America's Late Night Leader
By Stephanie Lynn, age 22, Massachusetts
Jay Leno: "So what do you do for work?"
Steph: "I work as a graphic designer. I have my own website."
Jay Leno: "In other words, you live in your parents' basement ..."
I haven't met many famous people in my short life. I talked with M.L. Carr when he came to my high school. If you're not from New England, this won't mean anything, but he played with Larry Bird and the great Boston Celtics teams of the '80's. I've also met Bill Rancic (the first "Apprentice", who is still working for Donald Trump) when he came to Bryant University where I went to school. But that's about it.
On my California vacation, I had the opportunity to do a few interesting things. I toured Alcatraz and the Hearst Castle, drove down Lombard Street - the really steep twisty part, and rode a vintage 1900 steam locomotive at Railtown 1897 in Jamestown, CA, near Yosemite, where they filmed the train sequences for "Back to the Future III", "Little House on the Prairie", and "Petticoat Junction". Some of the buildings, signs, steam engines, railroad cars, and props from the dozens of movies and TV shows filmed there still exist, including the "Petticoat Junction" water tower and "Back to the Future III" caboose.
I also toured the Warner Brothers set, which is different than Universal Studios in that the Warner tour involved a small handful of us touring a working film/TV studio. (Sorry, no amusement park.) They wouldn't let us use our cameras where they were filming new episodes or movies, but we watched Matthew Perry (from "Friends") preparing to film an outdoor scene for "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip". I also saw sets from "Gilmore Girls", "Two and a Half Men", "Friends", and "ER".
Perhaps my biggest Hollywood thrill was the opportunity to meet and briefly chat with Jay Leno. He gives this opportunity to three random people (or pairs of people) from the 382 in his studio audience each evening before taping.
It all started on Monday April 9 when I went to a Tonight Show taping. Before the taping, when Jay asked if anyone had any questions, I waved my hand, but Jay didn't see me. I was a bit bummed, but I had a really good time watching the show, which featured Anthony Hopkins. My seat was about 20 feet in front of Good Charlotte, the featured musical act.
Needless to say, it's much more interesting live than on the small screen. The Tonight Show is live-to-tape, which means all the mistakes stay in. The Tonight Show band plays for three minutes during breaks while blank tape continues to roll - the commercials are inserted at air time. No lip synching or post-mixing for the guest musicians either - what you hear is what they do in one unedited take. This means the one hour show is taped in exactly one hour.
Waiting in line all afternoon has its rewards. I was 10th in line, and sat near the front.
The woman on the left is a big-time Leno fan, attending nearly every show.
On Tuesday, just hours before we flew home on the redeye, I had enough time to attend a second taping. Again Jay came out in his blue jeans to warm up the audience prior to show time. This time, the split second Jay asked if anyone had any questions, I waved my arm and shouted out "Over here!" and Jay turned and spotted me.
In the unlikely event he noticed you, I was told by a frequent audience member on Monday, the best question to ask is to have your picture taken with him. So I asked for a photo with Jay, and he invited my companion and I up on stage, shook our hands, and chatted with us for a couple minutes about where we were from and what we did. When I said we were from west of Boston, he asked which town, and said he'd heard of it. He then mentioned he was from Andover, MA. He talked with us a little more and cracked a couple jokes at our expense, then the stage manager snapped a photo. He then shook our hands again, and everyone jealously applauded. A lone Polaroid survives to mark my two minute encounter with fame.
At the start of the Tuesday April 10 show, the warm-up comic and producers had left things strewn all over the stage - they'd apparently lost track of the time - so everyone suddenly panicked at exactly 4:30:00 PM when the opening promo ("You're watching NBC - America's Late Night Leader") suddenly rolled. They cleared the stage just barely in time for Jay's entrance some 30 seconds later. Imagine the guest lineup being introduced and the band blaring, while stage hands and producers are frantically scrambling to clear the stage of all kinds of debris just in the nick of time for the camera to go live to Jay's nightly entrance.
In case you've ever wondered what happens during the three minute commercial breaks, it's a beehive of activity. The band plays straight through. Jay chats a little with his guest. He is visited by a producer and sometimes by other staffers, then takes 30 seconds of meditation to refocus, before being visited by the "flash card guy", who flashes a series of cue cards reminding him of what he plans to announce or ask his next guest.
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