July 26, 2007

You win this round, Hollywood.

I’m in LA staying with my cousins who have graciously offered me room and board during my effort to get myself on a game show.

I came down here to audition for Temptation, a new game show that is ostensibly a remake of the classic game show $ale of the Century. I thought I had everything settled for a 6:00 PM audition at the Woodland Hills Marriott, so I left my cousins’ house in Beverly Glen at 4:00 PM for what Google Maps considers a “20-minute drive” to the hotel. Fifty minutes later I arrive blissfully early… except the Marriott shows no signs that Temptation has booked any sort of room for auditions.

“They were here last week,” says a front desk clerk after checking with the management, “but they’re not here today.”

Well, shoot. I came down all this way for nothing?! I decide to start making some phone calls to find out what’s going on here. The sympathetic front desk staff issue me a special pass to use the business center so I could pull up the exact e-mail message with the hotel’s address. I find a phone number for Temptation’s casting office, call it, and get the voice mail for some guy who is clearly not in his office at 5:15 PM.

It is at this point that I thank God I work for Amazon. See, Amazon owns IMDb, and IMDb has a special service called IMDbPro that’s intended for industry professionals. IMDbPro, I remember, has phone numbers of studios for each movie and TV studio. The receptionist at Fox, in the 323 area code, doesn’t know anything about Temptation, and since I (perhaps incorrectly) refer to it as “in development,” she claims that Fox wouldn’t have an office for it yet. The second phone number, in the 818 area code, goes to Fremantle Media, who is in charge of distributing Temptation. A receptionist there gives me a third phone number, this one back in area code 323, that should give me more information. I call this number.

Turns out that Temptation auditions are going on at 6:00 PM, but not at the Woodland Hills Marriott. They’re at the Beverly Garland Holiday Inn, at 4222 Vineland Avenue in North Hollywood. Google Maps puts the distance between the two at 14.8 miles. It’s 5:37 PM, right in the middle of LA’s rush hour, and I’m sitting in front of a computer praying for someone to invent a teleporter. I ask the representative to let the casting person know I’m going to be late. He obliges.

Sandie, my cousin, is an expert at avoiding LA traffic jams, but even she is at a loss as to how I can get across the valley with any possible speed at this hour of day. She recommends Burbank Boulevard, which forks off Ventura about three miles east of the hotel. After fumbling with my phone-based GPS, which is woefully bad at avoiding the jammed-up Ventura Freeway, I pull over and plot out the map on my ridiculously-comprehensive Thomas Guide, which has enough detail on Los Angeles County to plan a military strike. Burbank Boulevard is remarkably clear at this time of day, and with a little coaxing my GPS brings me over to the hotel as fast as possible.

It’s 6:50 PM. I’m a little bit late. A few other latecomers have also shown up, and we’re escorted from the ballroom (where many people are discussing the quiz they just received, forcing me to un-hear their comments) to a separate room. We are given a 15-question oral quiz of which no fewer than five questions concern stuff we might have seen on television recently. I really should watch more commercials and entertainment shows, since I’m sure I flubbed a couple of the more recent ones. After the quiz is over we’re brought back to the ballroom where the pilot screening is underway on an entirely-too-small screen. While watching clips of a show graphically similar to the Australian Temptation (which has already proven successful) I fill out the rest of my contestant bio and I sign the various waivers. This is clearly a show more about shopping than about anything else. Instead of being asked to provide a humorous anecdote about myself, I am instead asked to provide a funny story about myself that involves shopping. Dumbfounded, I write about something very silly that happened when I was at Nordstrom last week. The other personal questions are equally dull, and they all have to do with shopping: What kind of shopper are you? What do you love most about shopping? Which of these products would you be excited to receive?

I should note that the casting people repeatedly point out that this is a “cast show.” They’re not looking for people who are trivia buffs; they want people who are exciting, who love to shop, and who can be amusing on camera. Eventually, after a brief Q&A session (actual question: “Are you stalling right now?”) several of the 52 people in attendance are named to play sample games of Temptation in threes. My number, #52, is not called. We’re told that they will hang on to our bios and that we might get a call in the future, but I’m not holding out hope. It’s 8:00 PM and I am thoroughly drained. I grab a sandwich and head back to Sandie’s.

Bonus coverage: As a longtime fan of the ‘80s-era $ale of the Century, I am disappointed with the pilot of Temptation. Hosted by Arkansas football star and Temptation Island contestant Rossi Morreale, Temptation has two elements that make it far, far worse than either the ‘80s-era US version or the current Australian version (which I’ve only seen in bits and pieces on YouTube).

Showstopper #1: You, the viewer, can buy the products that are given away to contestants. Most daytime game shows, especially the venerable Price is Right, contain thinly-veiled advertisements for their sponsors. Temptation takes the veil away entirely. Example commercial bumper: “The robe you saw our spokesmodel wearing normally sells for $147. If you order today, it’s yours for only $89! Go to (our web site) and enter deal number 5234.” That’s not a commercial bumper; that’s home shopping. It looks unconscionably cheap even by game show standards.

Showstopper #2: No more speed round. In my opinion, this was the best part of the ‘80s show, and it’s still being used on the Australian show. The speed round, also called “fast money,” is a 60-second round where questions are worth $5 for a right answer and negative $5 for a wrong answer. It could decide a close game on the very last question. Jim Perry made many a speed round extremely exciting. Apparently Rossi can’t read questions fast enough to make the speed round worthwhile, since instead we have one of the lamest devices ever for a pivotal show moment: the Randomizer. Five questions are asked, but their dollar values aren’t known until the contestant buzzes in. On the pilot, for example, the trailing contestants don’t know whether the last question will let them catch up until they buzz in—and when they do buzz in, there’s a chance for a painfully anticlimactic moment. This really cements that Temptation is no more a quiz show than Press Your Luck was.

I’ve still got three-plus days left in my LA trip. Now that this craziness is behind me, I can spend the rest of the weekend having fun!