Have you ever been an audience member for the recording of a television talk show? If you’re interested in how to see live tv shows in London, it’s actually not too hard to get audience tickets.
Keep reading if you want to learn how to get free tickets and what happens when you go to see a live tv show in London. At the end, I share what happens specifically at the Graham Norton Show in London. You’ll also find out about the huge mistake I made while being an audience member and how you can easily avoid it.
How to See Live Shows- General Advice
You’ll find that most television programmes that are recorded in front of a live audience are filmed in either Hollywood, New York or London. Ironically, even though I lived New York for 10 years, I actually never attended a show recording there. But I have been to many in Hollywood and several in London. The process is mostly the same.
If you’ve read the blog’s About page, you know that Mr Sunny and I met while working at NBC News- London Bureau. Ironically in the 10 years he worked as a sound and camera man for the News Bureau, he actually never witnessed a whole talk show being recorded live in front of a studio audience. He mostly covered wars and ad hoc recordings like press interviews or international events. So even with a long television news career- there were things he found interesting and new when we attended a recording of the Graham Norton Show recently.
How to See Live Shows- The Process
The process to get audience tickets in both Hollywood and London hasn’t changed much in 15 years. That’s when I attended my first live television show recording.
Depending on the amount of space needed for a show, it might be shot in an area outside the city. If a really large sound stage is needed, you will not find the filming location easily accessible if you’re a tourist without a car and a half day on your itinerary to devote to the experience. So, the first step to researching opportunities is to look at a map and identify where you need to go.
For example, The Masked Singer UK is filmed at the old RAF airfield in Bovingdon in Hertfordshire. This is not near Central London and would be quite an expensive trip to take via a cab or hired car service. However, The One Show is filmed right in Central London at Broadcasting House, the BBC headquarters, near the Langham Hotel and Regent Street.
Audience tickets are free and organised by a separate company. For the Graham Norton Show, we got our tickets through SRO Audiences. If you want tickets for The Masked Singer UK, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, or other shows, another popular company that gets audience tickets in London is Lost in TV.
You apply online to get audience tickets for live television shows and then get notified via email if you were successful a few days before the show date. Watch your junk mail carefully, if you apply!
If you get that lucky email, be sure to read every word of it. The email will outline the procedures for attending. Also, you will find a declaration that the ticket attachment does NOT guarantee your seats. Audience show tickets are not like cinema, broadway or airline tickets.
Foremost, they overbook shows due to a percentage of no shows that occur. Since people tend to care less about losing free tickets- (or maybe even the celebrities that are on the show once they find out who they are), the audience ticket company will anticipate an unpredictable amount of unused seats.
Also- stars can be unpredictable. I learned this from a few years of working in VIP tours, special events and publicity at Universal Studios Florida. Celebrities in all areas (sports, television, film, music, etc) can can be quite feisty, inconsiderate and demanding. This means they might cancel their promotional appearances with extremely short notice.
Current events can also change show schedules. A global pandemic and the guidelines for life and travel also affected the availability of live studio audiences too.
So, the big idea here is just because you get a confirmation email doesn’t mean your bum is getting a seat. You should be ready for anything after that email.
In fact, on the day of the show, the studio executives, the host, celebrity guests or production crew could ask for a big number of tickets for their friends. This happened to me once in Hollywood. Even though we were some of the first to arrive at the studio that night, we didn’t know until the last minute whether or not they would have room for us. Apparently the host had made a large request for his friends to have tickets that day. If this happens- and you’re just a general audience member with an email confirmation- no seats for you!
Actual seat assignments can be determined by a first come, first served distribution. And sometimes it could depend on who you are and how you look. Face it, if you don’t look like the show’s target audience, they might not want you to fill one of the seats.
How to See Live Shows in London- The Entry Process
Start working for your seat by arriving to the studio earlier than the time indicated on the email. And be ready to queue when you do. How early you arrive is a judgment you should make about popularity of the show and the guests scheduled for that recording. Keep reading for our arrival time the night of our Graham Norton Show experience.
Assuming you have a chance of getting in and haven’t been beaten by tons of people already, you will show your email to a production staff member. If approved, you’ll probably get a wrist band and then go through a brief security search.
Then, you will likely queue again. If the email indicates a time when they’ll likely let you in, don’t bank on it. I’ve never been to one that opened the doors on time. They’re generally late by around 15 minutes.
Keep in mind, you likely won’t be seated as an audience member according to the time you arrived. They will likely prioritise seating based on if you fit the show’s television target audience age and appearance. And, if you aren’t dressed similar to the look they target or you are wearing colours they suggest you don’t wear- then it’s the back row of the studio for you!
You will also want to be pleasant the whole time you are waiting and remember to smile often in the queue. They will be watching and don’t want show guests to look miserable if the camera pans past them during the recording.
How to See Live Shows- When You Get a Seat
Something that actually is a little different from the first shows I attended in the mid-noughties is the activity of taking pre-show pictures or video. Now you can take both before the live television show recording actually starts. It’s actually encouraged. My guess is that the free promotion the studio can get through audience members’ social media accounts has had a big effect on why you can do this now.
You do not have to sign a formal NDA. Now, when I attended the production of The Crown, I felt like I had to sign my life away in a non-disclosure agreement. However, I attended as a special guest of a producer and they don’t distribute ‘show’ tickets- ever.
You will sit in an auditorium or cinema style arrangement. The seats will incline so the higher level is on top. And don’t even think the show will start on time.
Your first impression once you realise you actually have a seat is that everything is much smaller than what you pictured. The set isn’t nearly as large and as spacious as you imagined. Additionally, you will probably think the host and celebrity guests are small too. But, the cameras will strike you as ginormous and will likely include large jibs.
There will be a warm-up comedian who is quite good and will extend his performance based on what he sees is happening around him in terms of if the crew is ready.
How to See Live Shows- Once the Show and Recording Start
Once the show begins recording and the host comes out on stage, you will be trapped in your seat until it’s over. In fact, it could run continuously for twice what the actual broadcast of the show running time.
Keep in mind that you are watching a production, not live theatre. There can be retakes at any given moment. Also, cameras could be stationary in front of you for a little bit or a long time. They could block your view substantially, depending on where you are sitting. However, there will be large monitors projecting close up shots of what’s happening. This is similar to a music concert.
It really helps to be a fan of the live show for which you get audience tickets. In the Graham Norton Show it could actually guarantee you a seat and even get you a quick feature in the actual broadcast.
The second the director decides the recording is over, the production crew will begin striking the set or preparing for the next recording. This is the only part of the process that I have ever seen happen at lightning speed like clock work EVERY time!
The show you see as a live audience member will likely air later that evening or the next evening.
How to See Live Shows- The Graham Norton Show in London Tickets
We attended this live television studio recording of the show on 27th January. It was right when major Covid restrictions eased in London. Keep in mind that this means in a normal year it wasn’t peak season for tourists. So, your experience in the summer with no pandemic could be very different.
We entered three dates as options in our online request for two tickets and also had to enter our age. You must be 18 to attend. They also could’ve been trying to determine if we fell in to their target audience age range.
3-4 days before the show I received an email indicating we had tickets. The next day I received an email inquiring if we wanted to submit ideas for the ‘Red Chair’ experience. We did not wish to do this. However, I am pretty sure that the people who had been picked for it got priority seats.
The ticket email also indicated we could get a discount at some of the restaurants in the television centre. We chose to do this, but learned later we probably did it at the wrong time.
How to See Live Shows- Travel Arrangements
The show is filmed at the BBC Television Centre in West London (White City). We drove from North London and parked at Westfield Shopping Centre. We didn’t know where to park but suggest if you do this that you park by John Lewis. The cost was around £8.50, which included roughly from 3.15pm-9.30pm.
If you take the Underground, Wood Lane station is literally across from the centre. So try to get out there.
We talked quickly to security staff outside and they explained what generally happens for the ticket process. Based on their information, we decided to arrive about 15-20 minutes before our email suggested. You’ll probably want to have a quick chat with them also to see if they can offer any suggestions. However, they know anything is possible so won’t guarantee anything.
We had a quick and super expensive drink at The Broadcaster around 3.45pm while we waited for a restaurant to open.
There were several places in Television Centre to eat and drink that would give us a discount if we presented our show tickets. We chose Homeslice because we love their pizza and did a previous collaboration with them. We later learned that most people use their ticket discount AFTER the show ends.
After we finished and paid for our pizza at 5pm, we walked over to the security area where a queue of about 75-100 people already had formed. I showed our QR ticket code via my mobile, we got two wristbands, had temperature checks and went swiftly through security. We then received another wrist band.
Next we waited in an uncovered area outside for about an hour without moving. This is the only time I have been ever happy in London that it gets dark early in the winter. I can’t imagine waiting in the summer on a hot sunny day. The sun could really be pounding on your head. Rain could make it miserable too.
Mr Sunny speculated that about 20 people who arrived at around 5.45pm or later were not admitted.
People with violet or purple wristbands were called to go in to the studio first. I’m guessing these were people with Priority seats. Perhaps the people that had a ‘Red Chair’ story accepted?
Then they moved us in by rows. So if you were A you went in, then B, then C. From there it seemed D, etc were just the batches of people in front of us. So I guess at that point we were in order of our seats in the queue. My wrist band indicated F24 and that did turn out to be my seat number.
We had the chance to use the loo quickly and I filled up my empty plastic water bottle. We were in our seats around 6:20pm. We sat for about a half an hour watching the crew prepare.
The warm up comedian was amazing and did a lot of audience interaction- most of which was voluntary from members who responded to his questions.
We learned seconds before the cameras went live that the one A list celebrity scheduled to be on the show was joining it via Zoom. You could feel the excitement of the audience drop several levels. However, the stars that were there were fantastic to see live.
The recording process ended around 9pm, so we were held in the seats for around 2 1/2 hours. They did not stop or take breaks for audience members. They filmed the musician twice for reasons we don’t really know. Once celebrity guests left, Graham Norton continued to shoot several ‘trails’, as he referred to them. They were the various intros for all the places the show is syndicated.
Perhaps they could’ve explained to the studio audience a little better what was happening. I was able to follow along because I have worked in television. But, people who have never been behind the scenes in the industry could’ve found some activities confusing. They also shot a few cutaway shots separately at the end of things like the musician waving. Then they realised there was a continuity error with a book Graham Norton had used in the opening and where he had placed it after. So they moved it back to its original location and reshot a few cutaways to introduce segments.
It was interesting to see how they so quickly knew what to reshoot to make the final edit fast and seamless. Graham Norton received several directions through his ear piece and literally jumped right in to doing the retakes in an instant.
How to See Live Shows- Tips for You and a Mistake NOT to Make
My biggest mistake was having a big meal and filling my water bottle prior to the show starting. I never imagined a 50 minute show would film for two hours. My experiences in Hollywood seeing live shows as an audience member were not like this. It was a really long time to sit after eating a lot and drinking a full water bottle, if you know what I mean.
I have one really big tip for you on this particular show, if you really want to guarantee yourself entry and a good seat- and probably some national screen time. You should have or create a REALLY good ‘Red Chair’ story!
Please add comments about how your experience of being in an audience compares to everything I have written. I’d love to answer any questions you have about the shows I have seen in London. I also have a blog post on seeing stars at Red Carpet Film Premieres in London that could be of interest to you.
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