Watching TV while sat on the sofa is something that almost everybody in the UK has experienced, however far less people have actually been to a television studio to watch their favourite show being filmed. So what exactly is it like being a studio audience member on a programme?
Well it starts with queueing for around an hour in ‘Studio 2’ in Maidestone Studios. Although ‘Catchphrase’ is aired at 6:00pm sharp on ITV1, it seems the actual filming of the show is less punctual, and there have already been three delays and a couple of postponements.
After an hour in a queue you can’t help but begin to spectate on other people, and it’s clear that there are different groups of people: there is my group, the people who have never been to watch a show being taped before and don’t really have any clue what to expect, and the ‘regulars’, mostly locals to whom Maidestone Studios is probably their second home. No matter which side of the fence you are on in that respect, there’s no doubt that standing in a warehouse filled with expensive TV props and bits of set wets the appetite for the ultimate behind-the-scenes you’re about to watch.
Once the queue gets moving and you finally get into the set you can’t help but feel slightly underwhelmed; the set seems far smaller and more intimate than it does on the telly. Nevertheless, there are enough expensive lights and cameras on show to make any Media Studies student like myself drool.
And suddenly, without any introduction a suited and booted man with a microphone comes on. “Hello ladies and gentleman!” he proclaims in a slightly camp way that doesn’t really fit his ‘mid-life-crisis’ appearance. It’s the infamous ‘warm up guy’ and he sets up the cheesy-but-enjoyable tone of the day by giving away free merch, singing along to ‘Celebrate’ by Kool and the Gang, and telling jokes that if anything make you nostalgic about the time you heard them five years ago. (I bought some Swedish meatballs the other day. etc. etc.)
But it works and the demographically diverse audience are all guffawing, which is just as well as it’s time to record some sound bites of the audience. The ‘warm-up guy’ steps to the side and the far less charismatic floor manager takes over, instructing the audience to clap so they can film some applause. Then some laughter. Then an “oooooooh” as if the main prize has just been revealed. Then some more applause.
With that over it’s time for Stephen Mulhern to be introduced, and he is welcomed by the audience by a standing ovation. Which we were told to give him. He exchanges pleasantries with the audience (“Welcome to the show, where are you all from” etc. etc.) before the lights go down and it’s time to start filming.
The opening credits roll before Mulhern opens the show, introducing the guests and saying another warm welcome to the audience……. And then the autocue breaks. This is problematic, as Mulhern puts it himself in no uncertain terms in an aside to the audience “First rule of presenting, if the autocue breaks then you’re f***ed!”
While Mulhern looks distressed, the ‘warm-up guy’ relishes the opportunity by returning to the stage and say another hello to the audience. After some light-hearted banter with Mulhern he then suggests a chocolate biscuit challenge, involving a volunteer from the audience balancing a chocolate biscuit on their forehead and trying to get it in their mouth without using their hands.
With five minutes of time successfully killed and the autocue mended, it’s time to return to the show…… and then one of the contestant’s podiums breaks. The Catchphrase tech wizards rush on to the stage like fire fighters arriving at a fire they need to put out, and ‘warm-up guy’ welcomes another audience member onto the stage to take another chocolate biscuit challenge. At this point we have spent more time watching people eating biscuits than watching the show.
The podium is fixed and it’s finally time to get into some gameplay. A game show cliché is a contestant protesting that “it’s different when you’re under the studio lights than playing at home”, but it’s hard to put the lack of points from two of the contestants down to anything other than them being blithering idiots. As they take an age to try and work out the most basic catchphrase, every fibre of my being wants to shout out the answer at the top of my voice. It’s truly painful.
However, one contestant seems remarkably good and makes it all the way to the final. After making her way up the pyramid – contestants have to answer questions to make it to the top of the pyramid to win the top prize – she is just one correct answer away from earning herself a cushty £50,000. I’m not one for spoilers so I won’t give away the ending, but either way the show draws to a close with all three contestants having a nice day out, and even Mulhern seemingly enjoying being in his element.
Once the end theme tune has finished playing I’m ready to leave my seat and head back to the coach, but alas there are re-takes to shoot. First Mulhern repeats some of the lines he fluffed (although this time to no contestants as they’ve already gone home, most amusing), then films a link advertising the series, before finally thanking the audience and taking a bow.
He also mentions the fact that the audience are now free to take pictures, something which he would soon regret as the 400-strong crowd rush down all to get a picture with the host. I was one of those people, and I didn’t hesitate in rushing down the aisle, past the ‘warm-up guy’ who was looking on as if to say “that could have been me if my career had taken off” and towards Stephen Mulhern. I take the picture and within ten seconds the day went from being “That Time I Went To Go and See Catchphrase Being Filmed” to “That Time I Got a Selfie With A Moderately Famous Person”.