After a few trials and tribulations getting it posted on YouTube (mostly involving copyright issues that caused me to have to make some alternate song choices), my newest film “The Man Who Would Be A Millionaire” is available on YouTube (and at the end of this post) and the story can finally be told…
Last Thursday I received a call from my good friend Rich Zaleski (aka Nixon Kutz, Roller Derby Referee) letting me know he had an extra ticket to attend a taping of the ABC game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire“. I thought it sounded like a fun day out, but my ears didn’t really prick up until he further informed me that I’d have an opportunity to try out for the show after the taping. How could I refuse?
I can’t claim to be a big fan of the show, but I do see it on a regular basis because of my own cool job. How is this possible, you ask? The answering service for which I am the Operations Manager has a TV set to keep us all from dying of boredom when it’s slow, and my office manager never misses an episode. It seems that I’m often stopping in the operations room to pick up mail when the show is on, and I always take a few moments to answer whatever question is on the screen then wait to find out if I’m right. Since my answers are correct more often than not, when Rich called and invited me….how could I say no?
I’ll skip the details of the trip to NYC and tell you the things you want to know. All tapings at ABC Studios are free, so getting tickets is simply a matter of going online and requesting them ahead of time. ABC sends a postcard with the time and date of the show that you need to bring to the studio at 2:30pm when the taping it set to begin. (Actually, I’m short and wanted a good seat so we got in line at 1:30pm which turned out to be just the right time to show up.)
While the soon-to-be audience members were in line, Production Assistants passed out questionnaires to anyone who was interested in trying out. The questions weren’t all that exciting, and mostly involved confirming that you don’t work for and/or aren’t related to any employee of ABC or its parent company Disney. There were a sprinkling of questions like “What makes you interesting?” (My answer: I used to drive a horse drawn carriage in Central Park) and “What would you do with the money?” (My answer: Take care of my son’s education and buy a house), but nothing too challenging.
Once we entered the studio, things got much more interesting. The set seemed somehow much bigger and much smaller than it does on TV, and the padded bleachers that pass for seats were uncomfortable — but much less so after I managed to extract the “poll the audience” control from my butt. As with most TV shows that include a “live studio audience”, after we were threatened with dismemberment by a producer should our cellphones ring during the show, a warm-up comic arrived on the set to get everyone pumped up and ready to clap like crazy.
I’d just like to pause here for a moment to give props to comedian Paul Mecurio — being a stand-up comic is one of the most challenging jobs there is, and getting a sober audience to laugh at 3:00pm on a Thursday seems to me ten times as challenging. If you ever see his name on the sign in front of a comedy club, you ought to go in and check him out. He’s an insult comic in the grand tradition of Don Rickles and Triumph and I had a great time watching him torture a few audience members.
Finally at around 3:30pm, the house lights went down, the crazy spinning fresnel lights on the set scaffold started spinning, and show host Meredith Viera strode onto the set trailed by an entourage of assistants and makeup artists. The show taping happened in real time (i.e. 8 or 9 minutes segments of the game, each followed by a 3 minute break), and was captured by 3 stationary cameras and one extremely intimidating remote-controlled camera on a crane that never stopped moving and I’m sure will give me the willies should I ever be a contestant and see it barreling up to within 3 feet of me for a dramatic closeup. ( Just imagine if Wall-E were the bad guy instead of the good guy and you’ll get the idea.)
The actual taping itself wasn’t much more interesting than watching the show, though I must admit that when Contestant #2 (sweet middle-aged schoolteacher who was going to donate her winnings to charity) took her $16K and went home rather than answer the easy $25,000 question (which of course I knew the answer to) it was tempting to jump out of my seat and smack her. We did get a few “poll the audience” questions which were fun and made us feel like part of the show. On the downside, after two hours of almost non-stop clapping, my hands actually started to hurt!
When the two shows we taped were over, production assistants arrived to herd us like cattle, directing people who were leaving out one door, and contestant hopefuls like myself and Rich (and about 75 others) down the hall to the ABC Studio employee cafeteria to take the qualifying test.
I haven’t filled in dots with a No. 2 pencil in quite a few years, but I didn’t have too much trouble with the 30 question multiple-choice test that we had ten minutes to complete. It was a general knowledge test that covered everything from geography (Where is the Amalfi Coast?) to cooking (What is the difference between grilling and barbecue?) to pop culture (Who was “The Prisoner of Azkaban?”). I knew most of the answers, made a few educated guesses about the others, and then sat and waited for the scores to be announced. Sadly, they don’t actually tell you how you scored on the test: but happily, I WAS in the group of 10 or so people who were called up to meet with the producers for an interview, so I can only assume I aced it!
I had my picture taken by an intern, then met with a perky young producer named J.D. who asked me to talk a little about myself, inquired about my job and my interests (did I mention the My Cool Job blog? — you bet your ass I did!), and took a few notes. After five minutes or so of chit chat, he told me that he’d enjoyed talking to me and that I’d get a postcard in a few weeks letting me know if I would be “in the contestant pool” for the show.
So I guess I went as far as I could in the tryout process last Thursday, and now will have to sit by my mailbox and wait for that postcard….it could be worth a million dollars!
The suspense is killing me already.
Of course I will keep you loyal readers in the loop on this, and I hope you’ll all be sending good thoughts my way to improve my chances. Stay tuned for further developments, and while you wait you can watch this short (but silly as always) film I made documenting the experience: