Thursday, January 18, 2018
TV and Media

Some St. Petersburg auditions for America's Got Talent air May 28

When America's Got Talent unveils footage of its auditions at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg tonight, there is one scene I'm betting NBC's summer talent competition won't showcase.

The time when hundreds of folks were turned away at the front door.

But executive producer Jason Raff has an explanation for why so many people, lined up for more than an hour in front of the Mahaffey with tickets, got left out of the show's first taping at noontime back on April 3.

"Normally, we expect about 60 percent of people who get tickets to not show up; in (St. Petersburg) we had 80 percent of people show up," said Raff, noting that excitement over new judge Howard Stern, who has rarely made public appearances in the area, may have fueled the fan interest.

"We were very careful in the next shows to make sure anyone turned away had a chance to see the show if they came back," he added.

Officials at the Mahaffey Theater say 10,000 people came to the venue for the four sets of audition shows scheduled over two days in April (judge Howie Mandel and Raff share a tendency to reference the "Tampa" auditions; Mandel misstated the city in a Facebook post of a photo with a pelican taken at the Pier near downtown St. Petersburg).

The fruits of those auditions will be seen on tonight's episode at 8 on WFLA-Ch. 8. Some other St. Petersburg auditions may air June 12.

Raff said the show chose Tampa Bay, in part, because it already has visited Orlando and Miami — and our proximity to winter quarters for the circus might attract some unorthodox acts.

Since the audition show I attended featured two abstract, impressionistic dance troupes, I'd say they can count a mission accomplished.

"The best thing about this show, and the reason I've been doing it for seven years, is you don't know who is going to come onstage next," said Raff, who last week featured a guy who had an assistant use a sledgehammer to break cinder blocks placed on his, um, naughty bits.

"I can see how that would be a controversial act for a family," he agreed, recalling how host Nick Cannon also kicked the guy in his private parts several times. "But it was the Three Stooges meets a little bit of Jackass."

Viewers of the St. Petersburg episode also will see a troupe of dancers clad in bikinis, an escape artist who asks Stern to tie him up, and an amazing brass band. The first two of those acts performed during the evening April 3 show I attended, along with shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge Clem and St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster.

Mahaffey general manager Joe Santiago said the show brought about 100 crew members to set up its massive stage, including the huge, lighted signs featuring each judge's name and a red "X", indicating when that judge votes to reject an act. Those who survived the Mahaffey auditions go on to further auditions in Las Vegas.

"We have attendance goals for the city, so having almost 10,000 people come here definitely helps," said Santiago, noting that new Mahaffey managers Big3 Entertainment were excited about how hosting the show might boost the venue's reputation nationally.

And although some have looked at AGT ratings, down 30 percent compared to last season's debut, Raff pointed out last week's shows beat Dancing with the Stars' finale among viewers aged 18 to 49, the key demographic for advertisers.

"It's the benefits of having Howard Stern; the media's a little more interested in a show that's been on for seven years," the executive producer said, batting aside some critics' contention that the shock jock may actually be too nice (he did, last week, make a 7-year-old cry). "On our show, you're just seeing many more dimensions to him."

TiVo or Ti-NO | Longmire

Longmire, debuts at 10 p.m. Sunday on A&E: I'll be honest. When I heard A&E was filming a mystery series about a laconic Wyoming sheriff starring an Australian actor, I was dubious. But Matrix alum Robert Taylor (below) hits all the right notes playing Walt Longmire in A&E's adaptation of Craig Johnson's mystery novels.

A smart, terse lawman still struggling with grief over his wife's death a year ago — in a telling touch, he still has his spouse's voice on the outgoing message of his answering machine — Longmire faces tensions with a young deputy gunning for his job.

There's also the Native American tribal police who resent his arrest of their chief in an earlier case and, of course, a mysterious murder.

Some of these notes might be familiar to fans of CBS' Jesse Stone movies; an old school lawman overcoming serious personal flaws to solve crimes.

But Longmire doesn't wallow in its character's drawbacks like Tom Selleck's Stone, primarily thanks to an ace supporting cast, including Battlestar Galactica alum Katee Sackhoff as a hotshot deputy from Chicago and Lou Diamond Phillips as Longmire's connected pal, Native American bar owner Henry Standing Bear.

Watching Taylor bring this wounded hero to life is a surprising treat. Looks like A&E has another compelling original mystery series on its hands. TiVo.

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