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THE REAL WORLD / STUDIO AUDIENCES : From Hip-Hop to Sunday Best

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When a camera pans the studio audience of a typical TV show, it often reveals the dregs of fashion: the bright and unpressed apparel of tourists who have been nabbed by professional audience wranglers outside Mann’s Chinese Theater or the Universal Studio tour.

But a few behind-the-scenes crowds appear to take some interest in fashion. And at least one image-conscious producer sees to it that his groups make a good impression on home viewers.

“I’ll never forget seeing one of Bob Hope’s anniversary shows,” says Vin Di Bona, executive producer of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” “Everyone (on stage) was in tuxes and the camera panned down on a guy in the first row wearing a tank top.” He realized then, he says, what an important role an audience can play in setting a program’s tone, be it hip or wholesome.

To get a studio full of well-scrubbed faces for its tapings, “America’s Funniest Home Videos” buses in church congregations, civic groups, athletes and cheerleaders, providing a donation, free tickets and transportation in exchange for wearing Sunday-best attire. If out-of-town contenders for the best video prize look suspiciously well-groomed, it’s because the show’s staff does their hair and makeup.

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As an extra incentive to get audience members to button up in jackets, ties and dresses, Di Bona offers a $100 cash prize each to the best-dressed man and woman, as chosen by the audience. The payoff for the veteran producer is a squeaky-clean crowd that “provides a wonderful family look for people at home,” he says.

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The makers of “Home Improvement” go for a blue-collar look when plucking audience members for its show-within-a-show “Tool Time” segment. To improve their chances for a possible cameo, knowledgeable fans of the ABC sitcom dress as if for a nippy day in the Midwest, where the show is set. Pages at the Disney studios in Burbank scout the line for those in cold-weather, construction worker-type clothes--ideally, a plaid flannel shirt, sweat shirt, hat, parka and beard.

Sport coats and ties are equally out of place at tapings of NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”

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“First time here?” Leno asks a few standouts in suits as he warms up a crowd of locals and vacationers in T-shirts adorned with sports logos and jeans. (Tonight’s program, a special live New Year’s Eve bash for which the men have been asked to wear jackets and ties, will be an exception.)

Fans who camp out overnight to get tickets for a popular guest, such as radio personality Howard Stern or musicians Duran Duran, appear particularly rumpled. The show’s manager of guest relations, Bill Connor, says his only concerns about dress code stem from Federal Communication Commission rules that prohibit obscenity. So far, he hasn’t had to eject anyone.

A typical recent “Tonight” crowd included grunge-wearing Mesa, Ariz., newlyweds on their honeymoon; a Seattle tourist in cross-stratum O’Neill shorts and Hugo Boss T-shirt, and Glendale College baseball team members in collegiate logo clothes from every school, it appeared, but their own.

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Other shows seem to draw a more fashion-conscious crowd, whether or not they appear on camera. Fox’s “In Living Color” and “Living Single” and the syndicated “Arsenio Hall Show” audiences, for example, tend to try to look cool in current labels, modern hairstyles and dark colors. Among recent sightings: giant pants with rolled cuffs, crosses on black cords, goatees, sideburns, elaborately curled or braided hairdos and sleek blazers.

A trio of young men at a recent “Living Single” taping wore hip-hop clothes with the Factory label that they had bought at the Oak Tree retail chain. One added an authentic firefighter’s jacket over a T-shirt from Clark, an Atlanta college.

An even younger group populates the audience of Nickelodeon’s “Roundhouse,” a variety show taped like a live stage production. The grade- through high-schoolers--many of them aspiring to groupie status--often mimic the styles of the actors, such as ‘60s and ‘70s vintage clothes mixed with plaid flannel shirts, oversize pants and Doc Martens. Those truly in the loop wear the official black “Roundhouse” T-shirt from the studio store.


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