Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

A Rough and Rowdy Time

leave a comment »

Image

I just read “Long Night at Today” by the New York Magazine’s Joe Hagan.  Excellent play-by-play of the meltdown on the set and in the boardrooms of NBC’s flagship morning talk show property.  Since Dave Garroway and Joe Garagiola and Jane Pauley, the Today Show has been where millions of people go to have their hands held as they meet the new day.  But as Mr. Hagan so pointedly explained, if the network makes their audience love its hosts, it shouldn’t be surprised when they react to what they perceive as a stink from 30 Rock Studio 1A.

See, the thing about that strategy, and make no mistake, it is a strategy; it’s always a doubled edged sword.  You want viewers to fall in love with the people they “invite into their homes” to coin an ancient broadcasting cliché.  But, because the broadcasting business is so full of brutality, you have to decide if throwing somebody out of a window after they have outlived their usefulness will cost you more than you expect to make in the long run from the slow, painful but expected recovery.  So it’s a psychological calculus marinated in the economics of cost benefit analysis. It’s got little to do with viewers because if it did, networks would save the money they waste on set changes and tweaks to theme music and repeated attempts to force the tired back down their audience’s throats.  

At the end of his piece, Mr. Hagan quotes several principals who say they don’t know whether the departed anchor was innocent or purposeful in her refusal to help the show repair its image by playing nicer with sitting hosts.  But that reminded me of a quote by Malcolm X., upon learning that the 1964 Civil Rights Act had become law.  On an airport tarmac, he said (paraphrasing) “Why should I thank somebody who sticks a knife six inches in my back and pulls it out three?” 

I once worked for an organization for which I had lost my love.  But I had taken dozens of photos in the course of my time with it because, in happier days, I intended to create something that I thought would help me memorialize its legacy in a positive way.  When it became known that I had taken these personal photos with my personal camera, I was asked by a nemesis for the photos because no other such record existed and I would be seen as a “team player.”

In that moment, I practically vomited the photos from my posession, mostly because the idea that this person, representing this Delilah of an organization, would speak to me about “team” with the sincerity that a Cuttlefish tries to hypnotize it’s prey before striking, was uproariously revolting.  And since I wanted nothing that connected us, they and the photos were jettisoned, as if by peristalsis, and forgotten.

On some TV studio sets, as well as in countless other organizations I’m sure, the concept of cutting ties by not trying to help them out of a tough spot may not be so foreign.  As a former intelligence analyst said of policy failures during the Bush administration, “We might be willing to take a bullet, but we’re not going to take a whole clip of bullets.”

Advertisements

Written by Interviewer

March 26, 2013 at 09:36

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: