A friend (OK, it was Scott Peterson), asked me a question, and the following is my answer. I should mention a couple things first. This is a long story. I've live in New Britain, Connecticut, about 2 hours from NYC, my whole life. The Book Exchange was a used bookstore in the area. The Phil Donahue Show was a VERY popular talk show back in the day. Newt Gingrich is a failed human being. Go to wiki. My use of hoi polloi is meant to be funny. Here we go.
I was introduced to my future bride by a guy named Pete. A month or two before our wedding in June, 1995, Pete wrote to a number of TV shows that taped in NYC, because that's where Ellen & I were going to honeymoon. He didn't tell us, he wanted it to be a surprise. SNL, Donahue, Conan, maybe another. One day in May I came home from work, and Ellen, who got home an hour earlier, told me there was a message on our answering machine from a guy named Geraldo Vieira. He was the ticket coordinator for the Donahue Show. (Oddly, Donahue's main competition at the time was Geraldo Rivera.) Ellen called back. He explained that while going through a few boxes of ticket requests, he noticed an envelope with a New Britain return address. Turns out he grew up in New Britain, still had family here. Pete provided our phone number, so Geraldo called to say that the current season stopped taping in May, so going during our honeymoon was out. But, he told Ellen, there was going to be a very special guest on the show one week later, a Thursday, and that he would reserve tickets for us if we wanted to come down to Manhattan. He refused to identify the guest. Hush hush. She told him she'd have to discuss it with me. We saw life throwing us a mystery prize, and called him the next day to say we were in. He said he would leave a pair of tickets at the Security Desk at 30 Rock, and told us the time of the taping.
Ellen called Pete to tell him, and he spoke of how he attended a Donahue taping years earlier. He mentioned that the show he saw went on the air the following day. The next day, Saturday, I went to the Book Exchange (the original place), and told John. The store sold TV Guide at the time, and John looked up the listing for Friday's Donahue. The guest, he gleefully told me, was Newt Gingrich. This was I guess a year or two after Newt introduced his Contract On America. I told Ellen, and expected her to say let's pass on the tickets. But she asked me when we would ever again get the opportunity to heckle New Gingrich on national television. Fair enough, gas up the car.
It had been a long time since either of us had been to NYC, so we arrived a bit early and soaked up the atmosphere while soaking up a LOT of sweat, because it was an unseasonably hot day. Miserable. We found our way to 30 Rock, and walked into some glorious AC. The first thing I noticed was the LONG line of people waiting to go upstairs for the show. We went to the security desk as told, and they knew nothing about us. We were told to try the man at the head of the line. Do you remember when David Spade used to play the power-mad asshole receptionist on SNL? Well here he was in real life. This prissy, condescending little prick with a clipboard. "What's the name?," in this bored, you're wasting my time tone of voice. I told him and he started flipping pages, and after a bunch of them he started shaking his head no. Then he got to the last page, and his voice completely changed. "Oh..." There was an empty hallway on our right guarded by a uniformed page, and Mr Clipboard waved him over. "Bring them upstairs. They're here to see Geraldo." I glanced back at the LONG fucking line of regular people, and we were led to the elevator.
We got out on the 6th floor, and the page spoke to someone. A moment later a woman rushed up with a big smile. "You're Geraldo's friends! He'll be with you in a moment. While you're waiting, help yourselves to the buffet, and the restrooms are right over there." Ever been to Manhattan when you don't have a hotel room? She was offering us a clean uncrowded restroom. I wanted to use it twice. Got out and before I could eat, Geraldo appeared. "New Britain!!" He gave us tickets, led us onto the set, which looked exactly like on TV, and sat us down in the front row. When he left, Ellen nodded to the table onstage, and pointed out that we were within spitting distance of Newt's seat. We put our tickets on the chairs to reserve them, and headed up to the buffet. After a bit the hoi polloi piled out of the elevator, so we went back to guard our seats.
The front row filled up with friends of Geraldo, and then they let everyone else in. After a few minutes, Ellen said, look at that guy. A few seats down to the left, a guy was sitting with a copy of the Sgt Peppers LP, and an old magazine with the Beatles on the cover. I knew there was going to be an hours-long Beatles special coming to TV in a few months. Hmmm. The woman next to Ellen asked her if she was a friend of Geraldo. She worked in the building, and talked about how kind he was to get her into the taping. Ellen asked her who the guest was, and the woman said "You don't know?! It's Ringo!"
I sat there realizing that I was in a great position to ask Ringo Starr any question I wanted. As it turned out, I had a good 10 minutes, and in that time I just couldn't think of a thing to ask him. I didn't panic, I was thinking clearly. I just had read so much about the band that there was nothing I needed cleared up. "Are you ready to meet Phil Donahue?" Phil walked on, and I thought he was there to warm up the audience before taping. It was only when he brought Ringo on that I realized the show had begun. Ringo was really, really close to us. There were a couple times when I saw that I could have signaled to Donahue that I wanted to ask a question. Wasted opportunity, but at least I wasn't one of the people who asked questions that were barely questions. People who just wanted to be on camera but had nothing of interest to ask. I just sat there loving the moment, watching and listening to fucking Ringo.
And then Donahue said that there was to be a second, unannounced guest. Promoting his book, The Big Beat, out walks Max Weinberg. My favorite drummer in the world was now being joined by my second-favorite drummer in the world. I vaguely remember being kind of numb. The show ended, and we were told that Ringo would not be staying around for autographs. As I rose, I spotted Geraldo. "I'm sorry, I've gotta ask. Any chance of our meeting Ringo?" He nodded no. I thanked him for everything, and we left. The show aired a couple weeks later. As it turned out, it was the last season of the Donahue show.
Here's the video. At the :25 mark, just after Ringo is introduced, you can see Ellen & I in the front row, both wearing red. Long-haired galoot next to glamorous blonde. The video might begin in the middle of the show, due to my incompetence. If it doesn't appear at all, see last sentence.