For our second field trip, my British Television Studies class went to a live taping of The Wright Stuff. For those that are not familiar with the program, it’s a daytime, news talk show on Channel 5. For two hours in the late morning the host, Mathew Wright, and a rotating panel of C-list celebrities talk about current affairs and relevant social issues. Sort of like The View only not so female-centric.
The class apparently goes every semester to gain direct experience with how a television show is filmed. The stage manager and all his assistants knew what to expect. We only had a vague idea. As you might expect, none of us had heard of the show before now, and even though we watched part of an episode in class, there was still a lot of confused shuffling around. We had to be constantly instructed by the show’s crew (and even one repeat audience member).
The Wright Stuff is filmed at Princess Productions in the Whiteleys shopping mall. We met at the Starbucks on the 2nd floor at 8:30am. You can imagine how tired most of us were. They gave us just enough time to fill out image release waivers and gulp down our free coffee/tea before they shuttled us off to the studio on the floor above.
Because one of the celebrity guests was a former member of Westlife (a ‘90s boy band) and he therefore attracted more attention than usual, there were more people for the studio audience than there were seats. As a consequence, every commercial break they moved a handful of people from the audience to the back, constantly shifting and shuffling. I spent more than half the show in the back, watching the program from a monitor and observing the gallery (the official term for a TV show’s control room).
Topics discussed on the show that day ranged from family members overriding their loved ones’ wishes to be organ donors (which is common and legal in the UK) to refunds for bad first dates to whether sombreros are racist or not. The panel discussed and then they fielded calls from viewers to get their opinions and stories. My interest waxed and waned. I zoned in and out as I suspect most people in my class did. The stage manager sat in the back with us, laughing loudly and hardily at every mediocre joke. The air conditioning made it really cold away from the studio lighting.
“Welcome to the glamorous side of show business,” the stage manager teased.
I had more fun watching the gallery with its bank of monitors and control panels than the show, which I guess, in some ways, was the point. The monitors were constantly flickering as numerous video feeds ran at once, lighting up the small, dark room in a shifting glow. I observed as the director would flick his wrist and the vision mixer would switch to another camera (there were about four of them), while the character generator would superimpose and intercut graphics and excerpts. I gazed on transfixed as Wright and his panel droned on about refunding bad dates.
The two hours finally came to a close and we were shuffled out of the studio. We were promised a Q&A with Mathew Wright after the show, but he was pulled away last minute to film a pilot. Instead, we were shown into the gallery where the director talked to us about the finer points of taping a live program. He spoke fast and used a lot of jargon, but it was still interesting to hear him speak about all the little pieces that went into making this relatively simple talk show. According to him, about 30 people total work behind the scenes of The Wright Stuff, setting audio levels, screening calls, designing graphics, operating cameras, organizing the studio audience, etc.—each playing an important role in crafting what people saw every morning. It was all a well-oiled, chaotic machine. I enjoyed that glimpse behind the curtain. It felt like I was witnessing some sort of magic that most people are completely ignorant to.