Ever since Justin began watching television, one of his favorite shows has been “America’s Funniest Home Videos” on ABC. Justin laughs hysterically at each show and likes to narrate each episode for us at home (like Tom Bergeron.) He even talks about trying to create a video that he can send into the show. All of this is great, but to Justin – it is still just “TV” and not real life. He knows the difference.
Several months ago, GWE took Justin to a Television Academy event for “AFV” and Tom Bergeron was one of the panelists talking about the show. Bravely, Justin approached the microphone when it was time to ask questions and he actually began a dialog with Tom. He not only spoke with Tom (and his wife) at the event, but they spoke again in the lobby, then they took a picture together, and then talked again all the way to the parking garage. Meeting Tom made Justin a “Super-Fan.”
For Justin’s eighth birthday, we were stumped as to what to get him. What do you get the kid who has everything? I thought about it a lot and finally came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to get him just another toy, but rather – an experience. While driving into work one morning and speaking with a friend who was an attorney for Vin Di Bona Productions, it dawned on me what that experience should be. I wanted Justin to attend a taping of his favorite show – “AFV!”
Up to this point, I have been reluctant to take Justin with me to a television taping. Working in Hollywood has given me a tremendous amount of access to great television and film sets. There have been plenty of opportunities to take him to tapings of shows that I know he watches. But, I’ve chosen not to because I don’t want to “pull back the curtain” yet. (It’s one thing to enjoy a steak; it’s another to see how it’s made!) However, in this case, I didn’t think this set visit would be too revealing. After a few quick calls and emails (and the excited approval of GWE,) I had our VIP confirmation.
We chose to tell Justin about the taping on his birthday because it was weeks before he would be there and it would give him enough time to digest the information, tell his friends, and it wouldn’t be such a shock when we got there. When we told him, he looked at us very quizzically. We told him again. And again, it looked like his brain got the information, but didn’t know what to do with it. Finally, it hit him and he was beyond excited! The countdown to tape night had begun!!
On the day of the taping, Justin was prepared. We picked him up from school, changed him into appropriate “on air” clothing, and drove down to the set in Manhattan Beach. We arrived a few hours early and had a nice dinner. When the time came, we jumped back into the car and drove over to the studio. Justin had never been on a studio lot before, so we took our time getting to the stage. We pointed out everything that we thought would be of interest to him, but he was very focused on getting to the show.
Finally, we approached the stage door. GWE took one final picture of him (a picture I like to call, “The End of The Innocence”) and then together we walked through the door. Justin was amazed. There, he saw the stage, the audience, video village, the cameras, the lights, and people running around getting ready for the show. He could tell that there was an excitement in the air. We stood still for a moment just to let Justin soak it all in. However, Justin kept moving forward towards the stage whether he realized it or not. It was like a tractor beam had him!
We were quickly escorted to our seats. As we got situated, we asked where the voting machines were. To our surprise, we were informed that there would be no voting in this episode….because it was the $100,000 finale! GWE and I were in a little bit of shock!
As the warm-up guy began entertaining the crowd, music started playing on the overhead speakers. Once “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars began, GWE yelled, “Yeah!!” The warm-up guy heard her, dragged her down to the stage, and together they began dancing. (Another item checked off “The Bucket List.”) In exchange for her dancing skills, GWE earned Justin an official “AFV” shirt.
And then Tom Bergeron appeared…
As real as this was to Justin up to this point, it didn’t become REAL until he saw Tom.
Once a few technical details were worked out quickly, the show began….and it really was a fantastic show! What you see on TV is pretty much what you see at the taping. It wasn’t until the show began that GWE and I quickly realized that there were some “TV Rules” we hadn’t explained to Justin. The fast rules I whispered into Justin’s ear were:
- Don’t laugh louder or longer than anyone else in the room.
- Don’t try to get Tom’s attention.
- Don’t fidget.
- And finally, (the hardest rule) don’t look directly into the camera.
#4 was the hardest rule for Justin to follow, but for good reason! It’s not that Justin wanted to look into the camera, but the teleprompter was in front of the lens! Justin wanted to see what Tom was going to say…and Justin kept mouthing the words that he was reading at the same time Tom was saying them. If you look at it on camera, I’m sure it looks like a very strange ventriloquist act! Justin’s lips are moving, but the words are coming out of Tom Bergeron’s mouth!
When the winners were announced, glitter was shot out of cannons all around the stage. We grabbed some and jammed it on our pockets as a reminder of the evening. And with that…the show was over. On the way back to the car, Justin was almost giddy from the experience. We climbed back into the car to head home and I asked Justin what his favorite part of the show was. I was met with silence. I thought he was thinking about it. Turned out, he had passed out from all of the excitement.
From beginning to end, the experience was amazing. It was something that Justin will never forget. The excitement of the evening lasted until one small thought crossed my mind: “How the hell are we going to beat this on his 9th birthday!?!?!?!”