I always wondered where they got random people to be on shows like Oprah, Dr. Phil, Jerry Springer, etc. Well ok, most of the Jerry Springer people came from trailer parks across the country, but the people on Oprah always seemed to be pretty decent. One day, as part of Oprah’s studio audience, I found out where some of these people came from…and I was almost one of them.
My wife and I had always wanted to be in the studio audience of a TV show. They filmed Springer and Oprah in Chicago, and Aaron C., the overnight guy at WBNQ, told me that he and a friend would often drive to Chicago after he got off the air at 6 am and be in Jerry Springer’s audience. He said it was a ton of fun to watch all the crazy people there. We didn’t really want to be with the Springer crowd, so my wife found out how to get tickets for Oprah. There was one week when they were trying to get some episodes in the can, and they were filming every day. My wife called and called and called, and finally gave me the news…we had Oprah tickets for a week from Friday.
We went up the night before and spent the night at a friend’s place so that we could be there pretty early for the taping. Tickets for the show are general admission, so we thought that if we got there early enough, we would get a good seat. Little did we know, that when we went in and claimed our tickets we would have another stop before we went to the studio.
Everyone was ushered into a long, white room with chairs. On the walls were about 3 or 4 TV monitors showing great moments from past Oprah shows…the ones where she is interviewing Tom Cruise or dancing and singing with 50’s & 60’s singing star Dion. This is probably where I should mention that you don’t know what the topic of the show is until you’re in the studio. That way good shows aren’t jam packed, and lame shows have a full audience. So we’re already thinking about getting lucky…maybe Oprah will have a famous TV star, or maybe this will be the day she gives away $1000 shopping sprees to everyone in the audience!
As we’re sitting there, some people came in and started handing out papers and pencils for everyone. They asked us all to write down the following information: do we have a friend or relative that has an annoying habit, what is the habit, and would they be willing to come on the show with you and talk about it. Then they asked us to supply them with our name and phone number. Now I have many annoying friends with many annoying habits, but the first thing that came to mind was my brother. One of the things that annoyed me the most when we were growing up was the fact that he chews with his mouth open. (I know he’ll probably read this and want to beat my ass, but dude, it still happens).
So I started merrily writing away about my brother’s annoying habit. Would he be willing to come on the show with me and talk about it? Are you kidding? It’s Oprah…who wouldn’t? Then I supplied my name and phone number, and the whole business seriously left my mind as I prepared myself for the great show topic that was only minutes away at this point. After all, they’ve been taping all week, and this was FRIDAY, so I was sure they were leaving the best for last.
Finally, we were ushered into the studio and chose our seats. We were about 6 or 7 rows up at the end of the aisle, and during the show we would be to Oprah’s right. We thought we would get some camera time for sure, and quite possibly, if someone like Paul McCartney was going to be on, they would go immediately to me to back up Paul as he played some of his Beatle favorites.
Finally, the magic time came. One of the Oprah Show people came out and welcomed everyone, gave us all some tips on audience etiquette, and then said, “I’m sure you’re all dying to know the topic of the show for the day!” Wait for it…holding our breath…ready to burst into a cheer…”It’s…911 Hair Emergencies.” What the hell did she just say? What are 911 Hair Emergencies, and if it’s what I think it is, how in God’s name are they going to fill a whole show with this crap? Are they kidding me? After all we went through to get these tickets, get to the studio, wait and wait and wait, and that’s what we get? 911 Fucking Hair Emergencies?
As you can already guess, the show was a total bomb. I fell asleep through most of it, and when I wasn’t asleep, a thousand thoughts went through my head…wonder what traffic’s going to be like on the way home…wonder if I’ll ever be stupid enough to try to be on a TV show again…wonder if we have Miracle Whip at home. It was terrible. During breaks, Oprah would talk to the audience. She seemed pretty nice, but was a little fake, too. I remember one person in the audience saying something about seeing her on the cover of some magazine, and she said something like “Yeah, that can be embarrassing when you’re standing in line at Walgreens after just getting out of bed on Sunday morning and seeing your face all bright and cheery on the cover of a magazine.” The first thought that entered my head was “I’ll bet you haven’t set foot in a Walgreens in 10 years.”
Anyway, the show was over, and they gave us all nice hardcover books by the person who helped the volunteers from the studio audience who wanted their hair done up nicely. On the way out, you could see most people tossing them in a garbage can. Wow, that show really made an impression.
We got out of the studio about 2 pm, and started home. We walked in the door of our house about 5, and I went downstairs to check the answering machine. There were no less than THREE messages that said, “Hi Rick, this is (I can’t remember her name, so I’ll call her Jeanne) from the Oprah Winfrey Show. Please call us back at this number as SOON as you get home.” All three messages said the same thing. I immediately asked my wife if she had left her purse there or something, but she assured me she had everything. So I told her about the messages, and she said, “Well, call them back and see what they want.”
I called back and Jeanne answered. “Hi Rick, thanks for getting back to us! Did you inform us today that you have a brother that chews with his mouth open?” I almost laughed out loud. I figured it was someone playing a joke on me, but my wife and I were the only ones who knew what I wrote. I paused for a second, and responded, “Yeah, that was me.”
Here’s how the rest of the conversation went:
“Would you and your brother be willing to come on the show and talk about it?”
“Yes, we really want you both on the show!”
“Um, my brother lives in Minneapolis.”
“That’s no problem. We’ll fly him to Chicago and get him a hotel room” (they hadn’t even offered me gas money yet).
“Um, geez, I dunno. Let me give him a call.”
“Ok, call him right away and then call us back to let us know. Tell him we REALLY want you guys on the show!”
Immediately I pictured a Hollywood producer watching Oprah while he’s getting a massage. He would see my brother and I onscreen, take the cigar out of his mouth and say, “THOSE are the two I’m looking for for my next blockbuster! Get Oprah on the phone so I can track these guys down!”
I got my brother on the phone and explained the situation. He talked like he was shell-shocked. I kept explaining their willingness to fly him down to Chicago, put him up in a nice hotel, etc. After all, the reason they wanted us was because they thought I would look great on-camera, right? And TWO of us? Forget it!
My brother explained two things to me. Number one, he was starting a new job with his company on Monday, and didn’t want to try to get ahold of them over the weekend to say that he had to start Tuesday because he had to be on Oprah on Monday. Then he explained that I was a total asshole for telling people that he chews with his mouth open…although it’s true!
I called Jeanne back and gave her the bad news. She kept asking if I could call him back and talk him into it. I said that he seemed pretty adamant, so probably not. She then sounded rather dejected, and told me to call at any point over the weekend if we changed our minds.
Then it hit me…they didn’t care who I was or what my habit was. They were working late on a Friday, wanted to start their weekend, and some idiot boss, possibly Oprah herself, was making them stay until they had a show ready for Monday.
Still, to this day, I catch a glimpse of the Oprah Show, and almost expect her to say something like, “You know Ms. Streisand, we ALMOST had a couple of brothers on the show to talk about that very same habit you just said annoys you the most about James Brolin.”