Going to the Bonnie Hunt Show

Tickets for The Bonnie Hunt Show
My wife thinks it’s strange that I like The Bonnie Hunt Show, since its primary target demographic seems to be middle-aged white women (hint: none of those three descriptors apply to me). I’ve been a Bonnie Hunt fan for a long time, though—through Jerry Maguire, Return to Me, and Loggerheads. I love her smarts, sarcasm, and quick wit. She’s a bit like Mae West, but better-looking.

I don’t know how I first heard about The Bonnie Hunt show, but I think it’s great. Some shows are clearly better than others (I like Mail from You Guys, TV Courtroom Word of the Day, any puppy or dog appearances, and guests I’ve actually heard of).

Well, my wife kindly got me tickets for a show taping, and the experience was interesting.

So when you try to get tickets, they call and email you several times to confirm that you’re actually coming. The woman in charge of audience stuff is named Amanda, and she’s very professional and friendly. Unfortunately, the information the show sends (as PDFs attachments in an email) is a bit vague about how the check-in process works.

Checking In
In case any Bonnie Hunt Show fans stumble upon this, here is how it worked for us. There is a parking garage right around the corner from the Culver Studios at Ince. The parking garage is free for the first two hours and only $1 per hour after that. I’m not sure if this sign is always up or not, but at least before taping, there’s a big sign for the show pointing to gate 2 of Culver Studios where the check-in is.

We were told to check in no later than noon. We got there at 11:15-ish and waited in line for pretty much nothing to happen for a while. Eventually, they went down the line and asked for our names and IDs, while they handed us numbered hang-around-the-neck tags. My wife and I were 46 and 47, respectively. The staff have to wear Chicago Cubs paraphernalia. More waiting. A reminder that cell phones and cameras aren’t permitted. Some random form asking for our names and addresses. More waiting. At around 1:00, they finally let us in the pedestrian entrance of gate 2 and did a lame security check on us (I wasn’t smuggling anything in, but if I’d wanted to, I could have easily done so—the check isn’t very thorough at all).

Then we proceeded (in numerical order) to some very long benches right outside the studio. Bathrooms were available and a bunch of small TVs showing previous shows were on in the background. We brought books to read and just read them. This waiting period was quite a while, and they gave us a warning that we should use it to go to the bathroom, because once you’re in the studio, you’re not allowed to leave to go to the bathroom, and if you do, you can’t come back in.

For about an hour, we just sat there. Then they let us in after the last show finished taping. As we walked in, they gave us hot dogs and root beer.

Bonnie Hunt Show Souvenirs
Here’s my root beer (along with Jewel CDs they later gave us). Unfortunately, my wife couldn’t have the root beer for medical reasons, and I didn’t want the hot dog, because I’m vegetarian. So that gift was a nice gesture, but it didn’t really work for us. It was also an odd thing to give a bunch of people who were just told not to go to the bathroom for the next two hours or longer.

Taping the Show
The show has this guy who’s supposed to warm up the audience. Basically, he is some comedian who needs a day job. He cracks a few jokes and also tells people they need to laugh and clap at everything, and he’ll humiliate you in front of everyone else if you don’t. I was a little annoyed at this guy, even though I think he’s necessary. It would be nice to think that people would naturally appreciate what’s funny or clap out of common courtesy for things that are clap-worthy. But this is show business, and they’re taping a show for TV. They can’t have people in the audience frowning and leaning back in their chairs with their arms folded. They can’t have golf claps from only half the audience. That’s low energy. It makes the show look bad to home audiences.

The studio was a bit smaller and differently configured than I thought it would be. I always figured the performance area was on Bonnie’s right and that the band was closer to her. But in a clockwise fashion from noon to midnight, it goes Bonnie, folding chairs with Holly and others, big camera crane, audience, band, performance area, rug and stairs, then back to Bonnie.

I always knew that guests on shows were there just to pimp their stuff (latest movie, latest book, latest CD), but it becomes even more apparent when you’re on a show taping, because you see them in between takes, and this is definitely a job for them, too. They aren’t just hanging out. It’s a bit weird seeing Bonnie do multiple takes of things. Generally speaking, things run smoothly, but some production assistant must have messed up, because the URL on the cue card was wrong, and Bonnie ended up having to read it again. There weren’t too many extra takes, though, as she’s pretty good at using an impromptu joke to recover from a slip-up.

I thought Bonnie was hilarious, and my favorite moments were when the camera was off and she would just be joking around with the crew or with the audience (especially at the end of the show when she thanks almost everyone individually for coming). The band was a lot of fun, and they just played whatever. Randomly during breaks, they kept playing the beginning of Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” They didn’t always do what Bonnie or the other staff wanted, but it all ended up working in the end.

The coolest job on the show (because a lot of the people look stressed, from the make-up artists and camera crew to the cue card holders and other PAs) was one this young woman had. She just walked around with a camera that had a huge lens and took random still shots of things. No one was directing her, telling her what to do or scolding her for messing up. She just did her own thing.

One thing I guess I should have known is that they don’t tape things in order. In fact, a taped show sometimes isn’t even one show. Most of our taping is going to end up in one show, and then another part apparently is going to air in another day’s show. It is certainly a stressful production, and a lot of the witty banter you’ll sometimes see on the aired shows is most likely a way to deal with stress than a reflection of a lighthearted, carefree approach to filming a TV show.

Jewel performed during our taping, and I was extremely impressed by her professionalism. She didn’t have to warm up or anything. She wasn’t a diva in any way. She just walked up and performed amazingly (with all her yodels and such) with no mistakes. When they asked her to do a second song, they weren’t sure what they wanted her to sing, and she was just like “I’ll sing anything. Whatever.” They requested a song, and she sang it. No fuss. Very professional.

As we left, I asked the band pianist when we would finally hear the whole “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” He laughed, but as we were walking out of the studio, I heard them playing it. That was nice. Attending a taping took a lot of the magic out of the show for me—in a good way, though. I definitely have a better appreciation for how hard the people involved in the show work, especially since I now know they have three tapings in one day (one in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening).

I’m glad my wife got me those tickets and was willing to put up with a show she has absolutely no interest in. It was a fun experience.

Music I Like TV

The lone dissenter on Susan Boyle

Okay, everyone I know is crazy about Susan Boyle. I see Facebook postings about how great she is and how people are amazed by how good she is. I see news stories about how mean people are for laughing at her. I see feminist critiques citing her as a champion for how women especially should not be judged by their looks.

Am I the only one who isn’t caught up in all this? I saw the YouTube video. The instant she appeared, I knew exactly what would happen. She would be awkward and ugly, people would laugh at her (and the camera would linger for that extra moment on each sneer), and then she would blow everyone away with an incredible voice, and the judges and audience would recant their disdain and embrace her.

Do people really think she just walked right on stage like that? Everyone was surprised? No. The producers planned it. She had to audition, and at that moment the producers knew they had it made (“It’s Paul Potts… but better… this will be ratings gold!”). They would let the camera crew know to highlight certain things (if audience members are laughing in disgust, linger longer on those folks), they would let the hosts know to make extra fun of her beforehand. Maybe the judges wouldn’t be let in on it, so their surprise will seem more genuine.

This was carefully plotted, folks. Make no mistake about it. And even though people were surprised, I think they had a right to be surprised (they didn’t have a right to make fun of her, though). It’s not that she’s ugly (even though she is). It’s not that her dress is frumpy and unfashionable (even though it was). It’s her demeanor. It’s her seeming obliviousness. It’s her seeming lack of stage presence.

There are good singers, and there are good performers. If you’re lucky you’ll get a good performer who is also a good singer. If you see someone who seems physically awkward and doesn’t command the room when she walks on the stage, you think you’re not going to see a good performer. It actually makes sense. For the producers and Britain’s Got Talent ratings, it’s just trimming on the tree that she’s also physically unattractive and unfashionable.

But people’s expectations that she would not be a good performer are perfectly in line with how she walked on stage, how she made that awkward little dance while talking (as if she were a three-year-old girl). So stop judging yourselves for misjudging her stage presence and performing abilities.

The worst part is that all of these people who say “Shame on us for judging her by her looks and laughing at her” will still judge people by their looks and still laugh at them. I may be the most cynical of them all when it comes to the Susan Boyle phenomenon, but all I see are Britain’s Got Talent exploiting an ugly duckling, and people congratulating themselves on guilt that won’t lead to real character change. You haven’t learned your lesson, general public.


I watch too much TV

Yup. You know all those high-and-mighty folks who don’t watch TV and who say TV is polluting the minds of youth and making people lazy and fat? Well, they’re talking about me. I don’t think I’m lazy or fat, and I think my mind is okay (but how would I know?). And yet I watch a lot of TV. I’d say I watch TV probably about four to five hours a day. Something like that.

My new favorite show is The Bonnie Hunt show. I’ve always been a big fan of Bonnie Hunt, ever since Jerry Maguire (didn’t like the movie but I liked her in it). Return to Me sealed the deal for me. That is one funny movie!

If anyone watches The Biggest Loser, I just want to say I’m so glad that Michelle won and Vicky didn’t. I guess sometimes there is justice in the world, even on reality TV. I also want to say that Jillian Michaels would have made a much better Sarah Connor for Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. She’s buff and tough and reminds me a lot of Linda Hamilton from T2. That new Sarah Connor seems a little too wimpy.

Oh, and How I Met Your Mother is the new Seinfeld.

Really, though, I don’t see what’s so bad about TV. It’s just another medium to tell stories through, just like paintings, songs, novels, poetry, dance, and comic books. The quality of TV shows varies, just as the quality of books does. Books are not inherently better than TV shows. In fact, I’d much rather watch three seasons of Dexter than have to read another single book by John Gray “Ph.D.” (I want back the time I wasted reading Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus).

I did abstain from TV in high school, and I’m glad to know I can live without it if I want to (I’m not one of those addicts who just says “Oh, I can quit any time”). Still, I’m glad I came back to it. TV can be a good drug if you watch the right shows.