One of MCC’s more enduring entries from the past two years has been that time we attended a taping of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on our 2016 NYC vacation. That wasn’t our first time attending a live TV recording. That milestone was set nine years earlier, in a studio that met much the same criteria — admission was free but required tickets anyway; no photos were allowed during all the best parts of the experience; and the biggest name in the house was a famous figure in the American political arena who we were forbidden to approach, and who once announced a Presidential campaign but wasn’t taken seriously.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, marvels, history, and institutions we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Beginning with 2003’s excursion to Washington DC, we added my son to the roster and tried to accommodate his preferences and childhood accordingly.
Our 2007 drive down to Orlando had one personal milestone for me: my first contact with the Atlantic Ocean. My moment lasted about ten minutes before thunderstorms chased us away from the coast. As Atlantic beach experiences go, Florida gave me a lousy first impression. For 2008 we decided a second try was in order. Rather than take back-to-back trips to the same state, we researched other east-coast beach options, judged them by their nearby attractions, adjusted for our modest budget that couldn’t possibly afford upper-class oceanfront accommodations, and settled on what we hoped would be a suitable sequel.
Thus in this year of our Lord did we declare: the Goldens are going to Virginia Beach!
DAY THREE: Monday, July 14, 2008.
The morning started off on the right foot with a brief stop at a restaurant none of us had seen in years: Dunkin Donuts. All Indianapolis franchises had closed circa two decades ago, though I was to see post-vacation their slow reemergence into our market once again. Nearly all our Krispy Kremes vanished with a few years of conception. and we rued the Hoosier assembly-line pastry shortage ever after.
From there we headed straight down I-64, through the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel that runs for a few miles underneath the Chesapeake Bay and feels just like that final chase sequence in The Bournce Supremacy. My capsule review of that exhilarating stretch: WHEEEEE!
We exited a few miles later at the Virginia Beach campus of Regent University, where we had an 8:30 appointment to do something none of us had ever done before: watch the live taping of a long-running TV program. It had been a minor item on my lifelong to-do list ever since childhood, when morning game shows such as The Price is Right would provide ticket-ordering instructions for would-be audience members. I always thought it would be a blast to join an actual Studio Audience. I used to daydream about visiting California before I died and attending any of several dozen TV tapings there, or venturing to New York to watch our hometown hero David Letterman in person.
I never once imagined myself sitting in on a taping of CBN’s The 700 Club.
Full disclosure: before this day, I’d never once managed to sit through more than five consecutive minutes of the show, let alone a full episode. In my childhood, it was a weekday mid-afternoon interruption on local station WTTV 4 that served as a DMZ between late-morning black-‘n’-white sitcom reruns and after-school cartoons. It deserved none of my attention because it was neither funny nor animated. During my post-college slacker phase and throughout my tumultuous first marriage, it was just another part of the Big Religion establishment that was just so uncool. Now that my life and my beliefs have taken unpredictable paths over the last decade, the show doesn’t offend me, so much as it’s simply on a basic-cable channel we don’t watch in time slots when we’re otherwise occupied. (When we told my son our plan to attend The 700 Club, he stared blankly and asked, “Isn’t that a show about gambling?” Apparently the show’s TVQ factor was at an all-time low among viewers under 30.)
Nevertheless…it’s a TV show. It’s been on the air for 32 years. Every episode is filmed at Regent University, which just so happens to be in Virginia Beach, which just so happens to be where we decided to vacation this year. When Anne discovered all this during her online pre-vaca research, it was just the kind of bizarre opportunity that captures our attention. When she confirmed that tickets to attend a taping were absolutely free, it was a lock.
We arrived on campus on time, then lapped it a few times till we found the correct parking lot. We received a gracious welcome in the lavish foyer of Regent U’s TV Studio Headquarters Building. The receptionist offered us free coffee and — added bonus — gave us tips on convenient parking along the oceanfront for later. The foyer also includes a small bookstore/gift shop. We browsed but bought nothing. We’re not averse to Christian lit, but we’re picky.
One short wait later, a security guard conducted the requisite artillery check and escorted the audience — a grand total of eight of us — into the 700 Club studio, a large room with an open warehouse-style ceiling and several sets mounted on separate rotating platforms. There was a basic news set with a stand-up desk, one interview set in front of a large flatscreen TV, one interview set in front of a fireplace facade, and a kitchen set belonging to another CBN show called Living the Life. A tour guide ran down the show’s history for us and described the surrounding equipment. The cameramen obligingly poked a camera in our direction for fun. I thought it was cute when they turned the TelePrompter so we could read it (something else I’ve never gotten to see in person before!), then fast-forwarded through the script for the entire episode.
We were introduced to regular hosts Terry Meeuwsen and news anchor Lee Webb, both very nice folks.
To our jaw-dropping surprise, also in the studio was the one and only world-famous Pat Robertson. He doesn’t appear in every episode, but we happened to pick just the right day to catch him. He appeared in one segment of the episode, but otherwise kept to a minimum safe distance well out of reach and earshot.
For the episode dated Monday, July 14, 2008, we witnessed the following highlights:
* The lead news story was the big Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac blowup. In-studio ramification commentary was provided by Drew Parkhill, a CBN News producer in a white sugar-daddy suit.
* A related follow-up story about possible upcoming toughlove legislation for credit regulations. Good thing that never came to pass.
* One of the show’s regular segments, “Bring It On” — basically Pat’s equivalent of “Viewer Mail”, which we were told Pat prefers to answer on the air without knowing the question first. My inside voice groaned when the question of the day turned out to be a variation on “Where do you get your ideas?”
* A taped segment about a model named Rachel Martin whose career highlight was appearing in a Playboy spread under a fake name (no, they did not say which issue) until she turned her life around. The happy coda was that she was scheduled to be the cover girl for a future issue of Christian World Magazine. (Anachronism alert: that segment is still online.)
* Another regular feature, “America’s Church of the Week”, just so happened to present the honor to Faith Baptist Church, located in Lafayette back in our very own home state. Good timing. (Segment also available online.)
* The applause at the end of the show? Canned. I guess eight of us wasn’t enough to leave a robust aural impression.
There was zero audience participation. An audience of eight surrounded by a few dozen empty seats probably wouldn’t have played to the camera too well. The stands were no doubt filled closer to capacity later that week, though, for an episode scheduled to have very special guests — a trio of singing sisters calling themselves Everlife, a big deal on Christian pop radio according to our sources. When we ordered our tickets, we gambled and picked a random day without any idea what events would be scheduled. Unfortunately Mondays are — if I understood correctly — “Money Mondays”, their weekly boring guest-free financial spotlight episode. C’est la vie.
To our surprise, there wasn’t a single blooper or retake throughout the entire hour. Live bloopers are surely the best bloopers, but these folks were true professionals. After taping ended, Terry and Lee came out to chat with us for a few minutes.
Our free tickets also included a free tour of Regent U plus lunch on campus, but we politely declined only because we had a zillion other things we wanted to do in the area before our Thursday departure. We appreciated their hospitality, their local tourism tips, and their offer of prayers for our safe travels. That’s not nothing to us.
To be continued!
1. Dunkin Donuts did indeed make a comeback in central Indiana after this particular summer and remains a presence in some local neighborhoods, most of them inconvenient for me. However, now that artisanal donuts are a thing in this current decade, Dunkin seems a little more quaint and artificial than they used to.
2. I nearly changed the original phrase “viewers under 30” to “millennials”, but decided to leave it as-is because I don’t recall mocking their existence by 2008. Really, though: have millennials even heard of The 700 Club?
3. Though underplayed a bit in hindsight, we had no idea at the time that their lead story on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac was literally our Chapter One in the saga that would become the 2008 recession. Of all the places to find out, I suppose it’s apropos that for us it happened on a road trip.
4. Cohost Lee Webb, who our cameras missed during the narrow time frames when photos were allowed, remained with the show till 2013, when he transitioned to a TV-related ministry in Florida. He’s also an Iraq War veteran.
5. Lafayette’s Faith Baptist Church was later rechristened simply Faith Church, but remains active today. At least, I think it’s the same church. Christian churches aren’t great at choosing unique names, our own included.
6. Former Christian pop superstars Everlife ended that phase of their lives circa 2013. A November 2017 update on their still-active Facebook page confirms one of them is embarking on a solo career, while the other two have found their callings outside the Christian media spotlight.
7. For further adventures of Christian figurehead headquarters, see also my 2015 stopover at the Focus on the Family campus in Colorado Springs. Fewer TV cameras, but strong commonalities including congenial greeters and free coffee.]
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