Friday, September 14, 2007

And now let's go—live!—to a Zombie Gerbil from Outer Space



So I'm looking over my upcoming book tour schedule for DYING TO BE THIN, which launches on October second. The tour includes several highlights that I’m especially thrilled about, including some media appearances (for updates, see my web site.)

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.

9 comments:

Deb Baker said...

A news crew arrived at one of my signings in Michigan (the Upper Peninsula where any news is welcome) and I looked just like your gerbil! But I'm very jealous of your upcoming television spot. Go, girl.

Joe Moore said...

Kathryn, you’ve hit on one of my favorite life lesson sources: the wisdom of Harry Callahan. When dealing with what looks like insurmountable objectives, having a can-do, positive attitude is a must. But in the end we have to be realistic. Sometimes the best lessons to live by come from the most unlikely sources: the philosophy of Dirty Harry.

Best of luck with your upcoming tour.

Kathryn Lilley said...

Sounds like it would make a bestseller, Joe! "The Collected Wisdom of Dirty Harry." I can just see the book cover now, lol! Deb, that's great that a news crew covered your signing--that must have been so exciting!

Monica Ferris said...

Kathryn, write that book! "All I need to know I learned from Dirty Harry." I smell a best seller, for sure!

Linda O. Johnston said...

That Zombie Gerbil is adorable! I'm sure you'll do great in your return to TV, Kathryn. But if you're worried, bring a gerbil along and no one will pay attention to you anyway!
--Linda

Camille Minichino said...

You will be great, Kathryn!
A word of warning, however -- don't assume you won't have an earpiece or have to check on camera location.
A few months ago, I did a live spot at the studio of a major newspaper, big city, but it was a rather primitive setup in that the producer literally had to jump from side of the counter to another to let me know which camera to look at. Also, I had an earpiece to deal with one interviewer who was in a remote location, while all the time touching knees with a second in-studio interviewer. It's a good thing it wasn't my first!
And this won't be your first, so just be ready and try to have a good time no matter what the circumstances.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

You go, girl! (Cute gerbil by the way.)I'm sure you'll charm your viewers!

Glenda said...

You'll be great Kathryn! It'll be better than all your previous behind the camera experiences.
Loved your blog and thanks for posting about it on cozy armchair group!

Kathryn Lilley said...

Hi Glenda! Thanks for visiting Killer Hobbies today! Best, Kathryn