Jun 14, 2012

Experiencing Today

Host Sarah Haines prepares us for our ever-so-brief stint on national television  on the Kathie Lee and Hoda segment of the Today show on NBC. Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Here in America we love the idea of being on television.  Something about the idea of our images being broadcast to millions is extremely compelling.  I don't know why this is--despite feeling the draw myself.  All I know is that  most of us would jump at the chance to be on TV.

Today begins too early.  I could sleep for another couple hours easily.  After all, I've gone to bed at around two in the morning last night--around the same time I've gone to bed for the past two nights--and each day it's harder to roll out of bed at 7:30 in the morning.  The late night/early morning routine taking it's toll on the kids too--even they, with their adolescent energy, are beginning to flag.

We groggily wolf down our fee hot breakfast from the hotel buffet--grits, eggs, hash browns, washed down with OJ--in an effort to leave the hotel in time to catch our train.  We miss the train anyway, as we have every day since we've gotten here.  I've gotten in the habit of aiming to get on one train sooner than the absolute last one that we can take, so that way if we miss our train we won't also miss our tour.  Today, I've done the same, though again as in days past, we will now be cutting our arrival very close.

Today, we are going to tour NBC Studios at 30 Rockefeller Center.  This is the very first tour we booked, months before we left Columbus, and we are all excited to get a firsthand look at the inner workings of big-time TV and some familiar shows.

Outside Rockefeller Center

That's if we can make it on time, of course. We have been warned that late arrivals will miss the tour, end of story.  No refunds, no rescheduling.  We have been told that we need to be at the studios thirty minutes in adavance of the tour.  But trouble at the PATH fare card vending machines ensures that we will not make that deadline.

We arrive at NBC with minutes to spare, and have just arrived in the waiting area for the tour when he hear the siren call for the first time:

"Hey, you guys want to be on TV?"

The answer is instinctual--Yes!

We are herded over to a couple of couches and chairs where other would-be TV stars are gathered and we are told to wait for further instructions.  Don't worry, we are reassured, you'll all get to be on TV.  Someone with the Today show arrives to provide us with more information:  "Now everyone is okay to be here for awhile?" she asks, "You don't have anywhere you need to be or anything?"  We eagerly confirm that we have absolutely nothing else to do besides be on TV.  Truthfully, we don't even really think about it.  Being on Today trumps all.

But I wonder. . .I have to ask.

"Excuse me, ma'am.  If we stay here, does that mean we'll miss our tour?"

"Yeah, I'm afraid so."

And we have a decision to make.  Be on TV or take our tour.

I hesitate, but only for a moment.  We paid for that tour (or really our donors did), and there's no way I'm going to lose what we've paid for.  "Come on guys, we're going on the tour," I say.  And so we wistfully leave our chance to be on TV and join the queue waiting for the tour to begin.

The tour is quite interesting.  It is led by two young interns--one from Ohio, remarkably--who are looking to break into the television business as writers.  This internship is a common starting point for those that ultimately go to work for NBC.  The two women take us on a fascinating tour of three studios--The Dr. Oz Show,  Football Night in America, and the big prize, Studio 8H, home of Saturday Night Live.  The studios themselves look smaller than life, far less glamorous than I would have expected.  Granted, all three are not currently in use--which is why we can tour them in the first place--and are hardly camera ready, with cluttered floors and the massive banks of television lights turned off.   NBC actually  appears to be using the famous SNL stages as storage space during the off season.  These famous spaces appear quite ordinary in real life.  It makes me wonder if those that appear on those stages aren't actually quite ordinary too.  And isn't that why we want to be on TV in the first place?  So that we can be more than ordinary?

A highlight of the tour is the chance to sit on a sound stage and be taped as if on television.  Most of us just get to sit in the anchor desk and have our picture taken (photos available for purchase at the end of the tour), but "The Scientist" is lucky enough to actually tape a segment.  He sits in the anchor's chair, and reads a prepared script from a teleprompter.  He does a credible job, doesn't look half bad on camera, as we watch him on the monitors.  A kid from another group does the weather report, and his job is much harder as he has to gesture at the blue screen at the graphics that only we viewers can see, while still reading from the teleprompter too.  He struggles mightily.

Before we know it our tour is complete and we are back where we started--just in time to find that there's still a chance to be on TV!  Today was to be our "catch up" day, after the studio tour, so we hadn't scheduled anything per se.  So, now we really do have time.  We return to the waiting area and are told that they will be taping a "Kathie Lee and Hoda" Today show segment.  Several people have somehow been pre-selected to ask pre-selected questions on camera to the two cohosts, and the rest of us will have the privilege of standing in the background.  Once again we are assured that everyone will be on TV (I've since come to believe this is something they say to people keep from elbowing their way into the shot to be sure of getting face time).

And so our remaining minutes in New York tick away, while we wait to be on TV.  Finally, Sarah Haines, who is hosting this segment (Kathie Lee and Hoda are actually across the street in another studio) sweeps in to give us--or really the lucky few who will actually talk on camera--some final instructions.  Sarah is pretty in the way that everyone who is on television for a living is pretty, and she is friendly and seems genuinely interested in her subjects. She works up some sort of shtick to do with the interview.  A group of recent college graduates develop some wordless cheer consisting of repetitive arm motions which Sarah instructs them to do throughout their segment without explanation and with a straight face.  For a second group, situated just in front of me, a young family, the baby in her mother's arms is all the shtick that's needed.   The camera, lighting and sound guys arrive and set up quickly and professionally.  Just another day at the office for them.

Before we know it, we are rolling, and just as quickly it's over.  The crew packs up their gear as quickly as they brought it out and leave.  Sarah bids a warm farewell and disappears as well.  We are told that our segement will air at 10:22 A.M. on Friday, May 25.  (Its was funny to hear Kathie Lee and Hoda excitedly talking about how "It's Friday!" when it was actually Wednesday).

Despite the promises that all of us would be on TV, I'm pretty sure most of us won't be.  The camera pulled in tight on Sarah and her interviewees and from what I could see on the monitor during the taping, only Benin Lee is visible throughout the second interview.  (I will later see the clip online and discover that more of us are actually visible--who can miss "The Scientist" waving frantically in the background--but you have to look fast.  Blink, and you miss us.  Although, I must say it's a bit ironic that in the screen shot  of the video below the only member of our group visible is. . .your's truly! Take a look and judge for yourself:)

I think we all sense that our time on TV was a bit anti-climatic, and so we wander across the street to where we can look in the windows to the main studios of the Today Show.  We can see people buzzing around inside, setting up for a taped segment.  We crane our necks looking for glimpses of Kathie Lee, Hoda, or some other star.  If we can't really be on TV perhaps we can at least get a real-life look at those that actually are.  And hey mabye they'll set up a shot right in front of this window and we'll get another chance, to really be on TV this time. . .

Hanging around outside the Today show studios.

And slowly but surely the fever breaks.  We are in New York City.  This is our last day!
Finally, one of the students asks, "Mr. Maycock, what are we doing here?"  And it becomes clear to me, far better than being on the Today show, is to make the most of Today.

Today we are in one of the great cities of the world. Today I am with  my students, who I've taught for the past two or three years, who I've shared this amazing adventure with for the past two or three days.  A week from now our time together will come to a final end.  In 24 hours we'll be back home in Columbus. We have only a little time left.  Forget about live TV, let's live life.

"Come on guys, let's go" I say. And we head for the subway station.

Today is not about what or who is on TV.  Today is about the people right in front of you in real life.  These guys-my kids--are what Today is all about:


"The Rapper" and "The Scientist"
"Free Spirit"
"The Quiet Man" and "Smooth"

"The Organizer"
"Supremo" with Benin Lee

Today is the greatest day I've ever known
                                                  --Smashing Pumpkins

No comments: