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Audiences get star treatment at 'Jeff Probst Show'

The 'Survivor' host's new daytime talk show pampers its studio visitors with snacks, stylists and more in its clubby, pre-taping 'party room.'

November 27, 2012|By Chris Erskine, Los Angeles Times
  • Valerie Gill (foregrond) of West Los Angeles and Sam Safarian (next to her in white shirt) of Glendale gets a "chair massage" in the "audience party room" before the start of "The Jeff Probst Show" on Oct. 18, 2012.
Valerie Gill (foregrond) of West Los Angeles and Sam Safarian (next to her… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

Be-dimpled Jeff Probst may not be changing the face of television as we know it — though he once did, with his hosting duties on the "Survivor" franchise, and would certainly like to yet again with his new daytime talk show.

But what Probst has done to burnish his TV legacy is give those attending his syndicated show a clubby pre-show gathering place. At the Sunset Bronson Studios in Hollywood, attendees can grab a snack, check their email or get primped and freshened by professional stylists as if they were going to be hosting the show themselves.

Dubbed "the party room," the large, studio-adjacent hangout is a refreshing change from the stuffy parking garages or sun-baked sidewalks that many audiences suffer through before attending an L.A. taping. Historically, potential jurors are treated better than Hollywood audiences.

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"We decided to create an experience," said supervising producer Dana Leavitt, who oversees the party room for "The Jeff Probst Show," 2 p.m. weekdays on KNBC. "From the moment they arrive to the time they leave, we wanted it to be more than just a show. We wanted it to be a great day."

The effort, by Leavitt and executive producers Probst and Amy Coleman, appears to be paying off.

"I mean, it's fun," says Danice Cananela of North Hollywood, who says she has attended at least 10 tapings. "It's really sweet of them to do this."

"I like the party room," twangs Adrian James, waiting around for her second taping during a short visit from Austin, Texas.

"It's an inventive concept," her husband, John, adds.

"It gets you motivated," says Adrian. "We've been treated like we own the place."

Certainly, attending a sitcom or talk-show taping rates among the best bargains in a bargain-averse town. They are free, though there can be minor hassles in acquiring tickets on specific dates, and sometimes even a ticket doesn't ensure admission if a show is overbooked.

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Still, audience coordinators put a premium on assembling energetic participants. New shows that haven't become a draw the way Jay Leno or Jimmy Kimmel are often stake out events around Southern California looking for future attendees — the Probst show recently recruited at the Rose Bowl flea market, for example.

Repeat customers are common, and talk-show junkies date at least back to the days of the frumpy Miss Miller on "The Tonight Show" and "The Merv Griffin Show," among others.

These days, Sherry Perkov might be as devoted a talk-show groupie as you'll find, having flown to Chicago just to see "Oprah," and a veteran of David Letterman tapings and even the old "Phil Donahue Show," where she remembers the host personally saying goodbye to every audience member after the show.

"I love going to television shows," says the Beachwood Canyon resident. "As great as Oprah was, it doesn't compare to this. This is the first time we've been treated really well."

Indeed, the Probst show trends 80% female, a product of the personable host's audience-friendly demeanor and the nature of his topics — sex and relationships.

"My husband and I have occasionally enjoyed some porn," one woman says during an audience Q&A.

"After 31 years together, anything you do in the bedroom together is A-OK," her spouse assures the 140-member audience.

But it is what happens before the show that really sets it apart, amid a midweek production schedule that involves taping six shows over two days.

As show time nears, six stylists attend to audience members in the corner of the party room. At eight laptops, audience members email friends, near a photo booth where fans can snap free pictures.

There is a snack counter, vibrating chairs, and soon a gift counter where show swag will be available.

Whether that's enough to rally the show, which has struggled in the ratings since debuting in September, remains to be seen. It is hovering around the 1 million daily viewers mark. Anything less, observers say, means that in today's syndication market, a new show wouldn't have a life span of more than a year or two.

Whatever the show's run, it offers a welcome development to the talk-show tradition of herding audiences around like livestock.

"We were determined not to treat audience members like props," says Leavitt.

"We're like, come back any time," says executive producer Coleman. "And tell all your friends."

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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