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One Night with Regis

Regis! You might think, since I write for TeeVee, that I am deeply connected with the television industry. That I frequent sound stages across Hollywood and New York. That I hobnob with grips and other key people, hang around the lunch buffet with directors, take meetings with executive producers, interview stars. You might think that I am privy to all the secrets of the Land we call TV.

You might think that. You'd be wrong, though. The fact is, here in the stable of TeeVee, I don't even rate my own stall. Whenever anything comes up -- invites to Whose Line Is It, Anyway? tapings, free dinners with Emeril, bottles of Moet et Chandon from Norman, gilt-edged tickets to the Odd Man Out Sixth Episode Black Tie Gala, whatever -- after Phil takes what he wants, and Mach Schnell gets his piece, and so on down through the ranks, even down to Boychuk; after everyone else has had their drink, the trickle-down evaporates before it gets to me and I count myself lucky if I only have to muck out Collier's cell.

Therefore when my mother-in-law managed to figure out how to use the Web to finagle tickets to be part of the audience for Who Wants to Be a Millionaire I jumped at the chance. At worst, I'd get a TeeVee piece out of it, and how else would I ever catch up with Phil's record of 8,276 published columns? (Aside from killing him and eating his heart.)

Of course, they made me take Collier.

So I found myself standing in the rain on West 67th Street outside the ABC studios at 3:30 in the afternoon. The tickets, which are covered with a surprising amount of verbiage conveying amazingly little information, asked that I arrive at least 1 1/2 hours before taping began. Taping began at 5 o'clock. I might not be high on the TeeVee totem pole but I can do basic math: 5 o'clock minus 1-1/2 hours equals 3:30. Rain optional.

There were a few people milling around outside but not much of a line. This, I thought, was a good sign. I waited patiently to speak with the official-looking black woman with the clipboard. The Woman with the Clipboard, by the way, is one of the best jobs one can get, because once you are the Woman with the Clipboard you can yell at people indiscriminately. That was how I overheard that the short line I was on was just to get my ticket numbered.

Numbered? Yes. It seems just having a ticket was not enough. The black Woman with the Clipboard explained in stentorian tones: The studio was built before anyone thought Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? would be popular. Therefore they got a cheap set and a secondhand host with a few miles on him. Cheap sets don't come with actual seats. Cheap sets come with benches. Therefore the number of people in the audience varies from 150 to 200 bodies depending on butt size. If we had "tiny hiney," she said, she could fit more people.

Just considering the small crowd I arrived with, we did not have tiny hiney. We might, in fact, have been possessed of the biggest butts ever seen on national television.

The black Woman with the Clipboard took my ticket and wrote a number on it: 220. This did not bode well for our hero. I asked when she had started numbering tickets.

"I come out at exactly 2:30," she told me, "And there are always people on line already."

Apparently I cannot do simple math. 5 o'clock minus 1 1/2 hours equals 2:30 or earlier.

After getting our tickets numbered, we would-be audience members were asked to go away for a while and come back at 4 o'clock, when we would be admitted in the order of our numbers. If, by some chance, people were not there when their numbers were called, then those of us with astronomically large numbers might be admitted instead.

More simple math: 220 people on line ahead of me minus a maximum of 200 people in the studio equals 20 people who had to have some sort of horrible accident in order for me to see Regis. Hey, this was New York -- anything could happen. So at 4:00 I got on line and waited.

I wasn't the only idiot, either. There were at least fifty people on line behind me. Eventually the Woman with the Clipboard was joined by another Woman with the Clipboard and the two of them began to herd the line into the building. It rapidly became clear that I had as much chance of getting into the show as Howard Stern has of getting into a convent.

"Do you think I'll make it in?" a guy behind me asked the second Woman with the Clipboard.

"What number do you have?"


She looked dubious.

"Has it ever gotten up that high before?" he pleaded with her.

"Nope," she replied, and returned to her job of hollering at people.

Eventually the smallish group that was left gave up hope of getting in. A woman began chanting, "T-SHIRTS! T-SHIRTS!" and the rest of us took up the refrain.

"I DON'T HAVE T-SHIRTS," the second Woman with the Clipboard bellowed, "AND I DO NOT WANT A RIOT."

We all shut up.

Then we were offered the chance to sit in a room off the sound stage, where we wouldn't be in the audience and wouldn't be allowed to vote during the Ask the Audience Lifeline but where we could watch the show on monitors. This, to me, sounded like my living room, only farther away from my bathroom. They couldn't fit too many people even in this shoddy manner, but they would try. In a sudden showing of New Yorker hospitality, we pushed forward a couple on their honeymoon from St. Louis who had ticket numbers 876 and 877 or thereabouts.

Then the Woman with the Clipboard gave out non-guaranteed tickets for the next week's taping and we all went home.

Armed with my new knowledge I was determined to secure a fantastic seat for myself at the next taping. I arrived at 12:30. I was fifth on line. Apparently more than just Vidiots are in need of lives. The people ahead of me, and some who showed up just after I did, were all survivors of the previous line I had stood on. We were all thrilled that it was not raining.

It was, however, chilly. Not outright cold, but that cold that sneaks up on you, so you start out standing there thinking, Gee, it's not that cold, and then two hours later you realize you haven't felt your feet in fifteen minutes. Soon we were considering starting a fire, but of course we were standing on the cleanest street in New York City. There wasn't even a homeless guy we could get smoldering.

There we stood for many hours. When you stand on line for a long time, you go through several stages of psychosis. First, people start making friends with you. I don't want to sound egotistical, but the fact remains that I am better than most people and am not interested in their puny little lives. For one thing, everyone else was there because of their slavish devotion to the Idiot Box. I was there to gain insight and report back on it. As these Line People talked to me, as the skinny chicks from ABC came out and smoked and looked upon us with contempt, as the Manhattan dog walkers skipped by barely concealing their feelings of superiority, I wanted to shout: I AM NOT A FANBOY, I'M A FARKING JOURNALIST!

Luckily, I had minions with me, so I was able to steal away to a nearby Starbucks and support the capitalist pig-dog money machine while they held my place in line. During these sojourns I bumped into enough famous people that if I'd made one more trip for another cup of chai I would be forced to use boldface like a gossip column. Mariska Hargitay was seen jogging on the Upper West Side with her new beau. Sorry about that mean TeeVee article I wrote, Mar. Linda Fiorentino caught a brew at a local Starbucks -- loved you in "Dogma"! Sarah Wallace, you're the best local news reporter I've seen today. Liam Neeson was in a bit of a hurry. But you were great in "Excalibur," Neesie. Henry Gibson is still breathing. Henry, man, excellent turn in "Magnolia." (I didn't see Henry Gibson, actually, but the world needs more Henry Gibson references.)

The next stage of line psychosis involves hallucinating. You think you see the Woman with the Clipboard coming, but she's not really there. Your head snaps up every time someone walks by the front of the line.

In the next stage you and the other Line People begin to circulate myths about Those in Charge. They're going to start numbering the tickets at a hundred because a busload of Austrian tourists has special dispensation from their embassy to see Regis. They're going to cancel today's taping. They're going to throw tear gas grenades. They're going to hand out hundred-dollar bills.

During the next and final stage of line psychosis you start fantasizing about what evils you'll commit if the Woman with the Clipboard shows up one minute late.

She showed up fifteen minutes late and blamed the traffic. I was too numb to carry out my nefarious plan, though, and anyway the line psychosis dissipated as she numbered my ticket. I was number 12 after the other people in line and those in my party were tallied.

I was on my way to see Regis.

Continued in part two...


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