Among other places, I’ll be appearing on a morning television show.
That interview will be the first time I’ve set foot inside a TV studio in more than twenty years. And for me, it may prove to be a bittersweet moment.
First, a bit of background:
Twenty-plus years ago, I graduated from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. During my stint at the J School, I concentrated in broadcasting. My dream was to become a television reporter, and perhaps eventually an anchor.
But my academic advisor soon informed me, in no uncertain terms, that to have a career on camera, I’d have to lose weight.
I’d have to lose a lot of weight. At two-hundred-plus pounds, I needed to lose approximately one-half of myself.
This was a tall order, especially in the days before laparoscopic surgery and stomach rings.
To remediate my excess adipose situation, after graduation I packed up my TR6 and sallied south to Durham, North Carolina, the self-proclaimed “Diet Capital of the World.” There, I enrolled in a residential diet clinic (read: fat farm). Nine hungry months later, I left Durham, tipping the scales at 114 pounds. (At five foot five, I figured even TV news would be satisfied with that three-digit number.) Armed with a new designer wardrobe, I soon landed a reporting internship, and later a full-time job, at a station in South Carolina.
But I quickly discovered that the reality of TV news reporting was far different than I’d imagined. The job involved crazy hours (no problem for me), and tons of stress (some problem for me). To my dismay, I also discovered that I suffered from a bit of camera shyness.
Doing live shots was especially challenging. When you do a live shot, you stand there in front of the camera, holding a microphone, addressing hundreds of thousands of people—without a script. To make things worse, you also have a disembodied voice (the studio producer) yakking at you through an earpiece.
Accomplished professionals in TV-News land, like Anderson Cooper and Katie Couric, make live television look easy.
Trust me, it’s not.
There’s a scene in DYING TO BE THIN that addresses the peculiar challenges of live shots:
In this scene, my protagonist, Kate Gallagher, has just finished her first live shot. It’s gone well, and she’s been congratulated by the cameraman:
“Thanks, Reggie,” I said, removing my earpiece. I was riding a huge surge of relief, a high, really, that my maiden live shot had gone so smoothly. I’ve seen first-time live shots go horribly wrong—the reporters get spacey, or they forget what they’re supposed to say entirely and freeze up in front of the camera the way a hairy-footed gerbil gets hypnotized by a cobra.”
True confession time—that was my first live shot I was describing in the book. I was about as polished as a zombie gerbil from outer space.
I eventually recovered from that rough start, and improved. But along the way, I learned that television news wasn’t the right career for me. Nowadays, I’m much happier being ensconced behind the word processor, spinning out stories that turn out just the way I want them to.
To paraphrase Dirty Harry, “A woman’s got to know her limitations.”
But I’m thrilled to get the chance to go back on television as a guest. A studio guest doesn’t have all the pressure of dealing with where the cameras are, or how many seconds are left before the break, or a producer who’s talking through her earpiece.
Guests can just relax, smile, and be themselves.
Ahh…sounds like the perfect assignment for me.