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I went to a Big Bang Theory filming!

The Big Bang Theory is my favorite TV series, and so I thought it would be incredibly fun to watch a filming of the show in person. But the show is extremely popular, and tickets to Big Bang Theory filmings are hard to come by. I stalked the website, the only place that I know where the general public can get free Big Bang Theory tickets, but they were always sold out.

Then, one Saturday evening, as I scanned the Show Schedule page (I don't "have a life," but I'm okay with that), I noticed that Big Bang Theory standby tickets were not marked as sold out for that Tuesday's show. It had to be a mistake. I clicked through anyway, filled out the ticket order form, clicked the submit button, and...

Success! I couldn't believe it! My ticket appeared on the screen! I printed it out and clicked the back button. I filled out the order form again, this time with my friend's name, and clicked the submit button. Success again! We were in! Well, not exactly. These were just standby tickets.

On September 27th, 2011, my friend and I arrived at Warner Bros. Studios' Gate 3 parking garage in Burbank, California, an hour and a half before the 6:30 PM show time. There were already a bunch of people with standby tickets lined up on benches. A security officer checked our photo IDs and stamped our hands with an invisible (unless you have a blue light) Warner Bros. handstamp. Audience coordinators from Audiences Unlimited gave us check-in numbers. And then, we waited.
Welcome to Warner Bros. Studios sign inside the Gate 3 parking garage at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California where The Big Bang Theory is filmed
At about a half-hour before showtime, the audience coordinators started counting off people in the standby line. I held my breath, hoping they would have enough seats in the audience for us. They were slowly counting people off, a few at a time and then stopping. Our chances kept looking worse and worse.

We didn't know it then, but when the audience coordinator approached my friend and me, and counted us off, we became two of the final few people to make it into the taping. We jubilantly crossed the street and lined up with a few other audience members at the pedestrian entrance for Gate 2 of Warner Bros. Studios. One by one, we walked through metal detectors and our bags were searched. Then we entered the lot.

We walked past soundstages, trying to read the plaques on them that listed when the soundstage had been built and named some of the movies and TV shows that had been filmed there as we moved along. We finally stopped outside The Big Bang Theory's stage, Soundstage 25, which, according to its plaque, had been built in 1935.

Inside the well-air-conditioned (ie. freezing cold) stage, we were directed to the audience bleachers where we were shown to the last of the empty seats. [Note: Due to increased popularity of Big Bang Theory tapings, it would now be extremely unlikely to be admitted as a standby ticket holder arriving as close as we did to showtime.] Waiting on our chairs were programs that listed the names of the cast, director, and producers, and had bios of the stars of the show.
Cover of the program that we received when we attended a filming of The Big Bang Theory
On the TV monitors in front of us, an episode that had already been filmed, but hadn't aired yet, was more than halfway over. I watched with rapt attention. As soon as the episode was over, the warm-up guy, Mark Sweet, introduced us to the cast and some of the producers, including the famous Chuck Lorre. The audience leapt to their feet.

That night's episode was called "The Good Guy Fluctuation." It was their season 5 Halloween episode (episode 7). The first scene was "pre-taped." It had some special effects, including a small explosion; I imagine that was the reason that it was pre-taped. While we watched the pre-recorded scene on the monitors, our laughter was recorded using microphones above our heads. Once I noticed the microphones, I made a special effort to watch what I said, even when they weren't recording (not that I normally say anything too embarrassing).

The set for the next scene, the Comic Book Store, was at the far end of the soundstage, so again we could only really watch the scene on the monitors. This time, since they were filming the scene live, cameras were rolling. We could hear a woman say, "Apple... take one... cameras A, B, C, and X... common mark." The slate clapped. The director commanded, "Action." The scene began.

The first take was funny and seemed perfect, but after the actors consulted with the director and producers, they shot the scene again. In the second take, the actors made a few small changes to their delivery and dialogue. It was fun to see a slightly different variation of the scene. After about two full takes and a "pick-up" (small portion of the scene) or two, a man's voice announced, "Moving on."

In between takes and scenes, Mark introduced us to members of the audience who were asked to dance, sing, or demonstrate other "talents." We learned that Mark had been working on the show ever since the pilot episode! We also learned that The Big Bang Theory has fans all over the world; there were people in the audience from India, Brazil, Argentina, Canada and other countries. One woman sang a song in her native language; even the crew seemed to find her song enchanting. Another man sang an homage to The Big Bang Theory.

The show also had a DJ, Ken Millen, who played music when they weren't filming. I liked his choice of songs. Apparently actor Johnny Galecki did too. A few times, I spotted Johnny dancing (very well) to the music.

My friend and I were seated right in front of the Penny's Apartment set. When it came time to shoot a scene there, the camera crew brought in four big cameras and arranged them to get all of the different shots during a single take. We watched the hair and makeup people "touch up" the actors. Then a woman clapped the slate, the director called, "Action," and we watched the actors on the set rather than the monitors.

When the director said, "Cut," the crew went to work, resetting the set. Since Penny (Kaley Cuoco) was pouring wine during the scene, they wheeled over a cart stocked with clean wine glasses and a bottle of grape juice (at least that's what it looked like) and quickly replaced and refilled everything so that, for each take, it looked like Penny was doing things for the first time.
The night wore on, but I never lost interest in the filming, even though every scene was performed at least twice. The writing, the acting, and the funny changes to the dialogue kept my attention. Also, there was an energy inside the soundstage. I'd never watched The Big Bang Theory with so many Big Bang Theory fans. That was really special!

The final scene, the "tag,", was perfect! Just one take and they were done. The filming took a total of about three hours, but I could have watched for many more.

As we funneled out of the soundstage and through the Warner Bros. lot, security officers and representatives from Audiences Unlimited thanked us for coming. Since we hadn't been allowed to bring cameras onto the lot, my friend and I left only with our memories and the show program, our "proof" that we'd been part of a Big Bang Theory studio audience.
Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California Gate 2 at night after a Big Bang Theory taping

I did this on September 27th, 2011 in Burbank, California, USA.

Jen (California, USA)
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Big Bang Theory taping questions/comments

Jen's reviews of TV show tapings and filmings:
The Big Bang Theory (2013-2014 Season)
The Ellen DeGeneres Show (Riff-Raff Room)
The Ellen DeGeneres Show (studio audience)

Jen's list of bucket-list-worthy things to do in Los Angeles