Monday, October 3, 2011

Look, Ma, I'm on TV!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Tomorrow, I'm going to be filming a segment for "Bill Green's Maine", a popular local-features show hosted by Portland's WCSH. It's not my first time on TV -- heck, it's not even my first time on WCSH -- but every time someone snaps on those klieg lights and hooks a miniature mike to my blouse, I get nervous. Am I dressed okay? Will I sound like an idiot (vocally)? Will I sound like an idiot (content)? What if the light bounces off my glasses? Will I remember to stay on point? And don't even get me started on how I obsessively check my teeth to make sure there's nothing stuck in there.

My first televised appearance was on a local access channel in Montgomery, Alabama. They were featuring the dance school I attended, and all the tap dancers appeared together. I was four, with wild, bushy hair and no front teeth (knocked out in a skating accident.) I was, as my mother tactfully reminisces, "a very enthusiastic tap dancer." They put me in the back row, with all the teenagers in front of me.

In the years since, you could have caught me on the tube as part of a chorale, doing a brief number from a college musical, and being interviewed (with several other parents) on the closing our my kids' school. And, of course, these meet-the-author segments on the local news or interest shows. While I've never actually had spinach on my teeth, or forgotten the title of my latest book, I've never been completely at ease, either. And I always watch the resulting footage with a kind of horrified fascination: do I really look like that? Does my voice really sound like that? (Yes, and yes.)

How about you, Reds? And yes, I know this question is unfair to Hank, who could write an entire memoir about her career in front of the cameras (let's hope she does!) What was your first time like? Your best? Your worst? (Aren't you glad I'm asking this about TV and not some other topic?)

RHYS BOWEN: I used to work for the BBC so I'm comfortable around studios and have done my share in front of a mike or a camera. A lot depends on the interviewer. If he or she makes me comfortable then I'm fine. My worst memory? A day time show in Texas. I did my segment, sitting on my high stool, then the host said "Stick around, Rhys--we've got a fabulous chef coming next." So I was stuck on that stool while a guy made spaghetti sauce and then.... he handed me a plate of spaghetti to eat ON CAMERA... IN A WHITE BLOUSE. Now I've always been a little disaster prone and a messy eater. So I pretended. Lifted one tiny strand to my lips and made lip smacking noises and survived.

LUCY BURDETTE: Rhys, that's an amazing story--I've been followed and preceded by food segments, but never, ever asked to eat:). My worst was probably the first time I was interviewed about one of my golf mysteries. In addition to being hysterically nervous, I was extremely worried about what to wear, as it would be a live segment taking place at a golf tournament. I finally chose a nice green silk Hawaiian shirt. They perched me up on a stool in an open air makeshift studio overlooking the driving range.

"You'll be speaking with the anchors who are back in Hartford," the tech told me. "So be sure to look at the camera, not at the monitor."

Not only did my lovely green shirt blend in completely with the grass so just my disembodied head showed up, but my eyes must have darted to that monitor a hundred times during the short piece. Looked like I'd forgotten to take my medication that morning...

I've gotten better the more I do--and now I try to channel Hank whenever I'm headed to a studio:).

ps Julia, I bet you were adorable in that dance recital!

JULIA: Just like Shirley Temple. Except for the hair. And the talent.

JAN BROGAN: My most memorable TV experience? I once did a column for Ladies Home Journal and they flew me out to LA to be on Hour Magazine with Gary Collins. I was twenty-nine, I think. Like Julia, I was in early dance recitals - about ten of them, so I think the only lasting benefit was that I feel comfortable on any stage. Even, frankly, when I shouldn't (have I ever told you I sang in front of 1000 people?) Back to TV, one of the things I remember most -outside of how everyone told me to wear red - was how absolutely awesome you look with all that makeup on. I mean -- they spackle you a whole new face. I knew I'd never look that good again in my life so I got a cabbie to give me a tour of LA and he got me into some fancy restaurant - Spagos? I think that's what it was. I didn't see a single celebrity, but the doorman tried to convince me he was Bruce Willis's brother. Yeah, right.

HALLIE EPHRON: Jan, they FLEW YOU OUT TO LA? Boy has the magazine business changed...

What freaks me out now is that TV is high-definition. Which means that all the spackle they trowel onto your face looks like...spackle.

I've done a lot of TV. My last TV experience was cozy and sweet, if taping a TV show can ever be that, with the gracious Connie Spiros on her local cable TV program Meet Me in the Kitchen. One camera, filming in my tiny kitchen. It was so much fun, and I wore the apron my daughter made for me when she was in junior high (teddy bears on a white background). I made potato pancakes for Chanukah. Plus a pot roast. Great fun, but I wish I'd had my make up and hair done. It's embarrassing.

LUCY: Oh boy Hallie, wish I'd been there for that one! Our own Jungle Red Julia Child...

DEBORAH CROMBIE: While I've managed to get fairly comfortable with public speaking over the years (I was one of those people who would rather DIE than stand up in front of an audience) I've just hated myself on video. Local cable access shows, interviews in bookstores, one awful short bit shot here in London by Pan Macmillan with a handheld cam and no mike, on location in Notting Hill. The content is not too bad but I looked TERRIBLE! I don't like my voice and I have some really irritating mannerisms when I get nervous.

So the book-trailer video shoot I did in Henley on Thursday was a big deal for me. Professional make-up, thank God, because I'd had about four hours of sleep and looked like death--and a really good professional camera man. We did an hour interview with good lighting and sound, then went out and walked around Henley all day. I'll probably be horrified when I actually see myself but I had a ball doing it.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: Please don't make me!! The last time I looked normal on television I was about four and on a kids show called Wonderama. I have no idea what I did and mercifully no footage remains. It's a given that I think I look way older and heavier than I am - it's the obsessive blinking that bothers me. I don't ever think I'm nervous but what else can explain the frantic blinking. I also seem to nod my head a lot. Very attractive.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Um, the time I tripped over a cat in a live shot? And then almost knocked over the light?

Or how about this: In the olden days (like, 10 years ago) prompter copy was on paper. And the script pages would be scotch-taped together and put on, like, a conveyor belt, which would be in front of the camera. So you could read it and look at the camera at the same time. But because it was so labor intensive, we'd make reusable "evergreen" pages, with things like "Toss to weather."

One day I was filling in for anchorwoman Kate Sullivan. Live TV, remember. As the pre-printed "goodnight" pages rolled into place, my co-anchor read: "Good Night, everyone, I'm RD Sahl." And I read what exactly was on the prompter: "And I'm Kate Sullivan."


JULIA : Oh, Hank. Oh, well. It all turned out fine, I'm sure. As for you others, I'm so happy to find out I'm not the only one who feels less-than-natural in front of a camera. How about you, readers? Are you local-access only, or ready for high-definition?

17 comments:

Sheila Connolly said...

The closest I've come was on a commercial when I worked for a US Senate candidate, in the 1990s. We were filming at an industrial site in Philadelphia, and we needed a crowd, so most of the campaign staff (ethnically and gender balanced, of course) was drafted. We bunched up and stopped forward to shake hands with the candidate--then raced around to the back of crowd to fill in (there were only about ten of us). This aired on network TV, and I still have a tape copy.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

I was also on the Bill JAckson show when I was about 6--the local Mickey Mouse club. I really wish there was a film of that--I bet it was hilarious. I was so delighted to be in the peanut gallery!

My pet peeve about TV talk shows the days..where did cleavage start to be acceptable?

Jan Brogan said...

Rosemary,
You were on WONDERAMA? That makes you a HUGE celebrity in my book. i used to watch it all the time and dream about being one of those kids.

Rosemary Harris said...

Yes, Jan, the experience instilled in me the diva-like attitude I carry with me to this day. I think my sister and I were on twice - I had a major crush on the host.

Brenda Buchanan said...

About 20 years ago I was working part time at a natural food store when a crew from the Portland TV station came in to film a public service announcement about pregnant women's nutritional needs. Unwittingly, I became co-star of the piece when they asked me to stand in front of the produce section and fake an animated conversation with a young, visibly pregnant woman, pretending to talk about the benefits of beet greens or some such.

It turned out this was the take they chose and the PSA got a lot of air time. For the better part of a year, people would come up to me whenever I was out and about Portland, saying they'd seen me on TV. (A few even wanted to talk about vegetables.)

The funniest part was I didn't own a TV at the time so I never saw the spot myself. For all I know, my hair was full of cowlicks, my apron was stained and I had something stuck between my front teeth.

Good luck with your gig on Bill Green's Maine, Julia. I'm sure you'll be terrific.

Brenda

Gail The Reading Lady said...

How about NO access. The first time I was on a local (Birmingham, AL) station was The Sargent Jack's Show.(Alas, I never made it on The Cousin Cliff Show.) This was similar to Bozo the Clown...etc. It was a birthday party treat with several of my friends. I was about 10. Sargent Jack stuck the microphone in front of each child and asked our name and if we had anything to say. (No one in their right mind should ever ask me If I have something to say, then or now.) So, I said,"My name is Gail and I want to wish my brother, Wayne, a happy birthday tomorrow." To which Sargent Jack asked, "How old will your brother be?" and I replied, "twenty - one."
The last time I was on TV was in my teens when my church group went to the same local station to watch "rastlin'" ( to any one north of the Mason-Dixon line, I guess that would be wrestling.) The segment would be shown on the same station later that night or the next week, I'm not sure. This was somewhere during the late sixties or early 70's. We all had that unique 70's look. Personally, I was sorta "channeling" Cher or Crazyhorse in those days. I was wearing the ever present "peace" sign choker around my neck, fringed shirt, jeans and moccasins. (As opposed to my Nehru collar "spiritual enlightenment" clothing.) Anyway, we sat and watched the extremely fake 'rastlin until the light showed that the camera was on us, then we screamed like banshees', stomped the bleachers we were sitting on, and pretended to get into fights over the 'rastlers." Fun times, fun times. So, there you have it; my TV career. Y'all call me if you ever need any help. Ya' heah?

Vicki Lane said...

A few years back, a local TV show did a taped interview with me in a big bookstore. The host of the show and I were seated in front of some bookshelves and I thought the whole thing went fairly well.

But when the interview aired, I really wished that the book displayed face out on the shelf just at my right hadn't been Christopher Moore's YOU SUCK.

Lucy Burdette said...

Ha, ha, I can see we have some great talent here! We need to have a JRW TV show--The Chew. With Bodies:)

I forgot to tell you about the time Lori Avocato, Jessica Speart and I were in Dr. Phil's studio audience. They have a special guy whose only job is to get the audience to act excited before Dr. Phil comes on stage. Lori was dying to get out of there--a little of Dr. P goes a long way--but they lock the doors and won't let you bolt. No empty seats allowed on that set! So we were on national TV in the very smallest way...

Jan Brogan said...

Wow Lucy,
Sounds like you were held captive on National TV. :Ole the beginning of a horror movie. Was this when we were all in Chicago? Or LA?

Lucy Burdette said...

This was LA, Sisters in Crime goes to Hollywood, planned by Rochelle Krich and her able assistants. wasn't that so much fun?! Even if we didn't make it to the big screen...

We'll always have Hallie...

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Vicki, that's hilarious! Yup, ALWAYS look to see what's behind you.

Even so, I did a story once about bad headlights on cars. And the big graphic I had to stand in front of said: "Dangerously Dim."

Not as bad, though, as the anchorwoman who had to stand in front of a graphic that said "Botched Plastic Surgery."

Anonymous said...

Loved Wonderama! Remember the segment, "What the heck is it?" Our family adopted that as a catchphrase for all sorts of unidentified objects--old stuff in the fridge, roadkill on roadtrips. Most recently my sister and I resurrected it for the royal wedding hats... Btw, whatever happened to the host, Bob McAllister, right?

Carla

E. B. Davis said...

I always get the RSS feeds a day late, which I hate and explains why I haven't commented lately.

Speaking in public for me is a nightmare, even with just a group of writers in the room, so I can't even imagine TV! Good luck with all of your appearances.
PS-Kate Sullivan's a favorite of mine, glad you filled in for her, Hank.

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