On March 1st, 2016, I had the opportunity to sit and watch a taping of the CBS television program The Big Bang Theory. It’s my favourite show on TV right now and so getting the chance to see it taped live was a real dream come true. Here I recount the tale of how it all came to be, and all the little nuances that went along with it.
SPOILER ALERT!!!! This post does contain spoilers about both episode 9×18 and 9×19. If you do not want to be spoiled about these episodes, you should wait until after they have aired before reading this. You have been warned.
Prior to Taping Day
As many of you know, I travel a lot for my work. When a recent class got put on my schedule, the location had not been determined yet. It was a class for employees so I knew there was a good chance it was going to be in LA. They booked it for Philly. Blah. But then as luck would have it, they switched it to LA and I got pretty excited. It was my intention to try and get a ticket to see The Big Bang Theory (TBBT) being taped. Once it was confirmed the class was in LA, I started doing research on how to get tickets.
I quickly learned that tickets can be acquired (free) through TVTickets.com. However it seemed that TBBT was not on the list of tickets to get, or were shown as SOLD OUT all the time. Further research led me to this website which basically said you had to get the tickets on the day they were released which was 30 days before the taping. I checked the schedule and sure enough, the week after my class, a taping was happening. My class was the week of February 22nd and the taping was going to be on March 1st. I booked my travel and extended my stay to March 2nd. Now I just needed tickets.
On the day the tickets were released, I tried, and tried, and tried to get “guaranteed” seats. These tickets are the hardest to get and go the fastest. These tickets are the ones that guarantee you a seat in the audience (even though they can bump you anyway if there are too many VIPs). The website kept crashing as I tried to get guaranteed tickets. Within an hour, it said SOLD OUT.
A few hours later I tried again and was surprised to find the SOLD OUT was gone. I tried and tried again with no luck. Eventually the SOLD OUT showed up again and Standby became available. I quickly secured a standby ticket. Although I didn’t have a guaranteed shot, I did at least have a standby ticket.
Standby tickets are just like they are with the airlines. If seats are available, they let standby folks in. If there are no seats available, no standby people get in. All the reading I did online said that most of the time, at least some of the standbys get in. It’s not guaranteed but usually some get in. That meant the only way I could insure that I would get in would to be first in line for standby. I then began planning how I would accomplish this.
I had made the decision that I would be at the studio for 6am. All of the reports I had read online indicated the earliest someone had been there was around 8:30am. So, 6am seemed like a sure thing. Again, no way to know for sure but I was willing to do whatever I had to do to secure that first spot in line.
While in LA, I opted to take the Warner Brothers Studio Tour to see behind the scenes of the TV and movie studios and I knew that TBBT was shot there. In taking the tour, they actually brought us into the TBBT studio and we saw the stages from the bleachers. Had I not gotten into a taping, I would have at least have been able to say that I saw the set.
On Sunday and Monday, I did some touring of LA but I also did research for Tuesday’s taping. Turns out that parking lot at the studio doesn’t open for TBBT guests until later in the day so I needed to find a place to park my car for all of that time. Parking in LA is a pain but after a few jaunts out and looking for a spot, I found a perfect spot to park, for free, for the entire day.
The night before the taping, I was so anxious that I had a hard time sleeping. I ended up awake around 5am so I got up, had a shower, and left.
Taping Day – Before The Taping
So to get a bit of a feel for how it all works, let me walk you through some timings and how the lineup process works. I borrowed the image below from a page I used to help me figure out what to do and where to go.
Both TBBT and Ellen share the same waiting area. Inside that parking garage (walk-in entrance), there are benches and lines. This is where the Ellen attendees stand and wait. Because Ellen tapes at 5:00pm and TBBT at 6:30pm, the TBBT folks can’t use the line inside until after Ellen’s audience has been seated. So that means that a temporary, self-policing line, forms in the parking lot shown on the left (walk-in entrance for BBT line). This is where my long wait began.
I parked the car on my found spot, walked over to the empty lot to find not a soul there. I was indeed person #1. The time was 5:48am. I then went inside to the visitors center and asked them inside where to wait and they confirmed it was outside.
I had packed my iPad, a Gatorade, some granola bars and a notepad. I started making entries in my notepad as a sort of journal. You can see in the picture above my blue sling and orange Gatorade sitting on the end of the bench. That was the beginning of the line.
Person #2 came in around 8:30 and about every 20-30 minutes, a few more people would stumble in. However, it was person #2, a woman named Peggy, who would help me learn more about the tapings, and help secure me a good seat.
She had been coming to the tapings since season 4. She’d met the cast, crew, been on the actual set, and knew a lot about how the whole thing worked. She assured me that it was pretty good odds we would be getting in.
The day didn’t seem to drag on at all until we got moved inside. Once we were brought into the parking garage, where the real lines were, then the waiting became really nerve-wracking.
I didn’t take any pictures while in line inside because I had put my phone in my car. I found this photo online which you can kind of see. If you look off to the right, you can see the brown benches. The three closest to the right wall were for guaranteed, the other three were for standby. The benches on the left are for VIPs only.
We got moved into here around 4:00pm and we wouldn’t find out if we were getting in until close to 5:30. That 90 minutes was the longest time I waited. I had been there 10+ hours but that 90 minutes was the worst.
We saw a LOT of VIPs come in and were getting worried about not being able to get inside. Eventually, they came around checked all of our tickets and compared the names to the list they had. My name was not on their list and I had a minor panic attack. I had a real ticket!!! I had to be on the list. But apparently it was normal and they just added me to the bottom of the list and all was good. They wrote the number 1 on my ticket and circled in. I was #1 in the standby list. Fingers crossed.
Security eventually checked my ID and stamped my hand and I waited some more. VIPs started going in, and then guaranteed folks next. The guaranteed line emptied and more VIPs went in. I was getting pretty freaked out.
Then eventually, they called “standby numbered 1-10, follow me”, and that was our cue. The first 10 in the line were going to be admitted. My heart was pounding with excitement and I couldn’t believe it was actually going to happen.
In the map you see here, this is where we were led. You cross the street and enter the studio lot. I kid you not in saying that I was almost in tears as I crossed the street as I could not believe this was actually happening. I mean seriously, how often does this kind of stuff get to happen?
We went through several security points, had our bags checked twice, told to use the bathroom, and then eventually led us down to Stage 25 which is the stage the show is taped on. This was the same stage I had gone into during my tour of Warner Brothers.
Just outside the stage door, a bunch of parking spots marked with The Big Bang Theory were clearly visible. Peggy, the woman who was #2 in the line, pointed out who’s car belonged to who. Kunal drives a pretty fancy looking sports car.
Once inside, they searched our bags again and anyone who had kept their phone had to surrender their phone and ID before being seated. I followed around a corner and up a set of stairs where I was about to be seated. Peggy, knowing the people there, quietly asked for a seat on the right side of the stage. Apparently it’s a big no no to do that and she was even told that she’s not really supposed to do that but it was fine.
I dug this photo off the web to give some context. The small red square is about where I sat. It was in the second row and would have been in direct line of sight to the kitchen island in the apartment. PERFECT viewing spot. The second red square shows the other main set area used for that days taping. Wolowitz’s lab was set up there and most of the taping took place between that set and the apartment. The photo above shows the hallway set with chairs but there were no chairs that night. You can also see the edge of Penny’s apartment on the left of the photo. There was no Penny set for my taping as they never went to her apartment.
Taping Day – The Actual Taping
The actual taping itself started around 6:30pm but not before we all got a little treat. They ran the episode “The Application Deterioration” (9×18) on the monitors for everyone to watch. This had been taped the week before and had not aired. As of today (March 7th), it has not aired yet and I believe it will air on Thursday. It was awesome seeing an episode before it actually aired. It hadn’t even really been completed yet as there are scenes with Raj in his car where the blue screen was still showing instead of an inserted backdrop. It was very cool to watch.
Then the real magic began. The actual taping.
SPOILER ALERT!!! Again, plot spoilers are coming so you have been warned.
Episode 9×19 – The Solder Diversion Excursion
Before anything was shot or shown to us, they introduced the cast to the audience one at a time and they all came out to wave to us. Once that was done, the episode began.
The episode was primarily a Shamy episode with plot B being around Wolowitz and Leonard in Howard’s lab. The episode started actually with a portion that had been pre-taped. Specifically, it was Sheldon talking to Amy on his laptop and the video and audio kept cutting out. When that finally ended, they started on the first real scene in the taping.
Now, I’m not going to go through every scene but I will highlight a few interesting bits here and there.
The scene they shot first was of Amy & Sheldon in the apartment and Sheldon is very upset that his laptop has died. In fact, he covers it up with a black cloth and does some kind of death horn song. They did the take twice as Jim Parsons messed up a line in the middle of it. When they cut, HE WAS MAD! You could see him acting very upset on the stage and getting quite angry. Even the woman beside me commented on how he gets mad at himself for making mistakes. I honestly thought that if this is who he really is, he must be a real ass. Turns out he’s not. As the night wore on, you could see his sense of humour come out and he was joking with the crew and Mayim between takes.
Oh, quick sidebar. Jim puts his script notes on little recipe cards and studies them between takes. Just before they shoot, he put them in a drawer in the kitchen of the apartment. Now you know what’s actually in there 🙂
When the take was done, they cut to Wolowitz’s lab which is where Leonard and Howard are working on the prototype for their new invention. Penny and Bernadette show up and the guys get them to help them. It was really interesting to see all of them working when the cameras were not rolling. They would do a take, then cut, and if one of the jokes didn’t land just right, they re-wrote it on the spot. This happened several times and each time they re-wrote it, it was funnier.
Between takes, you would see the cast goofing off with each other, or pacing around and waiting. Johnny Galecki studied his lines a bit and I spotted Kaley playing on her phone quite a bit. Both Johnny and Melissa Rauch took their glasses off when they were not on camera. When they called to start, everyone got into their positions and away they went.
Eventually we did get a few little “bloopers” from both Kaley and Melissa. Nothing too crazy but they forgot a line or messed up one here and there but for the most part, these people were nailing it. You can tell they do this for a living.
The taping was done in the order you will see it on TV which I thought was very interesting. It went back and forth between the lab and the apartment several times. Each time they would change sets, the cameras, crew, and actors would all switch stages, and the other stage would be blocked by long black sheets. Not sure why this was done but it happened everytime they changed sets.
To get a feel for what it actually is like, imagine you are in front of Sheldon’s desk so you are looking straight at his desk. Then take about 20-25 steps backwards and raise yourself in the air about 15-20 feet or so. That was where I was. The lab set, which was to the right of the apartment, was literally on the other side of the wall. The window in the kitchen literally goes nowhere and the lab is right on the other side. To the right of the lab, where the guys/girls walk into/out of the lab, is literally just a hallway outside of the set.
Between takes, Mark Sweet kept everyone entertained. He was essentially the “host” of the show. He would let us know what was coming up, when to be quiet, and keep us entertained between takes. He’d crack jokes, get people to dance, and even tell stories. I went up to the microphone myself and told my own story as to why I loved the show so much. It was quite cool. The only thing about between takes that I didn’t like was that they played a lot of music and you couldn’t hear the actors on set talking. It would have been interesting to hear what they were saying, but that was only a minor complaint.
The taping went back and forth for awhile as Amy bought Sheldon a new laptop and wanted him to recycle the old one and Sheldon didn’t want to. Leonard and Howard ended up leaving the two girls to do some work while they went off the get some solder, but got sidetracked by a surprise movie screening. For one of the scenes where Howard and Leonard are in a theatre, they literally put both of them on a couple of chairs and just had them do their lines. They had already pre-filmed that shot before but did it again for the audience. The same was also true for Sheldon and Amy when they leave the apartment and are in Amy’s car.
Before Sheldon and Amy left, they did a couple of takes regarding a non-disclosure agreement Sheldon was going to make Amy sign. The first joke didn’t land well so they re-wrote it and made Amy say a line about her having to sign one about losing her virginity.
Eventually Raj shows up at the lab and gets a text from the boys taunting him about the movie they are at, while Penny gets a text saying the car broke down (I think). This sets the stage for what was the most memorable “blooper” of the evening. They want to catch the boys in the act of lying so they put Raj in the closet (and yes there are jokes about him coming out of it) and he’s supposed to jump out and say something like “Gotcha” when the boys come back. The first time Kunal did it, he laughed when he jumped out. They must have done his jumping out scene about 5 times before they got it right.
Between takes, some of the cast would take a few pictures of each other while on set, or even dance to the music being played. Our host would ask us to give props to some of the actors and when their name came up, the actor would wave to the audience. At some point, I spotted Kaley with a Polaroid camera and realized something she had said on Jimmy Fallon was actually true.
I had seen this interview where she was saying that she no longer took selfies but used her Polaroid to take photos because of being hacked. Sounded like a bit to me but sure enough, there she was on set, taking pictures of herself with fellow castmates and really enjoying herself.
I should emphasize this. It was clear from the get go that this is a cast who loves each other. These guys were playing and having fun and enjoying their work but getting it all done like pros.
And speaking of fun, while they were re-writing one of the lines from the lab scenes, Johnny grabbed a tube of what looked like dryer tubing and pointed it to Kaley’s ear. She had her back turned to him so she didn’t know he was there. He must have said “boo” or something because she yelped quite loudly and the audience heard her and started laughing. The two of the laughed and kept on trucking. Like I said, it’s clear they have a lot of fun on set.
Eventually the lab stuff finished with the boys coming back with flowers for the girls, confessing they went to the movies, and leaving Raj in the closet.
On the Amy & Sheldon side, well, this was kind of cool. Turns out Sheldon is a hoarder. He has literally kept everything he has ever been given in a storage locker. He brings Amy there to show her and it was a really nice scene. All of the locker scenes were watched on the monitors because the set was off to the left and not visible by anyone in the audience. The takes were pretty good with no real issues save for one.
There’s a gag at the end where Sheldon is supposed to be throwing away an item from the locker: a golf ball. It’s a golf ball his brother hit him with. Well, when he went to close the locker door, you’re supposed to just see him closing the locker and then it cutting to the inside and the ball being rolled just under the door. The problem was that Jim Parsons had the golf ball in his hand and you could clearly see it as he closed the door, thus giving away the joke. They reshot that part and then it was time for the tag (last scene).
Somewhere before the locker stuff the audience was given a cold piece of pizza and a bottle of water. I hadn’t eaten anything other than granola bars the whole day so I was ready to chow down.
The audience got another surprise towards the end of the evening when our host introduced Johnny & Kaley to the audience. Both came up and stood on the rail and said some thank you’s to the crowd. They were very gracious and excited to be there and told us that as long as we kept watching, they would keep making new episodes. It was really awesome to see them a bit closer (and yes Kaley is gorgeous IRL as she is on TV) but even better that they took some time to acknowledge the fans.
The last scene was Amy and Sheldon in the apartment. They shot the scene twice with part of it being shown on the monitor only. Sheldon tells Amy they still have a couple of hours left in their date night and hints at what they can do. This of course got a great reaction from the crowd, but as it turns out, he just wanted her to go home so he could Skype her on his new laptop screen in high def. During the second take, they didn’t show the laptop stuff but just as the scene was ending, Jim Parsons got a huge grin on his face as he was trying to make Mayim laugh. It was really cool.
They called cut and that was it. Everyone piled out of there, and out of the studio some damn quickly. I got back to the car within about 10 minutes, and snapped this photo and posted it to Facebook:
This was the “program” they gave us for the taping. I now have it pinned at my cubicle (and a photocopy in my laptop bag) as a memento of an amazing night.
No, I didn’t get to meet any of the cast, but I didn’t care. They show was awesome. The experience was awesome.
I have since watched other episodes of the show and now view it very different than I did before. It’s a completely different kind of experience to see it behind the scenes. If you ever have the chance to see this show, or any show that you love watching, being taped, GO FOR IT! I promise you it is worth it.
In total, the taping itself took about 3 hours, maybe a little more but not much. Total time in line waiting before I knew I was going in was just shy of 12 hours.
And finally, I don’t know when the episode will air. Last I heard it might be April before it’s on but keep your eyes peeled.