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No Zonks! Behind the Scenes with 'Let's Make a Deal'

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LAist found the perfect solution to every Angeleno's dilemma: What to do with friends and relatives visiting from out of town after you've shuttled them to all the usual places? Beaches, the Getty, Griffith Observatory, Hollywood & Highland, etc., have all been checked off the to-do list. What next? Well, how about a TV taping of the game show Let's Make a Deal (LMAD) where they have a chance to win cash, prizes—or at least great stories to tell the folks back home.

We recently had a chance to get a behind-the-scenes look at the CBS-TV daytime game show in action, now in its fifth season, and chat with host Wayne Brady and Executive Producer Mike Richards (who also executive produces another little game show called The Price is Right). "Most shows you go to, it's not a fun audience experience," says Richards. "The whole thing should be fun whether you win or not. That's always been our goal."

LMAD contestants can be seen lined up on Bronson, just outside the Sunset Bronson Studios gates, where the show tapes two shows on Wednesdays through Saturdays, June through December. A lot of the contestants are already in costume—a tradition left over from the Monty Hall days. But if mom and dad don't usually travel with a Batman or Wonder Woman costume, the show also has rentals available right on site. (It does help your chances to get selected as a contestant if you have a costume—with an "authentic" personality to boot, Richards mentions).

For those not familiar with the LMAD format, well, there isn't one, really. "There is zero format," Richards says. "The person who's won the most can give up what they won to play for the 'Big Deal' or they can keep what they had. That's the format.

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"Deal is so special because you're getting to see a live improv show with Wayne Brady, his sidekick—our announcer Jonathan Mangum—and musician Cat Gray. They are amazing and they perform together outside of Let's Make a Deal."

Brady works around a loose structure. He and Mangum can break into song and dance, rap or riff off what a contestant says. "There's no script," Richards notes. "There's not one word written for him. The only thing that is built for him are the deals…the amount of money he offers is by and large up to him."

Contestants also need to avoid the "Zonks," which are the booby prizes no one wants like lemon cars instead of real ones. "I think our Zonk department is phenomenal. There's a whole group of people who build those things because…they're aren't lemon cars in existence, oddly enough," he says with a laugh.

When we caught up with the busy Brady the day of our set visit, he had just gotten back from a Comic-Con panel that morning, was getting ready to tape the second LMAD episode of the day—before going to tape scenes for his upcoming guest arc on How I Met Your Mother. He also stars in the recently revived Whose Line Is It Anyway, which airs on the CW.

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We asked him how he keeps things fresh and his energy level up. "I'm actually a performer doing what I've wanted to do for the past 20 odd years, so when I look at it like that I don't have to keep my energy level up because this is my gig. There's no real work to keep up my energy because that's part of the job…is to have that every level in the first place."

He's been doing this for five seasons, with more than 700 episodes under his belt, and Brady admits that sometimes the costumes and the games blend together after awhile. "But the best moments are when you know that you've changed someone's life. it makes it more than entertainment, it makes it a good human thing, and that's what really makes me happy."

Let's Make a Deal Tips

So after spending some time on the set and talking to LMAD staff and producers, we learned a few things that might help better your chances of getting on the show. Here are five tips:

1. Dress accordingly. Costumes make for great visuals on TV and they make audience members stand out. If you don't have one, you can rent one onsite during audience orientation for $10-$50.

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2. Personality counts. Producers are looking for genuine, lively personalities that people watching at home can relate to—so be energetic, but not fake. Interviewers are chatting with audience members to check out potential contestants.

3. Listen. If you do make it on the show, listen to what Wayne Brady or Mangum are telling you. It might be hard, but try not to freeze up and space out. We saw a girl do this, and we're not sure if her segment's going to make the cut.

4. Be decisive. We watched a number of contestants look to the audience for help in deciding whether they should trade in the vacation package for something bigger behind bay #2. But they don't know either! It gets boring after awhile, so really, make up your mind and move on.

5. Follow LMAD on Twitter. We watched a woman in the audience win $100 bucks as part of the Quickie Deals at the end of the taping—just for having something in her purse that the show asked contestants to bring.

To order free tickets, visit Let's Make a Deal or On Camera Audiences.