A couple of weeks ago I managed to get hold of audience tickets for the taping of an episode of The Graham Norton Show in London.
Having been a fan of the show for a couple of years now, it was nice to get the opportunity to see how it’s all put together in the studio. The show films Thursday evening for a late Friday night broadcast in the UK, so the editors have sufficient time to cut the show together.
Our celebrity guests for the episode (which screens here in NZ this week) were actress Cameron Diaz, singer Rod Stewart and UK comedian Sarah Millican. Unfortunately for me (and any other cycling fans in the audience) we were also supposed to have Tour de France champ Bradley Wiggins but he had a run-in with a van on a training ride and spent the night in hospital.
Our free tickets didn’t guarantee us entry into the show – as they over-allocate to compensate for the inevitable no-shows – so we had to arrive early and join the queue. We were given numbered wristbands and told to return a little later on to see if we would make it in after all the priority ticket holders. While we queued we were asked if we had any stories worthy of the famous red chair. As much as we wanted to embarrass ourselves on international TV, we didn’t have any decent material.
Luckily, we made it in but were ushered to the back row of seats in the far corner, about as far away as possible from where Graham and his guests would be seated. The host himself later poked fun at our section, underlining the fact we were parked in the “s**t seats”.
The studio itself was impressive, seating over 600 for the show. There were a number of TV monitors hanging from the roof above the audience, allowing us to see the shots they were using at the time. These came in handy for us being seated right at the back, as catching the facial expressions of the guests at certain times wasn’t the easiest.
An audience warm up guy was on first and cracked jokes for around a quarter of an hour before Graham was introduced. He bounded onto the stage, wine glass in hand (filled with NZ wine I believe), and welcomed us all before giving us a quick rundown of how the evening would progress.
If you’re familiar with the show, you’ll know the musical guest performs at the end of the show before the stories from the red chair. However, Rod Stewart’s performances (he sang the song twice) were filmed at the start of the evening and would be cut into the show at the end.
Of course, to make this blend seamlessly into the finished product, Graham had to re-introduce Rod when all the guests were seated on the couch. Rod then walked over to the stage, was handed a microphone and returned to the couch almost straightaway with the camera crew having recorded the shots needed to piece it all together.
The opening sequence was filmed next followed by Graham’s monologue. After these were completed, the guests were introduced and brought on. They took their seats on the red couch and the show began.
We had been told earlier that once the guests were on, they would film continuously for roughly 90 minutes. This would be cut down to fit into the hour-long broadcast the following night.
Upon watching the episode the following night, we picked up on a few stories that had been cut due to the fact they were boring, unfunny or awkward. The perfect example was a brief story from Cameron Diaz that fell completely flat with the audience. She emphasised the punch-line several times but got nothing. Maybe on another talkshow she may have received a few sympathy laughs but not here.
When it came time for the stories from the red chair, a bunch of pre-selected people from the audience were led behind a curtain to the side of the studio, hidden from view. The segment actually played out similar to how it is presented on TV, with Graham calling for the stories and pulling the oversized silver lever if he didn’t like them. They filmed about five of them on the night, with three of the more entertaining ones making it to air.
Once the guests had departed, Graham then recorded trails for BBC One (UK), BBC America (USA) and Channel Ten (Australia), which were just a basic “Coming up on tonight’s show we have…” sort of thing. He then thanked us for coming and returned backstage.
Overall, it was a good night’s entertainment.
Catch this episode of The Graham Norton Show on Friday, 30 November at 8.30m on TV3.