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.

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