If you're planning a vacation in Los Angeles this summer and want to attend a television show taping, now is the time to start planning.
It's possible to get in at the last minute, but it's more hit-and-miss that way.
There are several things you need to know up front, before you get your heart set on watching your favorite stars in action.
* Not all series tape in front of a studio audience. None of the hourlong drama shows have an audience, and neither do some of the filmed (rather than taped) comedies such as "Brooklyn Bridge." If you watch the shows carefully on television, you can usually tell if an audience is present.
* Tickets are free. That's the good news.
* The not-so-good news is that tickets do not guarantee a seat at a taping. Audiences are overbooked in order to guarantee a full house, so you may stand in line for hours, get a ticket and then be turned away at the door. Just like that. The best way to counter this problem is to get to the studio very early. First come, first served.
* Families who want to include a taping in their vacations should know that most series, including ones such as "Full House" starring cute-as-pie kiddies, have an age limit for studio audience members. For most shows, ticket holders must be 16; for others -- "Cheers" and 'The Tonight Show" come to mind -- 18 is the legal limit. "Home Improvement" admits 14-year-olds, but it's about the only one for the under-16 set. Identification is checked on youthful-looking participants, so be prepared.
* In June and early July, most prime-time series are on hiatus, which is Hollywood lingo for not working. Tapings for the fall season usually resume in July (after the 4th) or early August. Game shows and talk shows, however, tape year round, with a few days or weeks of down-time whenever the producers see fit.
* Don't expect a half-hour sitcom to take a half hour to tape. For a veteran show with an experienced cast, you're probably looking at a three-hour commitment. It takes a while to set up scenes, change scenes and re-shoot them if a line is flubbed or a problem develops. A new show or a show with lots of child actors can take twice as long. And once you're in the audience, you can't just get up and leave. You're there for the duration.
* And finally, studios are meat-locker cold to keep the performers from roasting under the lights. So, dress accordingly -- a sweater, jacket and socks are a good idea.
If you don't have a specific show in mind but just want to see a taping, call Audiences Unlimited at (818) 506-0067. This company gathers up audiences for several shows, including ABC's "Roseanne," "Home Improvement," "Full House," "Family Matters" and "Step by Step"; CBS' "Murphy Brown," "Designing Women," "Major Dad" and "Golden Palace" (formerly NBC's "Golden Girls"); Fox's "Married ... With Children"; and the syndicated late-night talkie "The Dennis Miller Show."
Audiences Unlimited advises people to call early and remember that the individual shows' shooting schedules will affect ticket availability. Right now, few productions know exactly when filming will resume, but Audiences Unlimited should be able to offer general information about the schedule.
If you have a particular show in mind, one without which your Los Angeles vacation simply would not be complete, find out when it will be taping before making your travel plans.
Now that Johnny Carson has retired, the hysteria that surrounded "Tonight Show" tickets for several months should finally be winding down. It's always difficult getting in to see a "Tonight Show" taping, but Jay Leno's arrival this week should make things a good deal easier.
To get tickets for "Tonight," you can call the NBC studio at (818) 840- 3537, write the the network at 3000 W. Alameda in Burbank, Calif. 91523 or simply drop by the same address and take your chances. The ticket office opens at 8 a.m., and the tapings start promptly at 5:30 p.m. weekdays -- although this week Leno is doing the show live at 8:30 p.m. Pacific Time.
You can write to ABC Tickets, 4151 Prospect Ave., Los Angeles 90027 to request tickets for ABC shows that are not represented by Audiences Unlimited. These probably include some of the new sitcoms nobody has ever seen that are scheduled to join the fall lineup. Many new shows gear up for production earlier than returning series.
Some network tapings are handled by the producing studios rather than the networks or an audience service. "Cheers," for example, is taped at Paramount Studios, located at 860 N. Gower Ave. in Hollywood, but be sure to call first -- (213) 956-5575 -- to find out the shooting schedule. Last year "Cheers" started filming in late July and probably will do the same this year.
"The Arsenio Hall Show," one of the hottest tickets in town, is also taped at Paramount weekdays at 5:15. The box office is open from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. for same-day shows only. Tickets are dispensed on a first-come, first-served basis with a limit of two per person. No one under the age of 18 is admitted. Paramount advises ticket-holders to arrive at the studio no later than 4 p.m. to increase their chances of getting in.
If you want to watch a game-show taping, CBS Television City has two of the most popular ones -- "The Price Is Right" and "Wheel of Fortune." A CBS staffer says your best chance for tickets is to send a self-addressed, stamped envelope with a letter specifying the name of the show you want to see to 7800 Beverly Blvd. in Los Angeles 90036.