Pop culture tours feed fan frenzy

08/23/2014 12:00 AM

08/21/2014 3:19 PM

“What was Glen’s job before the apocalypse?” Jennifer Huston and her sister Mollie know the answer to this one. “A pizza delivery guy,” shouts Mollie, who is rewarded with a Walking Dead wrist band.

A pop quiz on pop culture is part and parcel of a new breed of city tours: Call it tabloid tourism. Travelers who put the fan in fanatic are filling tours born out of our obsession with television, movies, music and all things celebrity.

Pop culture tours are popping up across the country from TMZ Hollywood to Breaking Bad in Albuquerque and The Shawshank Redemption in Mansfield, Ohio, starring the Ohio State Reformatory, a former state prison that is now a historic site open to the public.

Anyone can sign on for a traditional bus tour, but why not play paparazzo and hope for a glimpse of the Kardashian sisters at their Soho boutique or learn what it takes to earn an A at zombie school?

That was one secret shared on Huston’s Big Zombie Tour in Atlanta. Guides are all current or former “walkers” on The Walking Dead, which films in and around Atlanta. “It was awesome,” gushes Huston, a nanny in Hollywood, Florida, who joined Mollie, in from London, on a Walking Dead road trip.

“We watched clips on the bus from the show before and after each stop like the Zombie Arena, the waterfall from the Season 2 finale and the town of ‘Woodbury,’ ” she says. “Everyone on the tour was a super fan and the guides all worked as extras, so it really gives you a behind-the-scenes, insider look.”

TMZ NYC Guide Mathew Chadwick says the majority of his guests are die-hard fans of TMZ, a top media outlet for breaking celebrity news, usually with a touch of raunchy humor on the side. “I call our tour an adventure. We’re on safari looking for celebrities in their natural habitat and New York City is their watering hole,” he says. “Guests aren’t here to see the Empire State Building, but where Lindsey Lohan punched out a gypsy.”

TMZ tour passengers plaster their noses to the windows as the bus winds through almost a dozen neighborhoods. Chadwick is armed with a camera so if anyone spots an A-lister (or even a B-lister), he jumps off and asks if the celebrity is willing to chat with the group or at least give them a wave.

Says Chadwick, “Just today, someone saw Robin Roberts from Good Morning America eating lunch. I asked if she would say hello, and she boarded the bus and chatted with everyone for about five minutes.”

Footage from the encounter is likely to end up on TMZ’s daily TV show. Rapper Flo Rida once brought 12 girls in hot pants on board to spontaneously debut his new music video.

In true TMZ style, throughout the two-hour tour, Chadwick keeps things lighthearted by pointing out the “Lindsey Lohan Terror Zone,” playing TMZ videos and challenging guests to predict if a celebrity will, upon seeing a TMZ cameraman, wave or flip the bird — then playing the video outcome. Winners receive a black TMZ tour T-shirt.

Oh and how to tell which walkers graduated with honors from zombie school? As Huston learned, students are graded A, B, C and D on how they move, walk and exude all things zombie. Those who are rated A don full makeup and prosthetics during filming. Watch closely and you may see that D-rated walkers aren’t even wearing makeup, just dirt.

Here’s a handful of pop culture tours guaranteed to satisfy superfans’ interests.

•  ABC Nashville Tour: The soapy travails of rising starlets and country music legends trying to maintain their place in the spotlight have made ABC’s Nashville a fan fave. The series actually shoots in Music City, making it easy for devotees to follow in the footsteps of the show’s characters. Tours pass the “homes” of Deacon, Gunnar, Juliette Barnes and Rayna James. You can also see Nashville City Hall, where Mayor Teddy Conrad has his office. Visit Ryman Auditorium for a tour where Rayna and Juliette performed Wrong Song together during their record label’s 25th anniversary concert.

“Fan”-tastic highlight: On Thursdays, guests go inside the famous Bluebird Cafe for a special presentation by some of the Bluebird team members who have appeared on the show.

Cost: $49 for 3.5 hours. Operates Thursday and Sunday. Grayline.com/Nashville

•  Big Zombie Tours: Fans of The Walking Dead, returning for its fifth season in October, have a front-row seat to check out the locations in Atlanta and Senoia (about one hour away) through Big Zombie Tour and Big Zombie Tour 2.

Part 1 is an urban tour of mostly Season 1 locations. Visit the hospital where it all started for your favorite sheriff. Go inside the goat farm and see firsthand where the Vatos held camp. See if the CDC is still standing.

Part 2 is a rural tour of Seasons 2, 3 and 4 locations including Senoia, aka Woodbury. This tour has exclusive access to places such as the Zombie Arena.

“Fan”-tastic highlight: The hospital where hero Rick Grimes wakes up and sees the world as he knows it completely gone. And all tour guides are current or former zombie walkers.

Cost: $65 for three hours in 30-passenger coaches equipped with video screens. Operates every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tours sell out quickly, so buy in advance. AtlantaMovieTours.com

•  Sex and the City Hotspots: Follow in the fashionista footsteps of Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha. Experience the city the way the four BFFs did, shopping at the Pleasure Chest, the adult store where Charlotte memorably bought her “Rabbit,” sip a cosmopolitan at the bar owned by Aidan and Steve and enjoy Carrie-approved cupcakes. Explore more than 40 locations featured in the TV series and movies including the site of Carrie and Big’s wedding rehearsal dinner. Get some retail therapy in Greenwich Village.

Tours offer multiple stops to explore on foot. But in true Sex and the City fashion, these pauses are Manolo-friendly — they’re brief and don’t cover much ground.

“Fan”-tastic highlight: a Bleecker Street stop. Because the show filmed on and around this street so much it feels like stepping right into Sex and the City. Also, Sarah Jessica Park lives in the neighborhood and on rare occasion is spotted during a tour.

Cost: $49 for 3.5 hours. Operates daily at 11 a.m. and on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 3 p.m. onlocationtours.com

•  TMZ Tour NYC: Visit places where the stories TMZ has broken come to life. The tour looks at more than 70 locations where celebrities party, play and get into trouble. They include the hotel where Solange went crazy on Jay-Z, the restaurant where Jessica Simpson gets her Mexican fix every time she’s in town, the dive bar where Lady Gaga got her start, the many locations where Gerard Butler has used his legendary charm to pick up ladies, and more. There’s also a stop in the celebrity-packed Soho neighborhood where you get off the bus and do your own celebrity stalking with the guidance of a special TMZ map.

“Fan”-tastic highlight: Seeing locations that celebrities frequent or where they have been spotted such as WIP nightclub, the Gansevoort Hotel where the Kardashians filmed or Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s house. Guides often receive real-time tips from other TMZ staffers on celebrity spottings along the bus route so passengers can be on the lookout.

Cost: $45 for two hours and 30 minutes on a 52-passenger bus, with video system. Operates weekdays and Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and on Saturday at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. onlocationtours.com.

•  TMZ Hollywood Tour: Same gossipy tour as TMZ NYC, but in sunny southern California. Visit the hottest “hot” spots in Beverly Hills, the Sunset Strip and Hollywood. Guides work with TMZ on TV so they are always armed with a camera and ready to capture celebs at their best and worst. They send any footage back to the TMZ Newsroom.

“Fan”-tastic highlight: Celebrity spotting. For instance: Ben Affleck rolls up next to the TMZ Tour Hollywood bus in his vintage red Chevy Chevelle and rolls down the window. Ben says “hi” and chats with the passengers. Or Rihanna is in the passenger seat of a Suburban when she flags down the TMZ Tour Hollywood. She rolls down the window, waves and says to the passengers, “Welcome to L.A.”

Cost: $54 for two hours in an open-air 24-seat bus, with video system. Operates daily with multiple departures. tmz.com/tour

•  The Vampire Diaries: Are you allied with Team Stefan or Team Damon? Mystic Falls Tours in Covington, Georgia, offers blood-sucking Vampire Stalker visits to all the town sets used as Mystic Falls in The Vampire Diaries. Visit the Mystic Falls courthouse, cemetery, Mystic Grill and the Gilbert House.

Fans get an insider’s view of the steamy series and exclusive access to the Lockwood Mansion and many other homes used in filming because of a special relationship between the tour owner Jessica Lowery and the show’s star, Ian Somerhalder.

“Fan”-tastic highlight: Lockwood Mansion, standing near the lake where Stefan and Elena broke up in Season 2 and Klaus and Caroline talked about love and fulfillment. Season 6 stops are now being added.

Cost: $55 for two to three hours. Can ride in the van or follow in your own vehicle. mysticfallstours.com

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