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A Day with Jay Leno

Volume 60: Wed July 13, 2005

Regarding the adventures of Tierra, Becky, Amanda, and Ryan trying to get into a Tonight Show taping and other amusing anecdotes


Waiting in the line to see the Tonight Show with Jay Leno! That's me in the extreme lower-right corner of the photo. =)

For those of you wanting to hear about Amanda and myself heading down to Burbank to visit with Leno, read on. It was my birthday, and for my present, Amanda acquired tickets for a showing of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

My sister (Tierra) and I drove down Highway 101 to Pasadena where Amanda had reserved a hotel for us the night before. Amanda forgot her cell phone in Seattle so I didn't really have any good way to contact her. I tried calling her sister to leave a message with the phone number I could be reached at (her phone numbers were on her missing cell phone so I knew she didn't know how to call me!) but I never got a message from her so we drove out to the hotel kind of hoping everything would turn out okay. =)

At the hotel's front desk, I asked for them to call up Amanda who gave us the number for her room and everything worked out fine. =) The three of us spent the evening chatting it up and stayed up late enough to watch Leno. Of course, we had to—it was "research" for our visit the next day. =)

During the middle of the night I woke up to a bright light shining out of the bathroom—some idiot had left on the light. *rolling eyes* Too lazy to get up to turn it off, I went back to sleep.

By seven in the morning, it was time to get moving. Our plan for the day was to start with a tour of the NBC studios at 9:00am, then afterwards get lunch nearby, then wait in line for the Tonight Show. Our tickets warned us that we should be in line by 3:30, so we'd be early, but that's okay. Maybe we'd get the "good seats" that way. =)

I woke up first and went to take a shower where I learned that the bathroom light never was on! There was a small window above the shower and the light from the sun angled in such a way where it looked exactly like it was the bathroom light that was on. Silly me! =) Later, I found out Amanda was thinking the same thing!

So we got cleaned up and headed out the door. Amanda checked us out of the hotel then we drove to the NBC studios in Burbank.

Amanda dropped me off at the tour entrance to buy tickets while Tierra and Amanda went off to find a place to park. When I went in to buy tickets for the studio tour, they told me tickets weren't going to be sold for another ten minutes. *rolling eyes*

So I waited outside for Amanda and Tierra to return. And admired the Salem Plaza set. Turns out that Days of Our Lives is filmed at this location, and a mock shopping mall is set up just outside of the tour entrance where they film for the show. It had a Salem Theaters, a jewelry store, a diner, and even a hospital entrance off to the side. I was amused to see a sign on the diner saying "This is a set for Days of Our Lives—no food sold here" or something to that affect. Clearly, people had mistaken the set for a live restaurant in the past. *snicker snicker* =)

I carved some graffiti with my name so look for it coming to an episode of Days of Our Lives soon! ;o) Okay, I'm just kidding about that part. I didn't really carved any graffiti onto the set since I assumed it would have been fixed before they filmed anything anyhow. Would have been a waste of my time!

About ten minutes passed and I saw Tierra and Amanda walking up in the distance, so I headed back inside to purchase tickets. They arrived a couple of minutes later and were rather surprised that I hadn't gotten the tickets yet. They thought I'd been waiting in line this whole time. ;o)

Amanda and Tierra informed me that a long line was already waiting to get in to see Johnny Depp on the Tonight Show. Already?! At that point, we decided that we'd start waiting in line as soon as the studio tour was finished and have someone go out to get lunch to bring back to the line. Or maybe take turns going out to get lunch. We had not expected a line at all so early in the morning!

The studio tour began, and our tour guide seemed surprised at the number of people signed up for it. I didn't think there were that many—13 of us total—but it all became clear to me when she asked us if we were there so early for tickets to the Tonight Show. Some folks behind us said "Yes! But we weren't able to get any. Even the stand by tickets were gone." Yikes!

Tierra proudly proclaimed that we had the proverbial golden tickets. I shushed her saying we might get mugged if that got around, and our tour guide seemed surprised that we'd be there taking the tour instead of waiting in line already.

We watched a hokey video about the history of NBC then started the real tour. We passed all the props used in Days of Our Lives for the last 40 years. They keep ALL of the props used so they can refilm flashbacks exactly like it was originally filmed. It seems there are some real Days fanatics who keep track of stuff like that. So now 40 years of props are cataloged and stored on the site.

Then we got to see the area where they build sets for the shows, plus the costume department where they make all of the costumes for the characters on Days of Our Lives. A large, blue wall was put up in the window where the costumes were being made, our guide explained, because fans used to peek inside and guess the plot of the show based on them. A big dress that might indicate someone was pregnant or whatever, then sell the story to Soap Digest. After that, they stopped putting the character names on the dressing dummies and put up the large wall to make it more difficult for people to spoil the plots in the future.

Funny thing was—not one single person on the tour were Days of Our Lives fans. =) Our tour guide would mention a character and none of us had a clue who she was referring to.

The tour then took us to the hallway where all the dressing rooms for the Tonight Show are located. Our tour guide explained in a faint swooning sound that Johnny Depp would be walking on this very ground later in the afternoon. We joked that it could be the longest tour ever—we'd just wait for Johnny to arrive!

Then we were taken outside to a parking lot where we got to see Jay Leno's car. =) He owns hundreds of cars and drives a different one to work every day, so the joke there is that most people wake up and have to decide what to wear, but Jay has to wake up and decide what car to drive to work. He always wears the same blue jeans every day—just the car is different.

I can't tell you what kind of car this one was since I'm not into that sort of thing, but it was a puke brown color that looked like it came from the 70s. Not something I'd want to be caught driving around in, though I'm sure collectors probably think it's worth millions.

Amanda couldn't believe there were smudges on the car windows, saying somebody needed to go over and buff them off. I couldn't believe Leno's poor driving skills—his car wasn't even within the lines of the parking space. And it was HIS space—with a big "Jay Leno" sign posted at the front of the parking space—the best parking space on the studio, our tour guide explained.

Then we headed back indoors and onto the set for the Tonight Show. This is where all the action happened. Leno's couch and table were covered, and the tour guide explained that it was a $50,000 couch. Yikes! It's a special, indestructible couch. Spills just wiped right off. Because they often have animals with sharp claws on the show, it can't be torn to shreds. It's deliberately an uncomfortable couch so guests don't feel too comfortable and will sit up straight and look good on TV. And it's a very special shade of beige that's supposed to make people's skin color look really good or something like that. It's a super couch that can be driven around. Okay, not really, our tour guide joked about that last part.

We also learned a bit about the seating arrangements since that was where we were planning to go later in the afternoon. =) The place could accommodate 380 people and almost every seat was a good one. Two seats were called the Mavis Seats, Mavis being Jay's wife. She almost never visits except for once a year for the midnight kiss at New Years, but she'd always have those two seats available for any time she wants to come with a guest. When she doesn't come, they'll pick two people from the end of the line waiting to see Leno to get the seats.

Our tour guide also explained that there were an unusually large number of guests for this taping and we'd better get in line for the show sooner rather than later. Well that wasn't encouraging!

Here's the thing about tickets for the Tonight Show: They don't actually guarantee entry into the show. The tickets are FREE (!!!), however just like an airline overbooks flights, so does the Tonight Show handing out tickets. Usually, showing up in line this early in the morning will easily get you into the show. With an "unusually large number of guests" and an already surprisingly long line since Johnny Depp was going to be on the show, our tour guide thought it would be prudent to be in line earlier rather than later.

Then we tromped back out for some of the other behind-the-scenes stuff. Next, we visited the Access Hollywood set which was the located in the studio where Johnny Carson used to film the Tonight Show. There's a star on the floor where Johnny Carson's desk to be.

Saw some more backstage stuff before the tour finally ended at the shopping mall in Salem. We left to get in the Tonight Show line, and our tour guide wished us luck getting in for that day's taping.

The temperatures out under the sun were sweltering by now, but we found a nice, shaded area where the line ended where we sat down and began our six hour wait *hoping* to get in for the Tonight Show. Almost immediately a couple of people approached us asking for extra tickets which we declined—all of our tickets were spoken for.

Tierra went off to her car to pick up an office chair she had in the back seat. She goes to school in Riverside and was planning to drop it off there—the Tonight Show was just along the way. People further up in line had sleeping bags. Turns out, they'd been waiting in line since 5:00 the day before!

About a half hour went by before Tierra returned with the chair. She had gotten lost on the way to her car. Keep in mind, you can *almost* see her car from where it was parked, so we harassed her quite a bit about getting lost. Not sure what was funnier—that she got lost walking in a straight line from one block to the next, or that it took her half an hour to get unlost!

One girl in front of us in the line was a hard-core Johnny Depp fan. She had three pictures of him in her wallet and explained that her bedroom is like a Johnny Depp shrine, though she didn't actually use the word "shrine".

Eventually Amanda and Tierra were elected to go across the street to a Mexican restaurant to pick up lunch and bring it back. I'd wait in line to save our spot. I stretched out on the office chair. Much more comfortable than the hard concrete sidewalks.

It seemed like an hour before Amanda and Tierra came back carting a huge bag of food, though they swear it wasn't that long. I didn't have a watch to prove otherwise, however, and just devoured my grande burrito. =)

The next few hours were rather dull, with each of us taking turns to go to the bathroom as needed. The line continued to grow longer and longer, and we felt pretty sure our spot in the audience was assured. My mom finally caught up with us shortly before things started happening again.

The employees there made us line up in a single file line and started counting us several times. One of them told us not to worry if a large line of people passed us—they were "guests" and already had guaranteed seats. About 200 of them. TWO HUNDRED?!!! And not to worry?! Now we were significantly more worried about our prospects for getting into the show. Our tour guide told us that there was an "unusually large" number of guests, but TWO HUNDRED?! That left only 180 seats available for us smucks with normal tickets. Those with stand-by tickets were just wasting their time, but they stayed around—hoping for a miracle to kill the 500 people who were ahead of them for those 180 seats, presumably.

We figured we were about 80th in line, and hoped that was enough to get us in. It SHOULD be, but were also weren't exactly sure how many guests there were and with people moving all over the place, we weren't even sure how many were in front of us in line to begin with. It was definitely a closer than than we wanted or anticipated. Thank goodness we went for that studio tour, though, where we could see a line was already forming. Had we shown up by 3:30 like our tickets suggested, there wasn't any chance we'd ever make it in.

Sure enough, a long line of hundreds cut in front of us. The "guests." It was very dispiriting. But happily, we finally got our turn to get in. The set was packed! They directed us to a spot in the VERY back row near the left side of the stage (if you're facing the stage). I figured there were probably only another 20 or 30 empty seats left by the time we got in. There were a lot of people still outside who were going to be very, very disappointed.

About 15 minutes before the show began, Leno walked out onto the stage rather unexpectedly. At least I wasn't expecting it. He was dressed in blue jeans and a blue shirt and told us that Johnny Deep (or something like that) was going to be on the show and apologized if we thought it was Johnny Depp. Haha. He also explained that the show was "live to tape", meaning the show was taped as if it were a live show. Mistakes are not edited, pauses for a commercial break are done in real time, and so on. (And for those of you who don't realize it, no, the Tonight Show is not live—just live to tape. It was taped starting at about 4:30 in the afternoon.) Then he asked if we had any questions at which point lots of people raised their hands. "Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!"

He pointed to a couple of girls in the front row. "Can we go on stage with you?"

"Sure," as he waved them up. They shook his hand. A couple of them hugged him like a stuffed animal. It was kind of pathetic in a funny way. =) A photographer took a polaroid of them together before they sat back down. This happened with a few others—Leno would ask what their names were and what they did for a living, then pose for a photo with them before they sat down again.

Finally he waved goodbye and said he had to get dressed for the show but he'd be back.

I thought that was really impressive that Leno warmed up the audience like that. I'd been in the audience for Talk Back Live once and they had someone else to keep the audience entertained—not the main entertainer! Leno seemed like a real people person who really liked people. The Tonight Show wasn't just a job to him, but something he genuinely enjoyed. Sure, he always starts the show by walking out and shaking everyone's hands and does his monologue on a small stage just three feet from the front row, but that just seemed like part of the show. His little warm-up was something that would never be shown on television and he could easily have let someone else do, but he wanted to do it himself. I liked that. =)

After Leno left to get dressed up and prepare for the show, another guy came out to entertain us until the show began. I don't remember his name, but he was really, really funny. And, if anyone who reads this ever goes to a taping of the Tonight Show, when he tells everybody to stand you, you STAND UP! Otherwise, he'll stop and deliberately point you out. He did that to four, poor hippies. Stopped what he was doing, pointed to them, and told them to stand up. Then he told everyone else to sit down. Talk about putting them on the spot! =)

Then he went over some of the ground rules. No yelling during the interview. Which people were allowed to get up to shake hands with Leno during his grand entrance. Yell real loudly when Leno comes in. The usual stuff you might expect.

There was also a dance contest where several people were picked out to go on stage for 30 seconds of glory. I think they ended up with T-shirts or something. Not sure what they got for their efforts.

And then it was time for the show to start. The Tonight Show Band started playing, lights were flashing, and Leno comes walking out all dressed up in his suit shaking hands. We yelled, screamed, applauded and stamped our feet.

Then we found out it was a false alarm. Leno commented to a guy near him that his signal to walk out was a pat on the shoulder and he felt a tap on the shoulder. He told us that he'd be back again in a couple of minutes and returned backstage.

Okay, that was a little odd. =)

A couple of minutes pass, and it's time to do it over again. The lights flashing, the Tonight Band playing, people screaming and yelling and stamping their feet. It was deafening! Lenos does his handshakes, everyone finally sits down, and he begins the monologue.

Interestingly, that was our news source for the day. =) Being in line waiting for this moment all day, none of us had a clue what was happening in the "real world." But it was his monologue where we learned, for instance, that the temperature reached 104 degrees (we just KNEW it was hot while waiting in line!)—the hottest day recorded so far of the year. We also learned that the space shuttle launch was postponed (though we suspected the reason he provided about high gas prices may not have been the complete truth), and Bernie Ebbers was sentenced to 25 years in prison. What a busy news day! =)

During the first commercial break, a couple of people whispered something into Leno's ear. Actually, I suspect they were yelling it in his ear because it was darned near impossible to hear anything with the Tonight Show Band playing. Then the applause signs lit up letting us know the show was about to start up again and it was time to start yelling and screaming.

The next segment of the show was a piece about the Redneck Games being held somewhere which was introduced by a big, husky looking guy on the Sopranos. Sorry folks, I don't watch the show and don't remember his name.

Then another commercial break before Johnny Depp came out. Oh wow, his entrance really broke our eardrums! A couple of more commercial breaks, then Eva somebody I think it was did an interview. It was the girl from Hitch, if you've ever seen that movie. Then the Swedish band Shout Out Loud, who I'd never heard of before.

The show was over, but we didn't leave just yet. Next they had to film a few promos. Something like "Tonight we have Johnny Depp, Eva Whoever, and Shout Out Loud—stay tuned to watch us!" I don't remember exactly what it was, but they did three of them with slight variations. Then we were told we may get up to leave.

Leno and the other stars took a group photo of themselves and started taking more photos with audience members as we meandered our way back outdoors into the—we now knew—104 degree weather and the hottest day of the year. You know who I really feel bad for, though? Those suckers who got in line at noon and didn't even get to make it into the show. That's gotta be a downer!

We all said our goodbyes. Tierra headed down to Riverside. My mom drove back up to SLO. And Amanda and I headed to Julie's for the night, Amanda's sister's place. The end of another glorious adventure. =)

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