bossy crew wore t-shirts with #NBCAGT emblazoned across the back. They plugged the heck out of the Hashtag, and from the number of followers and tweets they are getting it seems to be working reasonably well. In my video (attached) of the King arriving, it’s interesting to note that you can hear cheers from the crowd but not much applause… for the simple fact that you can’t clap when you are recording… and fully 75% of the crowd was recording.
What would have been much more interesting would have been for them to let the crowd film anything they wanted, publish, and be damned. What I suspect would have happened is they would create tons of buzz on the show long before its real broadcast driving people who want to see the event in HD, as opposed to shaky phone cam – but baby steps still count as progress.