Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Margaret Moser

JANUARY 26, 1998:  Watching a rerun of Designing Women recently, I heard myself laughing in the audience. I have always felt sure that the sound engineers practice voodoo on the tapes of audiences at live tapings of TV programs but no, I could definitely hear myself over everyone else. It's the Halloween episode where the girls and Anthony spend the night in a house that may or may not be haunted. I can also be heard guffawing in an episode of Murphy Brown where Murphy and mom Avery (Colleen Dewhurst) double-date. Sitting through taping of TV programs is one of life's unique and unforgettable experiences.

You've seen the crowds at talk shows and games shows, and wondered if it's as crazy as it seems. The answer is yes, worse and even more contrived than you can imagine. The first time I was in a TV audience was as a child in New Orleans. It was a kids' show that featured The Three Stooges shorts, and the host was a Moe Howard lookalike for whom the show was named, The Great MacNutt. What I really wanted to be on was Morgus the Magnificent but I had a tough time understanding why the late-night horror show didn't have kids on it while the geek that acted like a low-rent Stooge did. (For a charming, heart-tugging tribute to a Stooge sidekick, see "Dancing About Architecture." I am a Stooges lover. You don't find a lot of them in the female gender.) Being in Girl Scouts got me an appearance with the troop on Johnny's Follies, some dork who tap-danced around the show in a striped coat and a straw hat and cane. (The show opened with us being forced to sing "Hail, hail, the gang's all here! Here on Johnny's Follies...") Observant scouts that we were, we noticed a hole in Johnny's pants that caused mass hysteria in the bleachers and a stern talking-to from the scout leader afterward.

In Houston, I got to be on KTRK's Kiterik (I think that was the name of it). Besides being one of the few female kiddie show hosts, Kiterik dressed a whole lot different from MacNutt, who'd worn a dutchboy wig, and from Morgus, who was a mad scientist. She dressed like a cat in a black leotard and fishnets with high heels, bringing a curious undertone of sex into the equation. I was fascinated by her little cat ears and tail and tried to emulate her when I got home. (It ended badly; I have vague memories of being punished for cutting up something black and lacy of my mother's. I also remember desperately wishing we could move to Dallas after hearing about Icky Twerp.)

I had sort of outgrown kids' shows by the time we moved to San Antonio when I was in junior high, so Cap'n Gus held few charms for me. I did manage to get on the kids' auction show, where "looney bucks" could be traded for valuable prizes (all prizes are valuable when you're a kid). I won a set of walkie-talkies and was sort of famous around Nimitz Junior High for about two days. Alas, the incipient star quality I was sure I possessed failed to impress the talent scouts I'd hoped were watching, and I was doomed to the mundane life of a child.

A number of years later my best friend E.A. decided to be on Wheel of Fortune. She had watched it religiously at home, a person you couldn't call during certain times because her show was on and she was watching. She made the audition arrangements, and we set out to L.A. with my brother Stephen in tow and tried out for WoF. I bombed out in the first round, probably for filling in _ _ L L _ _ _ _ L D as "Wally World" when it was supposed to be "Sally Field." Stephen bombed out second round but E.A. passed audition and appeared on WoF in 1987. (She didn't win the show but she won her game, and I have a Gucci make-up bag and turquoise dice as a result.)

The next time we went to L.A., it was with a mission: Be in a TV audience. You know how at the end of shows they say, "If you would like to be part of the audience..."? That's the best way to get tickets, it really is. You can get tickets to TV shows in Hollywood at various outlets, including being given away on the street, but they are almost always coded by color, and the studio pages will choose the tickets from out-of-towners who have requested them from the show in advance to go in first. Even if you've scored dear tickets to your fave show and have waited in line for hours that day, you can be supplanted by Aunt Ginny from Paducah who just walked up. Aunt Ginny, of course, had the foresight to get those advance tickets. The other thing to remember is that the really hot shows are next-to-impossible to get tickets for because all the other stars want to see them, too. We could have seen Head of the Class.

We didn't have those kind of golden tickets when we managed to get ours for Murphy Brown, but we were smart enough to chat up the CBS page, who liked us and furtively marked our tickets and told us the magic words, "We were turned away previously." Worked like a charm; we were inside Murphy Brown in a heartbeat. There was producer Dianne English scurrying around with a script, Murphy's living room with that Warhol print, the bar but no newsroom since most of the action took place in her home and another bar hidden from our view. It was an uneventful taping, save for the excitement of watching Candice Bergen and Colleen Dewhurst this close. (And bless Dewhurst, she was incandescent down on that set, radiating like the star she was and casting luminous star-glow on everyone about her.) The cast stood in line as we left, shaking hands and thanking us for coming.

During most TV tapings, at least one comedian is hired to entertain, distract, and instruct the audience as to when too laugh, clap, and generally keep them from getting too restless as the cast huddles for retakes and scene-blocking. On the Designing Women set (a much smaller set than MB), we were third row center, right below the comic/audience host. We were in good company - Dwayne Hickman was sitting nearby, looking just as he had on Dobie Gillis. But wait! On our left was Doug Llewellyn of People's Court! Now I was excited.

As the comic bounced around in front of us, he nonchalantly asked what we wanted to talk about. I spoke up and said that I wanted to hear Doug Llewellyn say that bit at the end of People's Court. No, said the comic, I think the audience wants you to say that! He passed me the mike. I froze, grabbed the microphone, turned to Doug Llewellyn. "Remember, if you've been hurt or involved in an accident, don't take matters into your owns hands, you take 'em to court!" The audience went wild, clapping as the comic presented me with a too-small T-shirt as I sat. Wow - did I do that? No. Delta Burke had strayed onto the set in a nightgown. I immediately stood up, as did the rest of the audience, and cheered for her. She turned around, surprised by her reception, then smiled dazzlingly and curtsied, ever the star. Then the lights dimmed.

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