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How to get TV talk show tickets

Make the most of your trip to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles with tickets to a television talk-show taping.
Michelle Obama,  Whoopi Goldberg,  Sherri Shepard, Joy Behar, Barbara Walters and Elisabeth Hasselbeck
Michelle Obama, third from left, on the set of "The View," June 18, 2008 in New York. Steve Fenn / AP
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Think participating in a TV audience is just for fans? Not always. When Jenny Jones was preparing for her show’s launch in 1991, she dropped by a taping of "The Phil Donahue Show". “I thought I could learn something from the inventor of the genre himself,” Jones says. However, she says, the only lesson she walked away with was that “people will make up any question to be on TV.”

Jones has since traded in her TV show for a foundation, Jenny’s Heroes, but making up questions for your favorite talk-show hosts remains a pretty good idea, especially if you’re looking for some camera time. Even if you just want to get in the door, we have the lowdown on shows from New York to Los Angeles. Follow these tips, and who knows—you may end up with your own Daytime Emmy.

First, some general guidelines:

Getting tickets
Most tickets are available for free on the shows’ Web sites. “Always get tickets in advance of the trip,” says longtime television producer Scott Sternberg. If that’s not possible, standby lines outside the studio can be worth the wait. Make sure you show unconditional enthusiasm; production assistants watch the lines for energetic audience members.

Getting camera time
Bold, bright colors are universally encouraged, but make sure there are no visible logos. Most important, follow any dress-code policies outlined on show Web sites, as even people who have tickets can be turned away for improper attire.

Deciding on a show
The more you know about a show’s routine, audience, and host style, the better equipped you are to ask appropriate questions, participate in audience games, and enjoy the experience.

What to bring
Since live shows don’t have a laugh track, reacting as an audience member can be exhausting. Jenny Jones suggests bringing a handful of nuts or a protein bar, especially if the host is new to the industry; newbies can take up to six hours to tape a show early in their career.

And if you’re headed to one of the cities below, here are the shows to hit.

CHICAGO: "Oprah"

The scoop: Oprah is especially kind to her audiences, offering lavish giveaways and hanging out for "Oprah After the Show". But don’t try to plan for a “Favorite Things” episode (when Miss O gives away her favorite swag like cars and computers); producers don’t say in advance when these loot-packed segments are going to happen.

Camera time: Don’t underestimate how many millions of people the daytime diva attracts; if you’re, say, “taking a sick day” to see the show, keep your head down.

NEW YORK: "The Tyra Banks Show", "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon", "Late Show with David Letterman", "Live with Regis and Kelly", "The View", "Rachael Ray"

Deciding on a show: If you’re undecided about which of the many New York tapings to attend, go for the ones with the biggest giveaways. “ "Regis and Kelly", "The View", and "Rachael Ray" are all very nice to audience members,” Scott Sternberg notes. “They’re respectful and kind and often feature interactive giveaways and games.”

Camera time: Tyra makes sure everyone in the audience emotes like they’re in a silent film. The more over the top the reaction, the more likely the camera operators will zoom in. Of course, crying trumps all, so practice your fake tears before you leave the hotel.

What to bring: Be prepared for anything by packing a change of clothes, Sternberg suggests. No matter the season, audience members should wear a heavy coat to the notoriously cold "Late Show with David Letterman".

LOS ANGELES: "The Ellen DeGeneres Show", "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno"

Get warmed up: Don’t show up late for "The Tonight Show" (now in its final months), says Sternberg. “Jay actually does his own warm-up before his show tapes.”

Insider tip: Once you have tickets to Leno (or any other late-night taping), troll the late show lineups page for guest schedules.