Monday, March 22, 2010

A taping of "The Big Bang Theory"

Warning: This post contains some spoilers relating to the plot line of “The Big Bang Theory”. Proceed at your own risk.

A few weeks ago I was in the Los Angeles area for a conference. Knowing that I was going to be in LA I started looking around for tickets to a few of my favorite TV sitcoms. One of my favorite shows right now is The Big Bang Theory on CBS. This is a show about 4 scientists who are also major computer, Star Trek, Star Wars, and comic book geeks. I like the show because my wife says I am parts of all 4 geeks. My wife likes the show because she is married to parts of all 4 geeks.

After looking around for tickets it became apparent that due to the show’s popularity that I wasn’t going to be able to get a ticket without some inside help. You can see this blog post for where my inside help came from and how we scored VIP tickets to the taping.

We arrived at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, CA at 5pm on Tuesday, March 9. We checked in as “guests of the production” and were moved to the front of the line. At 5:15pm they escorted our group of about 20 from the parking structure to the security check point across the street at the lot entrance. They were scanning primarily for cell phones and other obvious items. It was painless primarily because we opted to leave our cell phones in the car. That’s why there aren’t any pictures of our event as cell phones and cameras were not allowed on the stage so leaving them in your car is the best bet.

From there we started walking towards the center of the lot. Big Bang tapes on Stage 25 which is close to the middle of the lot. About half way there they stopped at the restrooms so anyone who had to go had a chance to go. Once you were on the sound stage going to the bathroom meant a long walk.

From there we continued on to the stage. On each of the sound stages at Warner Bros. they have a plaque so you can see what movies and TV shows have been shot on each stage. Of note on Stage 25 were most of the Batman movies and the original V from 1985-1986. V has made a recent comeback on ABC, another show I like to watch. Across the street from Stage 25 is Stage 24. Obvious I know but Stage 24 is where Friends was filmed and is appropriately named The Friends Stage.

Upon arriving at the door to the sound stage we had to go through security again and another magnetometer. If you had your cell phone or a camera with you they required you to check it. Another good reason for leaving your phone in your car is that if you were not a VIP then you had to step out of line while they checked your phone which meant you might not get as good of a seat. Since we were VIP’s our seats were reserved.

We entered the seating area and were directed to our seats. They had written Smith, Smith, and Payne on our seats using masking tape. It sounds like a new law firm but Smith and Smith is me and my wife and Payne is Donnie Payne, a good friend of ours who attending the taping with us. It is now around 5:30pm.

We had seats in the center house left section in the second row on the aisle right in front of Penny’s apartment. They were good seats as several scenes in the episode take place in her apartment.

Donnie and I spent the next hour looking around at all the technology on the sound stage. They had partitions blocking our view of the actual sets but we could see over the partitions to the lighting, rigs, and sound gear and we could look up at the rafters and other cabling and equipment over head. We also were able to see the sound booth and lighting booths. While we waited they had some music playing but it was fairly relaxed.

Around 6pm they told us they were going to show us an episode of the show that had yet to be aired. It was still a rough edit with a few sound issues and with the time code still on all the shots but nonetheless it was an un-aired episode and we were going to be the first to see it. At that time we were not sure why they were showing us an un-aired episode. Usually they just show one that has already aired but we didn’t care. The episode they showed us was titled The Pants Alternative which airs tonight, 3/22 at 9:30/8:30pm on CBS. If you like the X-Men you will love this episode. It also shows a side of geeks that most geeks would not admit to.

At 6:30pm they started shooting The Spaghetti Catalyst, the official title of the episode. The emcee introduced him and the cast and off we went after the actress who plays Penny came out to talk to audience. She told us that in order for the episode we were about to see taped to make sense to us we had to know that Leonard and Penny breakup. This breakup happens sometime between the un-aired episode they showed us that airs tonight and the episode we saw filmed. I’m guessing that the breakup happens in the episode that will air prior to the one we saw taped.

If you have never been to a TV sitcom filming here is how it goes. They shoot each scene 2-3 times. Often times they change lines between takes based on the audience response and they obviously repeat any bloopers that may have happened. Sometimes they will shoot them another time to get additional camera angles as well.

For continuity for the audience they shoot the show in scene order. Each time they move from one set to another there is a lot of down time but they do this for the studio audience. It would be much easier to shoot all the scenes on a single set at one time rather than move around. Each time they moved from one set to another they used partitions to block the sets that were not in use. Sometimes they pre-shoot scenes as well. During our episode there is an outside scene that was pre-shot. At the proper time during the taping they played it back for us so they could record the laughter.

The emcee’s job is to keep the audience energy level up and to keep you entertained as sometime the amount of time between takes can be 20-30 minutes. He gave away candy, $20, and did a lot of contests to keep the audience entertained. It was fun for a while but as the night wore on it got a bit old. I understand what he was doing and why they wanted to keep the energy level up but after a while I was ready for some quiet. They were always playing music and while I didn’t mind the music I wondered how the folks on the set were able to get anything done due to all the noise the audience was making and with the music playing . How they rewrote lines, received instructions from the director, fixed lighting issues, etc. with all that noise is beyond me but those on the stage seemed to enjoy it. The actors were often dancing around to the music between takes.

I was expecting the taping to have more bloopers and be more relaxed however compared to other tapings I’ve been to this one was pretty rigid. The actors took goofs and flubs seriously. There was not a lot of clowning around on the set. During one scene Sheldon and Penny are coming up the stairs with Penny carrying a bag of groceries. The actress slipped on one of the steps so they had to redo the scene. Before the director yelled “action” the actress playing Penny turned to the actor playing Sheldon and said, “Don’t push me this time.” We loved it and thought it was funny but the actor playing Sheldon didn’t appear to enjoy it.

When they goofed many of the actors would apologize and we would start over again right away. They didn’t elaborate or have fun with it. Seeing as the show is so funny I would have thought that they would have messed around a bit more. Perhaps it is due to the highly technical dialogue that keeps them from playing around too much. Either way, we still had a good time despite the lack of antics on the set.

As we got down to the final scenes Chuck Lorre, one of the creators and executive producers came out to talk to the audience. He said they are often criticized for using a laugh track for the show due to the sophisticated science jokes and humor. He said in order to show that they use a live studio audience they were going to include a shot of the audience in an upcoming episode. Come to find out it is The Pant Alternative episode that airs tonight. This explains why they showed us an un-aired episode.

They brought out some lights and cameras and filmed the audience in sections to appear as part of the vanity card at the end of the show. The vanity card is normally a white screen with black text containing very funny writing by Chuck Lorre. This appears for all shows that he has created. For tonight’s episode the shots of the audience is what will appear in this spot for about a second, maybe two at the very end of the show just before CSI: Miami starts.

After our moment in front of the camera they went back to filming the final 2 scenes. Once they were done they came back and told us they needed to shoot the audience images again because they needed more light. This time they brought in a large lighting rig and really lit the audience. The camera came back and we shot it again. This time Chuck Lorre was standing a few feet away from where I was sitting really encouraging the audience for this second take.

After our second moment in front of the cameras passed they did the final curtain call and that was it. It was around 10:15pm. One of the actors stayed around and signed a few autographs but for the most part they split. Chuck Lorre was still standing near to us and Donnie got his autograph.

We hung around until they made us leave looking at various things and checking out some of the other sets we couldn’t see as well from our seats.  It was around 10:45pm by the time we got back to our car and headed to the hotel.

We are not sure when The Spaghetti Catalyst airs. They film their final episode of the season on April 6 so I’m guessing it airs sometime in late April or early May. If you follow Bill Prady, one of the other creators and producers on Twitter you can find out a lot of behind the scenes info about the show.

He tweeted this week that they have been picked up for a 4th season and begin production in August.

There is more I could say and probably will in future blog posts but this gets the story started. We also attended a taping of The New Adventures of Old Christine. While I like The Big Bang Theory better I enjoyed the taping experience more for New Christine.

More to come I’m sure as this post is already quite long.

Update August 28, 2011
I've posted a Q&A list to go along with this post and hopefully answer some additional questions.


  1. I was there! My brother was the one who took his shirt off. He completely emburassed us. I agree the MC got really annoying as the night went on with the magic tricks and what not. I was asking the same question, I doubt the cast really appreciates how he acts.

  2. The experience with New Christine was much better mostly because they had a better MC. If I remember right you guys were from Illinois? I don't think he just embarrased you but all of us from the midwest. :)

  3. Haha Yes indeed. He said the MC kept telling him to take off his shirt. And like was forcing it. The guy just seemed a little like a creeper to me. Yea we are from Illinois. You know the date of which the show will be published?

  4. I never saw the MC tell him to do anything. He seems pretty inhibition free on his own.

    I have not heard yet when the show we saw taped will be aired. My guess is sometime in late April. Were you in the picture that aired Monday night?


    I agree the MC became very irritating very quickly. Some proper stand up comedy would have been much better instead of all the inane games to win $20 (he was so cheap I don't think he actually gave it away after 4 hours going on about it!?).

    To be honest though, we were just really glad to get in - all you lucky VIPs took up so many of the seats that there were loads of folk who missed out! :) My friend and I (from the UK) queued from 4.30 and were in the last 4 or 5 who got in as standbys. Couldn't believe how many there were behind us that missed out, albeit it is made very clear on the ticket that you might not get in.

    Why do you think they covered up all the unused sets in between takes? I've never seen that done at any other taping and it seems overkill when the audience can't have cameras / cell phones in anyway. Would have been more fun looking at them than listening to the MC.

  6. I have no idea why they covered things up so much. I enjoy tapes much more when you can watch them setup the scene and then shoot it.

    I'm not surprised there were so many folks who couldn't get in. The lines were very long that day.

    The episode airs this coming Monday at 9pm on CBS. I just posted another blog post about it.

  7. Liked reading your summary, as we're also heading from Indiana out west in a few weeks and plan on attending a taping of BBTheory.

    As we wont have VIP tix, do you know about when we should get there to get in to the taping? It sounded like a lot of the people with "regular" tix didn't make it into the show that you went to.


  8. The Audiences Unlimited folks tell you to get there at least 2 hours before the taping. Due to the popularity of the show and the number of VIP's the earlier you get there the better chance you have of getting in. Just depends on how bad you want to see the show and how long you are willing to stand around waiting.

    The earlier the better.

  9. I'm a solo traveler heading to LA from HI next month just to watch a taping of The Big Bang Theory. Thank you for sharing the details of your experience. I found your blog to be helpful in planning my trip. Unfortunately I'll be walking to the WB lot and will need my cell phone. Hope this doesn't hinder my chances of getting in.

  10. Having your cell phone won't hinder you from getting in. You will be able to take your phone with you through Warner Bros. gate security. They will take it from you when you reach the sound stage. You check it just like a coat check and then pick it up on your way back out. No big deal, you just have to make sure it is turned off before you give it to the security guard.

  11. Do you know how strict they are with age? I'm 17, hoping that a sr. high school id will be enough.

  12. They are pretty strict with the age. They check ID's although how much math they do to ensure everyone is over 18 I don't know as I'm not as close to 18 as I used to be.

    The Audiences Unlimited folks will tell you that they enforce the minimum age as a studio requirement.

    Good luck!

  13. Guys from the season 1 till season 4 I am hooked up with this show. The characters of this show are extremely wonderful and they doing their job really well. Watch Big Bang Theory online always.

  14. Catch all upcoming episodes of season four of Big Bang Theory TV Show online here....

  15. im reading this 2 years later but interesting. i wonder how much of they're day the actors spend on working or getting prepared for the show. looks like they spend 4 hours taping (longer than i expected). do they tape everyday or like once a week.

  16. My understanding is they spend an entire week to produce a single episode. They start with table reads and then they rehearse a lot before it is shot in front of the audience. A ton of work goes into getting ready for filming, both the actors and the crew. They also pre-shoot some scenes that would be difficult to film in front of the audience because they are so technical.

    Tapings can last 4-5 hours depending on the episode. They only tape once a week and there are 24 episodes a year so they only do this process once a week.

    Glad you enjoyed the post.

  17. I am also reading this two years later and I want to know how do they film the stair scenes?? Are they literally going up 4 flights of stairs?

  18. It is a single set they go around multiple times. They film each floor and then re-dress the set for the next floor and film it again. It goes down to a dead end and up to a dead end.

  19. We managed to obtain three VIP tickets for next week's taping! I guess they've changed things a bit. Now, we are to report directly to the VIP podium and they don't send out tickets for VIPs. They have our names. We are looking forward to it.

    You said you were sitting in front of Penny's apartment - were you adequately able to see the other scenes as they were being shot or were they kind of out of range?

    I imagine at times, cameras and crew also block the view.

    Does it take awhile to redress the set when the cast is going up and/or down the stairs? If you look at the very first floor, there is a lot more there than on the other floors.

    You also said they film things in sequence. That must make it take longer.

    When we return, I'll be writing my own blog on the experience.

    Thanks for sharing your take on the show, Jonathan!

    Fred DeRuvo

  20. Congrats on getting tickets! It sounds like the changes will help move you through the process faster.

    We were easily able to see Penny's apartment, the hallway, and the boys apartment. We were not able to see the boy's bedrooms, the lobby, or comic book store. The sets are set in a long fashion in front of the audience so you get a great view of what's in front of you but anything else you have to watch on the monitors.

    One odd thing is that they cover up the sets they aren't using with partitions so if they aren't using a set they block it from view. Other shows I've been to didn't do that.

    It does take a while to redress the set. The reason the taping lasts 4-5 hours is because of all the jumping around. It would be much faster to film everything in one room at the same time but then the audience would be totally confused. Keeping in sequence means they move all the cameras and gear from one set to the other all night. They also film each scene several times so it makes for a long evening.

    The first floor of the stairs is a separate set altogether but that adds time as they have to reset to that set in order to film in the lobby.

    I look forward to reading about your experience, provided of course that your blog doesn't compete with mine. :)

  21. Thank you so much for this informative post! I secured regular old guaranteed tickets (LOL no big connections for VIP here) but feel incredibly lucky to have done so. We also have tickets to a "2 1/2 Men" taping and "Mike & Molly." It will be interesting to compare the productions ...