"C'mon down!" exhorts The Price Is Right's announcer Rod Roddy, the TV camera having zoomed in on a retired policeman named Ed in the jam-packed studio. The contestant bounds down the aisle to the frenzied screams and applause of the audience.
The audience's ooohs and ahhhs come in loud and clear as hostess Vanna White gestures at a compact car, the top prize of the day, on Wheel Of Fortune.
Nancy, a schoolteacher, is reluctant to gamble her winnings during the climactic round on Joker's Wild, but the audience eggs her on. Someone out there shouts, "Go for it!" And the teacher takes a big chance and wins. The audience explodes with cheers and applause.
To get that desired effect, some game shows employ a staff member to "coach" the audience. To an observer, it's rather like a cheerleader conducting a pep rally. Obviously, the producers want those people in the bleachers revved up and enthusiastic about what's happening on camera.
Announcer Gene Wood, who does the voice-overs for New Card Sharks, Super Password, and The Love Connection, gives his all to keep audiences demonstrative through the whole taping.
"I personally think Gene's the best in the business at that kind of thing," says Super Password's associate producer Mike Miller.
Alison Wilson, now contestant coordinator on Reg Grundy's Scrabble, concurs. She recalls working with Wood on another Hrundy game show, Hot Streak: "Whenever they needed clapping, Gene really got the audience going. He would go up and down the aisles, encouraging the people, keeping their energy up, keeping them applauding constantly."
Wilson says Wood made the audience feel special. He would stand down front and tell jokes and engage the audience in little talent shows. He'd have three of four people come down and perform their special talent.
"For instance, one guy wrapped himself up like a pretzel, and it was unbelievable how limber he was. One girl did this funny fish imitation. After that, Gene would have the audience vote for the winer by applauding, and he'd hand out $10 to the winner and $5 for second place."
To increase the audience's involvement, Wood would also do skits and choose people at random from the bleachers, casting them as hero, heroine and villain in a melodramatic skit and give them absurd lines to say.
Laughs Wilson, "Sometimes Gene would blindfold a man. There'd be three women chosen - including the man's wife - and the blindfolded man was asked to rate the ladies' kisses and see if he could figure out which one was his wife. Sometimes Gene would put in a ringer - a guy - and the blindfolded man might pick or rate the man's kiss as highest. 'Oh, that's my wife,' he'd say. And it would be somebody completely different!"
Between shows on Match Hame / Hollywood Squares, Mike Miller remembers the time Wood had a team of acrobats come down on stage and create a human pyramid for the audience's amusement.
Miller says Wood and his assistant, Rich Jeffreys, work up quite a sweat for Super Password. "Especially when we have a technical breakdown for a hour. Gene's out there for the whole time, trying to keep the audience's enthusiasm up while the technical problem is beign fixed. He comes back drenched!"
Originally a stage actor in New York, Wood began his game-show announcer's career on Beat The Clock and later, took over as host. "My big provlem is maintaining my energy level," admits a subdued Wood.
How does he do it? "Clean living," deadpans Wood. "I don't drink or smoke. I take vitamins - all the stress tab stuff. I try to sort of pace myself. I save my energy for the stage, which is, of course, to the complete detriment of my family. I go on stage, yelling 'Ya-ha' Whoopee! Ya-hoo!' Then, I go home and faint in the arms of my wife."
Wood says his biggest problem is Bert Convy, host of Super Password. "A lot of times, y'know, just to see if he can break me up, he'll undo my belt and take my pants down while I'm reading the copy for the prizes."
Does that stop Wood? No Way! "Bert can't understand that. He doesn't know why I don't just collapse. The audience gets insanse, they go crazy. They just scream. They can't believe what they're seeing!"
In direct contrast is the low-key atmosphere at Scrabble, where local morning deejay Charlie Tuna does the "warm-ups" and announcing chores. An "applause" sign is deemed sufficient to get the proper response from the audience - and it does without any prompting.
There were a number of technical glitches the day we visited the studio, and the show's dapper host Chuck Woolery kept the audience amused by answering questions from the floor.
Johnny Gilbert, the announcer for the $25,000 Pyramid and its nighttime counterpart, the $100,000 Pyramid, is another guy who does extra duty keeping the audience motivated. So says Pyramid's contestant coordintor Lisa Palmer: "Johnny tells funny stories and anecdotes about things that've happened at previous tapings and encourages the audience to cheer and applaud even more."
Tic Tac Dough's producer Chris Sohl says staffers like Mark Smith coach the audience, "for their own enjoyment. They love playing with the people and all that interaction that goes on. They have a good time themselves."
Sohl continues, "The people who come to watch game shows in the studio play at home, too. They're excited, because they play along in their own way. You hear them groan when a contestant misses a question, especially when it was one they knew the answer to. They don't need any encouragement for that."
The only time crowd control really comes into play, says Sohl, is when member of the audience shout out an answer. "That happens very rarely," he says, "because they're asked not to at the very beginning. If they do, we have to stop tape, throw out the question and start the round all over again."
High-spirited high-schoolers may have to be watched too. "They'll stomp and yell and screan," smiles Sohl. "Sometimes you have to ask them not to whistle, because it does strange things to the audio or not to stomp their feet for the same reason."
Jay Stewart, now the spieler on Sale of The Century, did yeoman work on the classic game show, Let's Make a Deal, for over 10 years. Says the amiable announcer, "I was often asked, how do you get the contestants to do all that crazy stuff?
We didn't have to do anything! What you saw on that TV screen was just the tip of the iceberg. Those people had waited a year to get their tickets. They'd worked on their costumes for months. They'd get to the studio hours before taping began. Lined up outside, well, it looked like a combination of Mardi Gras, New Year's Eve and Halloween.
"They were all freaked up. The adrenaline was really flowing, their nerves on the very edge. I'd do a 15-minute warm-up for each show. But for those people, you really didn't need to do one. They'd go bananas! That goes for the entire audience. It was just one giant cheering section for each show!"
-by David Johnson