New York calls itself the “media capital of the world” for good reason: countless newspapers, magazines, television networks, film studios, and communications companies are based in the Big Apple. Many popular American television shows are taped in the city, and several are broadcast live—often with the city’s pedestrians passing by in the background.
Here are three of our favorite ways to be part of a TV show, times to show up, and ways to get on camera. The best part? Most of it is free.
Home to the “Ed Sullivan Show” from 1948-1971, the theater now hosts David Letterman’s popular late night talk show, broadcast on CBS at 11:30 PM.
Tickets in person: Tickets are free and may be requested by visiting the theater and submitting a written request for shows up to one month in advance. Audience members will be contacted by phone if their request is accepted. The ticket office is open weekdays from 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM, and 10 AM to 6 PM on Saturdays and Sundays.
Tickets in advance: To secure tickets in advance without visiting the theater, use the show’s online ticket lottery. Fill out a form and, hopefully, you will be contacted by phone and asked a trivia question before you’re granted your free tickets. Note: They are serious about this. When we were called, they asked us for the name of the owner of the “Hello Deli”. Luckily, we knew it was “Rupert.” A friend wasn’t as lucky and was turned down. Know your Letterman!
Same-day tickets: A limited number of same-day standby tickets are available on the day of taping by calling (212) 247-6497 starting at 11 AM. This phone number is only “active” when tickets are available. Seats for standby tickets usually are in the back of the theater, but hey, it’s a great last-minute way to see the show. Visit the show’s website for more information about obtaining free tickets.
Tip: Assistants from the show scope out the crowd before taping. They hone in on bubbly, smiley types who are “camera ready.” We suggest chatting up these assistants. In the best case, you will be ushered down to the first two rows. Score.
This is the mother load. “30 Rock,” as it’s often called, houses the NBC television network’s studios and corporate headquarters. Shows produced there include Saturday Night Live, The Today Show, NBC Nightly News and more.
A studio tour ($18.50) takes you behind the scenes in many of the network’s studios, although it doesn’t get you tickets to any of the shows. (You might, however, see some stars walking through the hallway or in rehearsal, like on Saturday when SNL cast members are hard at work. We got to see Will Ferrell, Jimmy Fallon and Sean Hayes, when we swept through last time.)
Tickets to NBC shows taped in the building are offered in advance by email or telephone. Each show has its own ticketing policy and details are offered on this page of the NBC website. The Today Show broadcasts live from its windowed street-level studios at Rockefeller Center every morning from 7 AM to 10 AM, with its hosts taking frequent trips into the noisy crowd. Bring a smile—and scream.