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TV Tapings
by Rudy Maxa for Marketplace

Visiting New York City or Los Angeles on your summer vacation? Why not catch a show for free? Rudy Maxa tells you how.

I can't guarantee that Bob Barker will invite you to "Come on down!" but if you or maybe your kids want to catch a little star quality, why not sit in on a television show? It's free, and except in the case of the most popular shows - like Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" - it's pretty easy.

First of all, there are three basic kinds of tv shows: game shows, talk shows, and situation comedies. Almost all require live audiences. In fact, shows used to pay folks to hand out free tickets to people in Times Square in New York or on Venice Beach in Los Angeles. But thanks to - what else? - the internet, it's gotten easier for shows to solicit audience members and for you to find out where and when shows are available for watching live, up close, and personal.

Today there are a handful of websites dedicated to getting you tickets to shows. The late-night shows tend to be the hardest to get into, including Leno, Letterman, and "Saturday Night Live." http://www.nbc.com/ will have mailing addresses and phone numbers for the "Tonight Show" and "Saturday Night Live." http://www.cbs.com will have information on getting tickets for Letterman. Getting tickets, however, is just the first step.

For example, you have to be 16 or older to get into Leno's Los Angeles-based show. You can get a maximum of four tickets by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope along with your top three show dates to NBC. OR, you can stand in line in the morning - very early in the morning - at NBC's Burbank studio on the day of the show. The ticket office opens at 8, but the line often starts forming two hours earlier. You can get up to two tickets per person. Then, the studio doors open at 4 pm, but you'd be advised to line up earlier. That's because not everyone who has a ticket gets in - NBC sometimes distributes more tickets than there are seats, so getting there assures early entry.

By the way, "Saturday Night Live" really is done live at 11:35 pm, so after a mid-town dinner, you can head over to Rockefeller Plaza with your tickets, and you've got the makings of a great, relatively cheap date.

The other tough-to-get ticket is one to "The Price is Right," probably because audience members get a chance to win fabulous prizes. Tickets requested by mail are sent out for full month before a show. But there's more. Tapings take place in the afternoon, but you have to show up early in the morning at CBS in LA to have your ticket numbered. No number, no entree. And hopeful audience members show up before 7:30 am. Next, you have to return four hours before showtime so CBS pages can process you in case you're chosen as a contestant.

The good news is, it's a lot easier to score tickets to shows such as "Jeopardy," "Regis and Kelly," "Spin City," and dozens of sitcoms, most of which are taped in LA. Remember, shows often take long vacations, so check dates before making your airline reservations. But even if you're headed to New York or LA tomorrow, there's probably a show you can sit in on, even if it's not one that offers fabulous gifts and prizes.

I'm Rudy Maxa, from the Savvy Traveler, for Marketplace.


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