Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘Nora O’Donnell

You Gotta Be Schitting Me

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Shit Creek

American culture can be weird.  For example, the second season of the CBS comedy, “Schitt’s Creek” was previewed in an interview with its two top billed stars, Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara on CBS This Morning.  The show name was plastered on plasma TV screens all over the studio.  Yet everyone at the table, including three professional journalists, were straining to avoiding saying the title, which is a wordplay on a profanity.

Americans love to be tittilated (whoopsie).  Whether it’s going to the ballet to see who’s going to fall, watching sports waiting for the next big hit or following political debates to see who is going to have the next Lloyd Bentsen moment.  But this is a little confusing, because in this case, tittilation would be if the actual word, “shit” was being used or skirted, not a substitute for the word.

I used to live in Utah, and its residents had the same relationship with the word, “fuck”.  In my twelve years there, I saw the substitutes for “fuck” mutate from “flip” to “frick” to “fudge” – all “f” words.  It seemed that as a version got too closely associated with the real profanity, a new one replaced it and moved into the vocabulary.  I used to fantasize that someday, it would return to “fuck”.  I wonder what it is now.

The late George Carlin, a master at comedy that emphasized such wordplay, used to eat this stuff for breakfast.  Carlin, as you may remember, was named in a 1978 U.S. Supreme Court case between the FCC and the Pacifica radio network that forever enshrined the seven dirty words you couldn’t say in broadcasting.  They are, for the record and in mostly alphabetical order, “cocksucker”, “cunt”, “fuck”, “motherfucker”, “piss”, “tits” and of course, “shit”.

In an HBO comedy special, Carlin himself made fun of people’s discomfort with the actual words, commenting that at one point, a man asked him to remove motherfucker from his routine.  Carlin said, “He says motherfucker is a duplication of the word fuck, technically, because fuck is the root form, motherfucker being derivative; therefore, it constitutes duplication. And I said, ‘Hey, motherfucker, how did you get my phone number, anyway?'”

He later added the word back to his routine, claiming the bit’s rhythm didn’t work without it.  Carlin made fun of each word; for example, he would say that tits should not be on the list because it sounds like a nickname for a snack (“New Nabisco Tits! …corn tits, cheese tits, tater tits!”).

Maybe, after the Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Superbowl and the subsequent hiking of indecency fines by the FCC from 35-thousand dollars to more than 300-thousand dollars per violation, U.S. radio and TV networks got religion and all forms and flavors.  But it’s a little like the Simpsons episode where Bart is in the back seat yelling the word “bitch” and Homer grits his teeth because Marge says, “Homey, it is the name of a female dog.”

Hey CBS, own it.

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Oh No

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Theater people know the brief look that was exchanged between new, Face the Nation host John Dickerson and reporter/anchor Nora O’Donnell on CBS This Morning.  Dickerson was talking about Hillary Clinton’s just announced campaign and Ms. O’Donnell was asking him a question.  Suddenly, there it was.  Dickerson and O’Donnell were locked in this momentary glance that can be called the “Oh No” look.

When you’re onstage and you and another actor are sharing a similar thought, it can be a knowing look.  It can also be a shared joke that can cause both people to start laughing.  Or, maybe the laughing starts for absolutely no reason at all.  But if you can’t break eye contact, then you have to pour cold water on the look, which can be really hard to do.  SNL and news blooper tapes are full of examples of what happens when the look takes over; actors and anchors start laughing which in turn, feeds more laughing that becomes uncontrollable.  Episodes of the Carol Burnett Show showing this breakup breakdown between comedians Tim Conway and Harvey Korman are legendary.

In American film, theater and TV, this is called “breaking character“.  On the British stage, it’s called corpsing and actors receive pretty substantial training on how to keep it from happening.  Some actors focus on clenching their fists or biting their tongues.  Others are told by their directors that “they themselves” are not what is funny happening in a scene.  Still other actors say that after they work the scene enough times, they just focus on the work and the lose the urge to laugh.

I knew the Oh No look was in play because the director switched from Ms. O’Donnell’s face to Mr. Dickerson’s, and both were frozen in that sort of bulging eye horror of knowing they were each about to lose control if somebody didn’t do something fast.  The director, Randi Lennon, has probably seen this a lot and quickly went to and held the camera on Charlie Rose long enough for both Mr. Dickerson and Ms. O’Donnell to regain their composure.

I’ve mentioned something like this before, namely the bad marrying of a funny story to a terrible, follow-up story that can twist the anchor up sometimes.  What happened this morning is a reminder to TV people of something theater people know well – the Oh No look is a trap and one of the many hazards on a news set in the handoff between reporter and anchor.

Written by Interviewer

April 13, 2015 at 22:58

Shape of a … Triangle!

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CBS This Morning Studio

Film producing icon Harvey Weinstein was a guest this morning on CBS This Morning.  He talked about the kerfuffle around American Sniper, the snub of Selma and the lack of diversity at this year’s Oscar award nominations.

While responding to a comment by George Lucas about how the Oscars are a political exercise in smearing films not your own, Gayle King reminds Mr. Weinstein that it’s well known that no one in Hollywood is better at stirring up shit about competing films as a way of crashing them than him.  At about 8:37 a.m. Pacific Time, as Mr. Weinstein is deflecting Gayle King’s comment, Charlie Rose’s hand goes to his temple.

Sometimes, when a reporter is listening to an answer that doesn’t ring true, he or she winds up for the pitch with a gesture.  It can be setting down a pencil.  It can be tapping a small stack of papers.  It can be removing glasses.  Mr. Rose rubbed the side of his head ever so briefly before positioning himself on Gayle’s right wingtip.

He followed up on her question by essentially repeating it and after that, things got a teeny bit tense.  But the point, and one I make often in this blog, is that reporters have a responsibility to not let a rambling answer be the only answer.

The three (Charlie, Gayle & Nora) tend to sit at the anchor desk at the points of a triangle for a reason.  Besides being nature’s most stable shape, they once again show they have each other’s backs.

The Money is the Message?

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Mark Rubio

One of the reasons why people have a standing distaste for politicians is because of how they sometimes don’t clearly answer questions.  Case in point, Mark Rubio has written a book in which he talks about what America needs to do to help Americans recapture the American Dream.  The law says he, as a sitting Senator, can’t also run for the presidency.  So, he has to make a choice as to when he’ll choose which office he’ll officially seek.

Charlie Rose and Nora O’Donnell of CBS This Morning both asked Mr. Rubio when he’ll announce.  And he circled back to his book and how he spells his choice out there.  The anchors followed up with a simple question, namely, (paraphrasing) can’t you just say?  Again, he goes back to the book.  This is one of those times for reporters and the audience when you wonder what is more important to a politician; communicating a message important to their constituency or making money for themselves?  To be fair, Hilary Clinton has done this a number of times around her own book in interviews.

The established politician strategy when asked a question that is too direct is to continue talking in hopes that the listener or viewer will forget the question that was asked and instead, focus on their next golden utterance.  Time can limit how much time reporters, commentators, correspondents and anchors have to follow up on such dreck, but they need to as often as they can so the public knows the single-minded message isn’t floating free.

Written by Interviewer

January 13, 2015 at 00:00