We’ve probably all seen late-night television infomercials that employ a large studio audience which cheers and applauds at the presenter’s every pause. (For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, check out this Matthew Lesko infomercial (Windows Media Video)).
My question is, how do they get enough people to fill a studio hall, and how do they get them to cheer so enthusiastically at what’s essentially a glorified 60-minute advertisement? Obviously the production company must be compensating the audience members to shill for the presenter. So what’s the going rate to cheer through an hour of advertising dreck? And where do the producers recruit these people? Do they actually hire extras from the Screen Actors’ Guild, or do they just put out newspaper ads hoping the general public will show up and claim a fee or some paltry prize? Is there a big enough labour market for informercial audience shills that someone could make a decent (or at least subsistence) living at it?
If anyone here has been in the audience of an infomercial, I’d be interested to hear about your experiences.
IIRC, they give the audience some of the crap they’re promoting on the show, and pay 'em something like $50. I believe that this NPR story talks about it (I don’t have any of the necessary software to listen to it installed on this box to be able to tell).
I’ve wondered the same thing. I’ve seen some infomercials with people calling in to either a) ask a question about the product, or b) give a testimonial. So, where do I find a phone number for an infomercial so that I can call in? (Rhetorically speaking, of course)
It also doesn’t take many people to look like a large studio audience. IIRC, Oprah’s studio audience is less than 100 people, and SNL has less than 50 seats (these go to people with “in’s” with the show. Standby tickets are printed, but in the history of the show, only one person has ever been able to use one).
So a couple of dozen people are more than enough, and they can come from employees of the person producing the infomercial. Camera work does the rest.
I’ve been in live test audiences. Not the ones shown on TV, but for private screening by TV execs. They would see us react to pilot episodes, and could see a spare TV behind us so they were sure to connect our reactions with the exact scenes.
We were enlisted by a pretty girl with a clipboard at the mall, and the screening was in an empty store. They asked for a non-disclosure statement of the plots, and paid us $20 a head, which I think was a legal thing to establish our status as not employees but independent contractors.
The same company recruited me another time to test Dole frozen fruit pops, etc.
Employees are a possibility, but yes, extras can be hired and will do what they’re told.
When I first got to LA in the late 1990s, I was signed up with CenEx, Central Casting’s non-union extra wing. I had to call in to find out what work would be available the next day, and let them know if I though I was a fit.
At least once, they were putting out the call for professional, paid people to be audience members on one of the lesser talk shows of the day, either Rolonda or Leeza, I forget which one.
So for infomercials, while using employees of the company certainly make sense, you can always fill in the back ranks for minimum wage.
Never did it myself, but I used to know a guy who did extra work, and he sat in on quite a few informercials. The going rate was about $50 about 10 years ago. According to him, when you see audience member chatting among themselves they’re just saying “watermelon watermelon watermelon” over and over.