"So, Tony Jones, have you ever done ecstasy?"A snappy opener, don’t you think? Centre of the Q&A stage, a tall man with a mop of unkempt hair is pacing back and forth, waxing lyrical about the week in news. His voice is deep and resonant -- like Treebeard, by way of Seth Rogen -- and it’s with this sonorous instrument he addresses Jones as he approaches side stage. It's the week NSW minister Verity Firth has fronted the media, and when pressed about her recreational drug habits, offered up the best non-response of the year so far: "I have done nothing wrong. My conscience is clear." Very well, Verity, the media scrum replied. But have you ever done ecstasy? Jones, meanwhile, is up against the same inquiry. The only response he gives is a silver fox smile, and a reminder from the floor manager we’re live in five. I've been to live TV tapings before, and every time I can’t help but think of that bit in The Wizard of Oz, right at the end, when Dorothy finally meets the wizard. From one side of the curtain, he’s a looming spectre cast in gauzy plumes of coloured smoke. From the other, he’s a time-poor pensioner tugging away at puppet strings. Up close and personal, the sets aren’t all gleaming brushed aluminium and leather, but patched together bits of card and scotch tape. Perched in the new, elevated seats behind the Q&A panel, I can just spy the little blue markers on the desk the guests have to align with their navels, lest they lose their orientation. (Heaven forbid Janet Albrechtsen’s swivel chair slide too far right.) Like it’s on-air incarnation, the atmosphere of Q&A intensifies when the debate gets heated. As Gerard Henderson makes his case for the coal industry, I can hear the chairs behind me squeak as their occupants express their disagreement by repositioning their rear ends. Similarly, when Catherine Deveney sticks it to the man upstairs (again), her words earn appreciative applause. Unlike Q&A, most show audiences don’t play a direct part in proceedings -- you turn up, you clap, you worry incessantly about whether or not you really did put your phone on silent, you go home. Some audience seating is generous, like Good News Week, but others don’t have quite the same leg room. For fans of The 7PM Project, good news -- turn up, and you’re practically toe-to-toe with Charlie Pickering. Some shows are genuinely better as an audience member though. Despite being the only non-pensioner in the audience for the First Tuesday Bookclub, the experience was genuinely enjoyable -- the discussion between tapings ranging from favourite airport novels to Marcus Zusak’s widely acknowledged scrumpet status. Chaired by the indefatigable Jennifer Byrne, the conversation was stimulating and, surprisingly enough, one has to resist the urge to join in once the cameras start rolling. Of course, some would argue that the kind of people who go to see TV shows live are just penny-pinching cheapskates, unwilling to pay for the theatre, but readily available when a free seat is on offer (even if it is for Ben Elton: Live From Planet Earth). To such people, my response is simple: I have done nothing wrong. My conscience is clear. The details: The ABC has details on tickets for its shows on its website. Nine's new game show Million Dollar Drop needs an audience in Melbourne, Funniest Home Videos (Sydney) always needs fans, while Ten invites fans to the 7PM Project and day-time infomercial fest The Circle in Melbourne. Ubiquitous audience warm-up guy Michael Pope has a Facebook page announcing when tickets are released to most shows.
Watch television, up close
Ever wanted to ask Tony Jones about his drug use? You can at a Q&A audience taping. It's just one of many shows that allow fans to see TV up close, says Alexandra Patrikios.