Thursday, September 25, 2008

Best Day/Gawk Not

I can't believe I never told you about the time I was a member of the live studio audience.

A great many months ago I went with my friend Tiffany and two other ladies to a taping of the Montel Williams show. It was one of my favorite New York experiences ever. The only thing that could have topped it was had been gotten into the Syvia Brown episode that was being taped immediately after ours...DAMN! We arrived at the studio in the mid-afternoon and had to wait outside because the episode that was taping prior to ours - a surprise wedding (B-O-O-O-R-I-N-G!) - was running over. Everyone was buzzing as to what the show topic was going to be. We giggled and chatted amongst ourselves while some middle-aged ladies surrounding us eavesdropped and butted into our conversation. I'd make a comment or ask Tiffany a question and the fat Jersey chick behind me would respond, it was annoying the hell out of me, almost to the breaking point when finally, after much waiting they let us in, but only after a bus full of randoms who had just gotten out of a taping of the View were ushered in due to their apparent VIP status.

The waiting room was the pinnacle of 90s jazzy corporate vibes. It looked like something out of Boomerang the awesomely early 90s Eddie Murphy stinker (and apparently award winner, BMI's "Most Performed Song from a Film" holla!) but with awesome blown up photos of our hero everywhere. There was Pensive Montel, Sensitive Montel, Fun-Loving Montel, and Badass Montel amongst other. I stood back in admiration sighing as I stuffed my face with free pizza and Pepsi products.

They lined us up in order of the numbers we had been given when we entered the building and seating began. All the mysterious bus VIPS got seated first and then the rest of us lowly fans were shown to seats. My friends and I were picked out of the group and ushered to the second row most likely because we were the only non 40 year old ladies in the bunch, and also dressed like total maniacs. We were settling in when a PA approached our seats. She touched me lightly on the shoulder and asked somberly if she could take me aside and speak to me for a moment. What now? Preparing for rejection I hoped, unlike my friends, I wasn't too unsightly to sit in the second row.

She walked me down a cold hallway and looked me in the eye. "Listen," she whispered, "we want you in the front row." My eyes lit up with excitement. Front row status at Montel? What had I done to deserve this honor? "But," she continued, "the producers don't like bare shoulders in the front row. You can borrow my blazer if you'd like, I just had it dry-cleaned."

Fuck yeah! I was, of course, willing to put on this wretched rayon-cotton-poly blend blazer that was a size too small and jeopardize the awesomeness of my Mondrian block print dress. Fully ready to sell out! I almost felt bad because the lights in the studio were hot, my armpits were bare underneath her freshly dry-cleaned blazer and I'd forgotten to wear deodorant. Oh well. It's the bad blazer tax I guess.

She ushered me back into the studio where my friends met my eyes with bewildered looks, thanks to the incredible lameness of my bad business casual blazer and watched as the woman sat me in the far right seat of the row in front of them. Tiffany leaned forward and whispered, "What is that, Express?"

"Even better," I responded. "New York & Company."

The warm-up commenced and the cheerleader in charge started by giving a special welcome to the group from the Barbizon Modelling School. The pleasant young man I had been seated next to in the front cheered and patted the plainish yellow-haired girl next to him on the back. Oh boy. Instantly I had flashbacks of the classic ad in the back of Seventeen Magazine with the heavily made-up blond proclaiming, "Be a model or just look like one!" I had no idea the school still existed much less organized bus trips to sit in studio audiences across the city. I was baffled and amazed.

Soon Montel came out. It was kind of anti-climatic. He was sort of a jerk, very cocky, talked about himself in the 3rd person, and mainly had to answer questions from people who had come to the show because they had MS. He seemed impatient with them but at least made an attempt to be helpful. Essentially he told them they couldn't get the treatment he got because he was rich and could afford to travel to Europe and see the best doctors so tough luck. Okay, maybe he wasn't that harsh. I didn't realize what a figurehead Montel is in the MS community. His survivor status must be quite alluring. That bald black head shines as a beacon of hope.

One mother raised her hand and started talking about her daughter during the Q & A. How her daughter was a hero, how she was born without thumbs but had persevered and was now on the cheerleading squad. Montel cut her off, "Is this a story or are you actually going to ask me a question?" The woman, tears in her eyes, gestured to a wheelchair-bound girl next to her and said, "This is my daughter, she's in the Barbizon Modelling School. She's my hero." Montel softened a bit and told the thumbless girl she was beautiful while the Barbizon instructors smiled their whitened smiles.

The Q & A ended and Montel settled into his seat. From where I was seated I could partially see the teleprompter and it's scrolling text. From my vantage point I saw the names, Anna Nicole Smith, Larry Birkhead, Rita Cosby, and Diana McGreevey. Holy shit. This was going to be a doozy.

Let me take you back in time a little over a year ago to early September 2007. Rita Cosby, the now ridiculed former MSNBC correspondent, had just released the tell-all book, Blonde Ambition: The Untold Story Behind Anna Nicole Smith's Death accusing Larry Birkhead and Howard Stern of being gay lovers who had used Anna Nicole Smith for their own profit and blackmailed each other after her death amongst other claims about both her overdose and her son's overdose. The book was met with instant lawsuits from both Stern and Birkhead and this appearance on Montel was at the height of the frenzy surrounding the forthcoming book.

I couldn't believe my luck. Montel, in my mind, is usually the least juicy of talk shows. He's all about do-gooding and bringing people together. He makes me long for the trashy perfection of the old days of Jenny Jones. Where are the goth teen makeovers? Where are the stalking gay neighbors? Where is the self-castration? Come on! I don't watch tv to feel good, I watch it to plumb the depths. Reunions and surprise weddings and cancer patient makeovers, while good for humanity, are no good for entertaining me. But Rita Cosby! Anna Nicole Smith conspiracy theory! Fantastic.

I won't go into too many details of the taping. Unfortunately there is no video online, Montel rules his copyrights with an iron fist. Would anyone expect more from the most decorated peacetime Naval officer in US history? He's actually a pretty decent guy, terse personal manner aside. His online bios show a decent amount of charitability. Maybe I shouldn't harsh Montel. He's a survivor, he deserves a little vanity. Regardless here is all you need to know about the actual taping:

1. Rita Cosby complimented my necklace and kept chatting me up during breaks. She was a fucking nut.

2. Anna Nicole Smith's half-brother was a guest as well. He was so inarticulately small town Texan that he could barely communicate with the media coached madness. I felt sorry for him.

3. Partway through the taping the two Barbizoners seated next to me were removed from their seats to make room for a couple of guest commentators who weren't actually to be seated on stage.

4. Diana McGreevey was supposed to talk about her new book and struggle (on a related secret homosexual tangent I guess) but she almost got bumped by the Anna Nicole circus. She was on stage for about four minutes total and god was she bitter.

5. During a break in the taping the annoying Jersey woman who kept butting her way into our conversation while waiting in line suddenly stood up and shouted at Montel, "I can't believe I drove four hours for this crap!" She apparently had been counting on some face time with Sylvia Brown. Montel told her to leave then and made fun of her as she stormed out.

6. One of the commentators was a private investigator hired by Smith's family to get to the bottom of her death. He was actually interesting and informative.

7. The other commentator was Julia Allison. Uhh...okay, truth be told I don't read Gawker and at the time barely knew who she was. My only familiarity with that website was due to a few acquaintances being subject to it's ridicule and it's employment of Emily Gould, a former college roommate (and fellow Lang alumnus) of a friend who was notorious for being, well...mean (her subsequent humiliation on Jimmy Kimmel was both satisfying and difficult to watch, it made me never want to be asked by a professional about anything, those people are coached and trained, normal humans can't compete.) But in her platform Louboutin knock-offs and polka dots, it was obvious Allison was a shark in tart's clothing. I spent the rest of the taping sitting next to this tiny human listening to her rattle-off soundbites in semi-awe.


thehistoryofmyfuture said...

Years and years ago when Brian and I were still living in NC, we visited NYC on our spring breaks from college, and caught a filming of Montel too. At the time, he basically assured us that talk shows such as his would be over within the next few years. Guess not.

Did he do his Kermit the Frog impression? He did that as comic relief throughout the commercial breaks and pre-show during our show. I actually don't even remember the subject of the show we saw, it was such a snoozefest.

Brian did ask him a question during the Q&A though, "Hey Montel, Have you ever had someone telling you something really terrible on the air, but then you thought of a funny joke or something hilarious that happened earlier in the day, and laughed in their face amidst their tears?"

Montel did NOT see the humor, "Uh. Nooo, son!"

thehistoryofmyfuture said...

oh yeah, and our souvenir:

Orin Brecht said...

Back in 2001 I was living in Baltimore and we had just moved into a new house in a homely blue color type neighborhood. I started messin around with the some punk rock chick who worked at the local pizza joint. She was living with her comic book artist aunt 2 doors down from us. She was psychotic. Anyway, one night she told me she was on a Montel show about 'bad girls' or some shit like that. She told me she was really nervous and didnt want to be there and had zipped up her sweater to her neck and was not talking. During a break Montel started harassing her and yanked down her zipper to below her cleavage (she had a t shirt on). He said something like "This is my show! Do as your told!" or something. She was 16 at the time (on Montel, not when I knew her).