If you ever wondered what it’s like to sit in the audience of a Jeopardy taping, you’re in luck! I recently spent an afternoon watching the iconic game show being produced at the Sony Pictures Studio complex in Culver City, California.
Full disclosure – I reached out to the show’s publicity office on multiple occasions to prepare for this story and nobody felt the need to respond to me. So, I went ahead and got tickets on my own and will instead give you a raw, unedited look at the entire experience.
Getting Tickets For The Jeopardy Taping
Getting tickets to a Jeopardy taping is actually pretty simple. In fact, On Camera Audiences, the outfit that handles ticket requests and coordination of studio audiences around Los Angeles, was practically begging people to attend during the week of my visit. (I received multiple e-mails telling me tickets were still available!)
You can visit their website, look at the show calendar, and select the date you want to attend. For Jeopardy, the schedule is typically three episodes in the morning (10AM) and two episodes in the afternoon. (2pm).
Arriving At Sony Pictures Studio
The studio complex is relatively easy to find. Originally known as MGM studios, it’s a historic location, best known as the place where The Wizard of Oz was filmed. These days, its best known productions are Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. Other shows that have been produced here include Shark Tank; King of Queens; and Married With Children.
Parking is also easy and free! A garage is located just inside the main gate on Overland. Once parked, you’ll come to the ground level and wait on park benches. Eventually, a studio representative comes down to check tickets and will give you a wrist band confirming you have a seat for the taping.
You should plan to arrive about 45 minutes to an hour before the time listed on your ticket. I was there super early (that’s my nature) and was the first person in line. The process seemed a bit chaotic, with mostly tourists that have no idea what’s going on. During my visit, a large group of former Jeopardy contestants were also in line to see the show.
Finally, after all of the waiting and wondering, you make it to the Alex Trebek Soundstage for the Jeopardy taping. (Coincidentally, it’s directly next door to the stage where Wheel of Fortune is produced.) One door is propped open for audience members to come inside while the other door has a sign indicating no visitors are allowed without the show’s permission. A red “on-air” light is above the door to indicate when the cameras are rolling.
Being In The Audience For A Jeopardy Taping
It’s a bit surreal as you walk up a short flight of stairs to the seating area on the Jeopardy soundstage. As you reach the top step, that big, unmistakable board of categories and clues you’ve seen on television your entire life, is now staring you directly in the face.
While the Jeopardy board really is quite large in-person, the studio itself isn’t. It’s also quite cold. Which is understandable as the stage is lit with strong lights that can get hot. Most crew members wore some sort of jacket or sweater. Above and surrounding the entire set are what appear to be tiny twinkling stars, as though you’re watching the show in the desert on a clear night.
The contestant podiums aren’t quite visible like they are when you watch at home. That’s because you’re looking at them from the side from the audience. They are staggered, which I never noticed on television. One thing quite visible from the audience are the blocks of wood that certain contestants stand on because they’re not quite tall enough to be seen on camera.
I found it extremely difficult to enjoy the show like I would from the comfort of my living room. There’s just too much going on to really focus hard on the clues. There are large monitors on both ends of the stage for the audience, but it’s so unnatural to turn your head each time. It’s also very difficult to hear the host as well, even though the audience was completely silent.
Each episode takes about 45 minutes to complete. There’s an intermission for the audience between tapings as they bring out new contestants.
Don’t Talk And God Forbid You Take Any Photos of The Stage
You’re warned at the beginning of the Jeopardy taping not to blurt out or even whisper anything during the show. A row of judges and producers sit directly in front of the audience. If they hear even a peep from the crowd, they will stop the show and replace the clue as a contestant may have heard it, too. This didn’t happen during the two tapings I watched.
The audience coordinators along with the “warm up guy/stage manager” repeatedly told us that you weren’t allowed to take photos of the stage – even when it was empty. (Having worked in broadcasting my entire life, I could give you 100 reasons why this is completely ridiculous.) I was actually confronted by one of the security guards for taking a picture after the shows were over. In his defense, he actually apologized for having to scold me. Clearly, even he recognized how dumb this rule is.
You are allowed to take photos in a small museum that’s set up just below the audience seats. It’s pretty underwhelming – a display case of the show’s Emmy statues, some faux Jeopardy podiums, and a handful of photos. One cool thing they did have on display was the host podium that Alex Trebek used during his run as host. Covered in plexiglass, you can see one of the answer sheets, a pair of his reading glasses, along with a crayon that he used to mark off categories.
Jeopardy Taping: Behind The Scenes
If you’ve never been to a television show taping, it’s always interesting to learn what goes on behind the scenes that you never see in the finished product. While in the Jeopardy studio audience, I learned a handful of amusing tidbits.
Ken Jennings, the current show host, will occasionally need to correct his pronunciation. (Or even his math.) Producers take note of any of mistakes and Jennings will simply say the correction during a commercial break and then fixed during post-production.
Noticeably absent from the Jeopardy taping was the longtime announcer of Jeopardy, Johnnie Gilbert. Gilbert, who is 95 years old, still voices the introduction of the contestants and the show’s host. During the taping, the stage manager told the audience Johnny was watching from home and to wave “so Johnny can see you”. I’m willing to wager $1,000 that Johnny wasn’t really watching. Most likely, he has a home studio where he can simply record the introductions without driving into Los Angeles.
Speaking of wagers, when you see contestants on camera scribbling down their wagers – they’re not really doing anything. Turns out the contestants have all the time they need to come up with their wager in Final Jeopardy. Once all three contestants are ready, a camera films the three of them pretending to jot down numbers at their podium. A producer is off stage and instructs them, “write the word WHAT in the upper right hand corner of your screen.” (I witnessed this during both tapings.)
As I happened to be in attendance for Tournament of Champions episodes, I was surrounded by former contestants and current tournament contenders. Once they tape their own episode, they can come watch their competitors compete from the audience.
Jeopardy Contestants Are A Little…..
Socially awkward? I think that’s probably the best way to describe most of the contestants I witnessed during my time in the studio. I happened to get on the wrong shuttle bus when I arrived and suddenly found myself surrounded by about 30 contestants, some of them well known to fans of the show.
A couple of them seemed pretty normal but most had bizarre mannerisms and seemed a little weird. The guy sitting next to me in the audience mentioned the exact same thing.
One positive thing I’ll add is that all of them seemed to genuinely root for each other and celebrate their successes. I didn’t notice any animosity or hard feelings between contestants during the Jeopardy taping. In fact, it was pretty cool to see the comradery among the current contestants and Jeopardy alumni. It’s certainly a club I’ll never be part of.
If you are a life long fan of Jeopardy, you should absolutely make the effort to attend a taping of the show. Even if you don’t watch it regularly, you’ll still find it interesting.
To get free tickets and sit in the audience for a taping of Jeopardy, you can visit On Camera Audiences.