Have you ever noticed that when the cameras pan over the audience at an awards show, you very rarely see an empty seat? Thatâ€™s because they have seat fillers. Yes, even when someone has to get up to go to the bathroom, the director wants those seats filled.
No, itâ€™s not a paying job, but the list of volunteers is aplenty–as you have to know somebody to be put on â€œThe Listâ€. But once youâ€™re on â€œit,â€ itâ€™s like being in the Senateâ€¦you never get replaced, until somebody dies. You can see why–I mean who wouldnâ€™t like the opportunity to play dress-up and be admitted to the hottest ticketed show in Hollywood, excluding the Oscars?
The year my name was added to the list, nobody actually died, but a new firm was in charge of handling the seat fillers, plus the network I work for was televising the show. (Update, here) Since then, my name has been removed, as the company handling the seat filler have made new friends of their â€œownâ€. Proving once again, that old adage–â€œItâ€™s who you know in this businessâ€ (sadly, even for seat fillers).
I was thrilled when I learned I had two tickets (one for myself and my sister, Tricia) to attend the 53rd Annual Emmy Awards ceremony, scheduled for Sept. 16, 2001. But then came Sept 11th and for obvious reasons, the show was cancelled. Later, we got word that the show had been rescheduled for October 7th. Our hearts werenâ€™t in it, but like the rest of the country, we felt lost and didnâ€™t know what else to do, except to grab on to something that felt normal–like going out for an evening.
A few weeks later an inter-office memo was issued, requesting a photo ID and informing us that the FBI would be running a background check on everyone attending the ceremony. And because the show would be taking on more of a somber note, all attendees were told that they should be dressed in dark business attire, rather than tuxedos and ballroom gowns.
On October 7th, after finishing our box lunches served on Stage 33 at Television City, and before boarding the bus heading for the Pasadena Civic Center–just hours before show time, once again the show was cancelled. This time due to a US air strike in Afghanistan.
Then the fate of the 2001 Primetime Emmy Award Show became even more uncertain, when it was learned that Don Mischer Productions(who has produced the show seven times before) might have to scratch the Emmys altogether, because of previously made commitments to other shows.
They say the third time is the charm, but in this case it was the forth time. Finally, a new date and a new location had been set for the 53rd Annual Emmy show for November 4th at the Shubert Theatre. But instead of busing us as previously planned, this time we were told we had to drive ourselves.
If the cement barricades and the closed off streets that were lined with police offices and FBI agents didnâ€™t make it seem surreal enough, then the mirrors placed under our cars, searching for bombs and other explosives, certainly did.
After enjoying a catered dinner and listening to some live lounge music in the basement of the Plaza Hotel, we were escorted through a secret passage to the Shubert Theatre. Once inside we were led around a narrow path around backstage. I see a few familiar faces of Stage Managers, and after giving a few Hollywood kisses on the cheek, I was back to marching with the commoners(seat fillers). Deep down I had hoped one of the Stage Managers would have pulled me aside and said something like, â€œWhat are you doing there? Here, I have some extra ticketsâ€â€¦but it never happened.
I canâ€™t remember exactly when, but somewhere along the line we were handed our duel badges. One had our picture with our name and a number printed on it. (think mug shot here), the other simply stated the following: â€œI am filling this seat TEMPORARILY (in bold lettering) in order to avoid empty seats for camera purposes. THANK YOU.â€ This apology–disclaimer or whatever you want to call it (embarrassment was the word that came to my mind) Iâ€™m sure was for the purpose of not freaking out some celebrity who might be wondering what happened to the person who had been seated next to them and now was gone. Both badges hung around our necks on black lanyard that seemed more like a rope.
We were told that under no circumstances were we to talk to any of the celebritiesâ€¦not even to tell them how much we enjoyed them or their shows. And when we walked down the aisle, we had to remember to swing the lanyards around our necks, so our badges couldnâ€™t be seen on camera. Two things happened by doing this, 1) I felt like I was strangling myself and 2) I inadvertently slapped the person behind me with my badge.
You could have almost heard â€œactionâ€ when that first commercial break happened and the doors of the lobby flew open. Like a heard of cattle we trampled down the aisles, wondering which row we would be entering first.
Hurry, hurry, hurryâ€ are the only clear words I remember hearing, as a silhouette stood in the darkness, waving his arms like a traffic cop, directing me where to go.
Not only were we told to walk fast and to cover up our badges, but we also had to remember how to enter the row to get to our seats. I think we were told we had to face the people, rather than put our backs to them. Or maybe it was we had to keep our backs to them, and not bother looking them in the eye. Either way, it seemed like a lot to remember just to get to a seat–a seat that was only going to be mine until the next commercial.
Ten minutes later, snapping fingers told me to get up and once again I was on the move, stepping on important peopleâ€˜s feet as I made my way back into rotation, awaiting my next assignment (seat).
By this time, my sister and I were separated, so I have no way of knowing if sheâ€™s landed a good seat or not. However, I did find out later that she had a terrific seat for about a minute when Megan Mullally (Karen on Will and Grace) claimed it back. My sister, absentmindedly, asked, â€œNow?â€ In which Miss Mullally replied, â€œY-E-A-H!â€ And begrudgingly, my sister got up.
On my third time around, I was placed in the third row, center stage–prime territory by any standards.
When the curtains opened up, Ellen DeGeneres stepped out and continued with her job of hosting the 53rd annual Emmys Show by introducing, Barbra Streisand, who just happens to be my sisterâ€™s favorite singer.
I briefly looked around, wishing I could switch places with her, so she could take my seatâ€¦and then it hits me like someone who should have had a V-8,â€¦.was I crazy? This wasnâ€™t even my seat to be giving away. Besides in this Army itâ€™s every person for themselves. I sat back and enjoyed the rest of the song. And hopefully, my sister was somewhere close, doing the same. (I later found out, she remained in the lobby not only during Barbraâ€™s performance, but for the rest of the show, along with a bunch others whose services were no longer needed)
As for me, I had the feeling I must have had either Ellenâ€™s seat, or someone who was a sore loser and had walked out on the show, because no one claimed my seat for the rest of the evening. I was, however, afraid to make eye contact with any of the people in charge of seat fillers–fearful, that once they saw me, they might ask me to move.
Did I break any of the rules that night? A few, when I smiled cordially at a few of the celebrities who sat around me.
Would I ever be a seat filler again? In a New York minute! Letâ€™s face it, I couldnâ€™t have had a better seat, than if I had been up for an Emmy myself.
Thanks Linda and Julie for your comments. I appreciate it.
We use to be seat fillers for The People’s Choice Awards too, every January. The bad part about that was it was right after the holidays, so all my clothes were tight. The good part about it, though, was that it was winter, so I could were a wrap to cover up with. 🙂
on September 16, 2008
Fun post, Bobbie. I’ve never done that, but I had a friend who was a seat filler for the Oscars. She said it was the most amazing experience.
on September 15, 2008
Interesting post, Bobbie, an inside look at the Emmies. Hope you get to be a seat filler again some day.