Soon, I’ll be heading down to Hollywood to visit a couple of friends I’ve known for thirty years. I’ve been to the movie and television capitol about a dozen times since moving to California ten years ago. Every time I visit, I learn something new or see something special.
As I wrote in my book 9 From 99 Experiences in California’s Central Valley several years ago, my first visit to Hollywood included a “map to the stars” and a detour that found my friend and I in front of Johnny Carson’s mansion in Malibu.
Beautiful downtown Burbank
Two years later, I was in the NBC studio looking at the multi-colored stage curtain that Johnny passed through during the years he hosted the Tonight Show from “beautiful downtown Burbank”. Since coming to the Golden State, I’ve been in the audience for three television shows:
- The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
- Wheel of Fortune
The Jay Leno experience was interesting because I made my national singing debut on that show… sort of. During one of the commercial breaks, a singer from the house band went into the audience singing the Beatles song Come Together. During the chorus of the song, she’d engage audience members to sing the words, “come together, right now, for the beat.” I was sitting in an aisle seat when she approached me with the microphone. Thankfully for music lovers, that segment was only seen by the studio audience while the rest of America watched a commercial.
Sitting in the audience for Jeopardy! was memorable thanks to the game show industry standard of taping multiple shows during one four-hour stretch. Prior to the start of the taping, we were told that we were welcomed to stay for all four shows being taped that day.
That sounds exciting to a former broadcaster, but the reality was that you pretty much have all the studio audience member excitement you’ll want by the end of the first show. The rest of the taping seemed repetitive. We left after three shows to get a head start on pre-rush hour traffic.
Pat Sajak and Vanna White
The taping for Wheel of Fortune was similar in structure. There would be four shows taped that day. The Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune programs are taped on movie soundstages at the Sony Pictures studios, formerly the home of Metro Goldwyn Meyer.
We were told by the usher that this particular Hollywood soundstage was used in the MGM movie The Wizard of Oz. Again this time, my wife and I stayed for three shows. But we left with a lasting memory. A shot of my wife and I cheering Pat Sajak and Vanna White at the beginning of the show has been used several times after the original broadcast of the program.
We’ve seen ourselves in the audience at least four times in the past few years. Even friends and family members have told us they have spotted us in shots of the Wheel of Fortune audience.
So I’m looking forward to my next trip to Hollywood. I may see another celebrity, or be part of the audience of another television show. But I’m really going because I want to reunite with good friends, have a few laughs, and create memories that will last at least until the next time I visit.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced.
His book 9 From 99 Experiences in California’s Central Valley is now in a second printing and available from Lulu.com