So, you want to get tickets to see Conan O’Brien before he ups and moves to Los Angeles to take over Jay Leno? Better hurry — by this time next year, the Late Show in New York will be a thing of the past (unless you really like Jimmy Fallon or something).
But, as you’ll soon find out, scoring said tickets can be tricky. Don’t fret, though — Gadling is here to guide you through the process.
HOW TO GET TICKETS
Tickets to see a live taping of Conan O’Brien are, no doubt, some of the hardest to score in all of New York City. But don’t let this dissuade you; with the right amount of planning, persistence, and spring in your step, you won’t have a problem. First, the gritty details: Tickets are free, and can only be secured over the phone by calling (212) 664-3056 — no websites or fax machines allowed. You can request a maximum of four tickets, and everyone in your party must be over 16-years old. Finally, you can only requests tickets once every six months.
The first step in the process is figuring out exactly when you’ll be in the Big Apple. If you’re a local, you can skip this part for obvious reasons — but if you’re visiting, don’t bother trying to get tickets before you have your trip planned and know the exact dates in which you’re available.
Once you know when you’ll be in the city, then you can move on to the next step. Tickets are (sometimes) released on a daily basis, typically about a month to three before taping. I say “sometimes” because there’s no obvious schedule for if and when they’ll be releasing tickets. For instance, the recent writer’s strike threw the ticket system way out-of-whack, and even though I had been calling every day since February, I wasn’t able to get tickets for the May 23 taping until early May. But other reports online claim tickets are released as far in advance as three and four months. There really is no rhyme or reason as to when tickets for particular days get released by NBC; some days you will call and they won’t be releasing any, other days they will releasing for a single day only, and to make it even more confusing, sometimes they release a week or two at a time. So to be safe, plan on calling every day, Monday through Friday, for at least three months before the date you want to attend. Make it a part of your morning ritual: wake up, brush your teeth, pet your cat, make coffee, call the ticket offices, take a shower, go to work. It only takes about 10 seconds to dial, realize they aren’t releasing tickets for your time frame, and hang-up. This is the single most important part of the process, so don’t get lazy!
Once the ticket line is actually open and booking for your particular date, you’ll be given the option of connecting with an operator who will get your information. Be prepared to give them your full name, home address, phone number, email address, and number of tickets requested. They will give you all the pertinent details, including the date and time of taping, when to show up, and a confirmation number (which you should, of course, write down). Then you’ll receive an email (above) with all the details outlined, along with instructions on what to do on the day of the taping. Print this email and don’t lose it, because you’ll need it later!
DAY OF HOW-TO
Congratulations! You were diligent in the ticket-getting process — you called everyday without fail — and now you’ve got your tickets secured with a confirmation email to prove it. You’re ready to attend your first taping! Now what?
Shows typically tape at 5:30 PM EST, and your confirmation email most likely says you should show up no later than 4:15. However, if you want to get a good seat, show up much earlier than this. This is because you don’t simply flash your email and walk into the studio — there’s a strange, convoluted process you must go through before the taping begins. First, you exchange your confirmation email for a ticket and wristband. Make sure your entire party is present, each with their own photo ID, and head towards 30 Rockefeller Plaza [see map]. The best entrance to use is directly behind the giant, gold statue of Prometheus (when facing the front of it — see this photo) sunken below the main walkway. Once inside, head directly up the stairs to the left and on to the mezzanine level. There may be a sign saying the stairs are for “tenants only,” but you can ignore this and head up regardless — any place off limits to tourists will be blocked by multiple security guards. (If you feel uncomfortable or lost, ask one of the friendly guards at the front desk where to go for Conan.) Once upstairs, keep your eyes peeled for a sign with Conan’s giant, cartoon head — there should be a few NBC employees hanging out in the area with clipboards. Present your confirmation email and photo ID, and they’ll give you and the rest of your group a wristband and ticket and tell you to show up downstairs at exactly 4:15.
Not my arm
If you look on your wristband and/or ticket, you’ll notice that you have either a hand-written letter or number somewhere on it. This is your place in line. I’m not 100% positive about this, but I’m pretty sure (and it makes logical sense) that the sooner you arrive to pick up your wristband and ticket, the better seats you get. The seats aren’t assigned, per se, but the order in which you check-in and receive your wristband is. The first 26 groups to get their wristband are given a letter. For example, since the group I was with was the 4th to arrive, we were given the letter “D.” After each letter of the alphabet is taken, they switch to numbers. So if you want to sit up close, make sure you arrive early enough to get a letter. This is because when it’s time to enter the studio, they split the groups up into two (letters and numbers) and line you up in alphabetical order if you have a letter, obviously, and in numerical order if you have a number.
The letter and number system is also designed to keep people from bum-rushing the studio to get good seats. Once you have your ticket and wristband, you already have what determines your position in the line to enter the studio. Therefore, you don’t need to wait around 30 Rock any longer — you can take your wristband and ticket and go to lunch, and not worry about showing up any earlier than the time you’ve been told. In fact, if you do show up earlier, they’ll tell you to “go walk around for X more minutes,” until it’s time.
For reference, the show I attended started at 4:30 — an hour earlier — so we were required to be there no later than 3:15. We showed up about 2:00 and got a “D” wristband and ticket, which means only three other groups arrived earlier than we did. Then we walked around for an hour, and went back to the stairs leading up to the mezzanine level. Don’t worry about figuring out where this is at — the folks giving out wristbands will tell you exactly when and where you need to be. Plus, there will be about 150 other people waiting around too; you can’t miss it!
WHAT TO EXPECT
Like I mentioned earlier, when you show up at the requested time, the ushers will split you into two groups: letters and numbers. Then you each head up a set of stairs and queue in alphabetical or numerical order. Once in line, the ushers explain two very important rules:
- No cameras allowed. If you have one in your bag or purse, that’s OK, but you can’t take it out of your bag once upstairs. If a security guard even sees a camera, they will confiscate it, so don’t even try. Apparently, “the inside of the studio is copyrighted” — exact words from the gentlemen explaining the rules — and it’s illegal to snap shots of anything once in the studio.
- Cell phones must be turned completely off. Not on sleep mode, not on silent or vibrate — OFF. The signal sometimes interferes with the wireless microphones, so they must be completely powered down. If you’re an on-call doctor, or can’t live without your cell phone for a few hours, you might want to reconsider going to a taping, because they were very serious about this rule.
After nodding your head and pretending to listen, you’re off to the studio; They take the letter groups first. You walk back down the stairs, through a couple of hallways, and into an airport-like security line. They have a metal detector to walk through, so you need to take anything metal out of your pockets and place them on the tables as you walk through. Ladies, your purses will be opened up and looked into. If you’ve got a sweater on, you must take it off — even if it’s tied around your waste. The line goes quick, though, and before you know it your ushered into an elevator with roughly 15 other people and heading upstairs. When you arrive on the studio floor, a few interns will be waiting to welcome you with a free Conan O’Brien “Audience Member” t-shirt — XL of course — and then you’re off to find a seat.
That’s me on the left!
Seating is open for the most part, but there is an usher who will point you in the general direction of where he wants you to go. There are some obvious places to sit if you really want to see yourself on television. In general, the closer to the front, the better chance you have. But you don’t need to be in the front row — we were in row 4 and you could see us well enough that even my parents caught a few glimpses of us from the comfort of their couch. (No offense, Mom and Dad!)
To better illustrate where you should try to sit if you want to be on TV, here’s a rather poor blueprint of the theater I made from memory. (Keep in mind: it’s not to scale!)
The red squares (which don’t represent individual seats, of course) are the best areas to sit, while the gray areas represent mostly-safe areas if you don’t want to show up on-screen. If you’re looking to interact with Conan, or even the guests for that taping, the best place to sit is in the first five-or-so rows on either side of the aisle. You’re less likely to be on camera in the first two rows near the band, but the band gets featured occasionally and there’s a good chance you’ll show up during those times.
Once the entire audience has entered the studio and found a seat, the entertainment begins. There are flat-screen TV monitors sprinkled throughout the audience, and they quickly come to life with a 10 minute reel of Conan highlights over the years. This proves to be a great way to get the audience warmed up and laughing, and even if you’ve never seen an episode of the show before, you’ll be laughing. It’s a great way to prepare everyone for what they’re about to experience.
After the highlight reel ends, the warm-up comedian, Brian McCann, comes out and starts the show. If you’re a fan of Conan, you’ll recognize him from many of the post-monologue skits. Brian works the crowd for another 10 minutes or so, interacting with audience, cracking jokes, and answering questions. He’s a pretty funny guy.
This is where things can vary. After Brian’s introduction, he tells the audience that Conan wants to come out and talk before the show begins. Based on other reviews online, I’m not convinced this happens every time, but it seems to be somewhat regular. But for our show, Brian introduces Conan, who files through the double doors on the right (near “not to scale” on my map above) and up into the audience to shake hands before grabbing the mic and talking for a while. He gets the audience laughing, of course, and talks about the upcoming show before introducing the band. Max Weinberg was still out on tour, unfortunately, but backup drummer James Wormworth was there to take the brunt of jokes from Conan.
The rest, however, shall remain a mystery — what fun would it be if I gave it all away? Just know that after Conan exits the stage, the real fun begins. So sit back, relax, and reflect on all the hard work you put in to get there while you wait for the show to start.
A few more things to consider:
- Go to the bathroom first, as there’s nowhere to go once you’re standing in line waiting to enter.
- You can’t bring food or drinks in the studio.
- Plan on the taping lasting roughly two-and-a-half to three hours, from the time you’re waiting in line to enter, until you’re done.
- Feel free to interact with the show from the audience (they encourage it), but too much interaction means you’ll have a scary looking security guard staring at you for a majority of the show to make sure you don’t cause any problems.
- Have fun!