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An Ellen Lovefest, but No Hugging

An Ellen Lovefest, but No Hugging

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One fan's visit to a taping of The Ellen DeGeneres Show provides a glimpse behind the cameras, including a "no hugging" rule that keeps all the mutual affection channeled into dancing and laughter.

Our names were on the clipboard held by the nice gay man at the head of the line. My girlfriend and I had VIP tickets to the Ellen show. We were in! Soon we would witness a high-volume, fast-paced taping of Ellen DeGeneres's talk show, with featured guests Jason Biggs of the American Pie movies, Paige Davis of TV's Trading Spaces, and Ben Affleck, formally of Bennifer. Ellen arrived at NBC studios in her silver Porsche, slowing down to wave at adoring fans lined up curbside at 10 a.m. We waved back. It's weird when you get to NBC, home of Friends, Frasier, and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, to name a few. The studio is just across the road from a hospital going about its business. Aside from the many boxy soundstages, it's a rather nondescript part of Burbank. Once inside, however, the Ellen studio and adjoining parking lot was a happy place. The dozens of staff members clutching clipboards and wearing headsets managed the masses in an efficient yet friendly way. By showtime, even though many fans had waited for seven hours, everyone was excited, giddy, and ready to dance. Dancing was a big pastime for the audience. It came naturally as there was a steady flow of disco, hip-hop, and booty-shakin' tunes. It was a mere 61 degrees in the studio, so dancing was also a matter of survival. Many in the crew wore sweaters, polar fleece, hats, and scarves. Once the show was off and running, the pace was fast. I was exhausted and I was only a blur in the audience. The show tapes essentially as you see it on TV. They may do some editing before it airs the next day, but not much. On commercial breaks, Ellen often hopped out of her chair and was immediately attended to by about a half dozen people offering their support: makeup artists, hair stylists, writers, production assistants, and anyone else who could communicate over the blaring dance music that was turned up during the break. The guest usually remained seated, almost as if storing energy for the next take. Jason Biggs sat quietly, staring forward and tapping his fingers on the chair. Paige Davis danced and nearly stole the show on one commercial break. Ellen continued talking through the break with some guests, as she did with Ben Affleck. They seemed to be on such good terms that at the end of their interview, they hugged, then Ben dipped her for a real Hollywood kiss. Pity it happened after the cameras stopped rolling! I did find myself feeling a little like a trained seal as the audience handler (my name for him) commanded us to stand, sit, clap, clap louder, and dance. He was the conductor of our enthusiasm, and we were only too happy to channel our zeal in the direction he requested. It's the price you have to pay to be on TV. I've never played the role of a crazed, starstruck fan, but if I had to do it, I would do it for Ellen. The crowd was mixed--Californians, New Yorkers, Midwesterners, gay people, straight people, young and old. Ellen has universal appeal. Before the taping, she came out to greet the audience. We could raise our hands to ask questions, but we were asked not to hug her. I think Ellen brings out unbridled hugging, thus the preemptive rule. I wonder if the studio crews for Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, or Conan O'Brien have to fend off huggers? During the celebrity interviews, crew members standing just behind the cameras flashed signs at Ellen with hastily written notes in black marker saying things like "Tell us a little bit about the show," "Grammy nomination?" "skateboarding?" and "30 seconds until break!" These handheld tips moved Ellen along in the interview and plugged the guest's movie, TV show, CD, or book. Ellen didn't miss a beat as she joked with her guest, read the signs, threw quick glances at the audience, then returned to quality eye contact with the interviewee. We left with T-shirts, a guidebook of Los Angeles, Paige Davis's Trading Spaces book, and the loving vibe of The Ellen DeGeneres Show.The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Ellen seems truly appreciative of her fans and crew. From beginning to end, the experience was a mutual lovefest.

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