HANK: It may be the longest-running live TV show in New England! It's called "Barbara ... & You"--and Barbara Foster has been producing and hosting the weekly program for 35 years.
Dinah Shore, Johnny Cash, George Plimpton, Bob Cousy and Arthur Fiedler have come to visit. Here's vintage Barbara with Freddy Fender. I've been in Babara's guest chair too! Today, we're changing seats--and I get to chat with the eminent host about all her secrets.
HANK: There’s nothing scarier than being interviewed on TV! (Okay, there probably are scarier things. But when the red light comes on? It may not seem like it.) How long have you been doing interviews?
BARBARA FOSTER: For people like you and me, Hank, it is hard to understand why so many people are afraid of being on TV ... or public speaking. When I first started doing TV interviews, I always felt I should be looking over my shoulder because I would be 'found out' that I was never trained for this career. Little did I ever suspect that it would last 35 years.
HANK: How did you start?
BARBARA: Back home in Cincinnati, I did a few TV commercials. Then on a trip to New York City, I auditioned to be an imposter on the old TV show 'To Tell The Truth'.
I got the spot as an imposter women's basketball player on the All American Redheads. The local newspaper interviewed me about that appearance and it came out in the interview that I had some experience doing TV commercials. The local cable company was just starting up their programming department and asked if I'd be interested in hosting a program of my own. They actually paid me!
(That was--when? Thirty-five years ago!)
After 25 years, the cable company (having changed hands a few times), decided to cancel all local programming. I was emotionally prepared to 'retire' then and had a farewell program.
On that same day, the three local public access channels called to invite me to do my "Barbara ... & You" show with them. I selected Fitchburg Access TV because at that time they had the best studio. We agreed to distribute it to Leominster and Lunenburg. Today we're on the air in seven towns in Central Massachusetts.
HANK: And going strong! Tell us some of your favorite interviewees—and what made them so good?
BARBARA: This is a tough one because there are so many. Of the celebrities, I'd pick Johnny Cash who was just so very nice and not wrapped up in himself. Also, Michael Dukakis is the epitome of charm. It was a very fun night with Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show interviewing them after their concert. I had been warned that they could be difficult, but they were so much fun and they compared me to Dinah Shore. She was also a down-to-earth woman when I interviewed her.This is Red Sox legend Jerry Remy.
But there are so many 'ordinary' people who are not 'ordinary' at all. I totally enjoy shining the spotlight on these type of community guests who don't always get the recognition they deserve. In all these years, I've never run out of interesting guests/subjects to interview.
HANK: What do interviewees need to understand about the person who’s interviewing them?
BARBARA: When briefing guests, I always tell them that I am a tool just like the camera, lights and microphones. They are what is important and I'm just there to help them tell their story. Not only is it my job to bring out their best, but to make them comfortable while doing so. Often guests tell me that they relax after the first five minutes and forget that we're on TV. It feels like we're just chatting.
HANK: Are there common mistakes that interviewees make? Like what?
BARBARA: I truly cannot say any specific mistakes, but people often tell me right after we go off the air, "Oh, I should have said ......." So, it might be a good idea for them to write down a few key words to prompt them if necessary. I often tell them, "Barbara Walters uses notes, we can too." We do our show live -- which means you have to get it right the first time!
HANK: How about—clothes? Makeup? Attitude?(What are some no-nos?)
BARBARA: It is a luxury having my hair done for the show by my wonderful Maria. I used to have my make-up done, but do it myself now as it took too much time. Ditto with wardrobe. Too much time & trouble to go get the outfit and return it the next day. I do try to rotate my clothing I wear on the show. It consists of business-type suits. On special occasions I get more dressy. Like you, Hank, a black suit always works and you can accessorize it so many ways. Generally white is a no-no and certain shades of red.
When someone knows they're going to be interviewed, they should give some thought to what they want the public to know about them. They might even make themselves a little cheat sheet. In my case, they need to recognize that the interviewer is there to help them look good.
They should think in terms of sitting down to have a chat with a friend about themselves, their work, their passion and their goals -- depending on the topic. As you know, Hank, I love to interview writers and the writer should want to entice the viewer to go buy the book. You know, tell enough, but not too much. All interviewees are not expected to be great public speakers, but they need to take deep breaths if they feel nervous and think before they speak.
As for their appearance, they want to look professional -- not too dressy and not too casual. Solid colors are always best. Make up could be just a tad heavier than they would wear to the office. If men have a 5:00 shadow, a little foundation can do wonders. And most important of all -- SMILE.
HANK: Barbara Walters (and we both admire her so much!) has a big staff helping with research and questions. Do you? And how can interviewees use that to their advantage?
BARBARA: I wish I had a staff like Barbara Walters!! I do all the bookings and prepare all the questions myself. And ... I do the show live so mistakes can't be edited out. We need to get it right the first time. When I book a guest, I mention that if they have specific questions they'd like to answer, they may write the question on an index card and give it to me before we go on the air. I also tell them that they should feel free to speak about something even if I haven't asked the right questions. Just say, "Barbara, you might be interested to know ......" Of course, Hank, I have the advantage of usually doing a half-hour interview unlike you who must get a lot into a short amount of time.
HANK: Well, doing interviews for 35 years...it's fantastic! Congratulations! Any questions for Barbara (or me?) about how to be the best you can be on TV?