On TV

On TV

imus.jpg: I try to be jaded about media but I have to say it was cool to spend another day at MSNBC covering Iraqi blogs on Sunday — so cool that I brought my son along for my afternoon session so he could watch TV being made.

I got there at 6a, knowing what Howard Stern feels like working his hours. They set me up at a new desk, which looks like a kitchen island in the galley of the Starship Enterprise. It has a computer and screen — only problem is, Will, who preceded me, had to turn away from the anchor and the camera to use the machine: a TV problem. So I wheedled to get my laptop hooked up so I could look at it, the anchor, and the camera at once and feed the image of my screen onto the air. Meanwhile, a floor director sat down at the anchor’s chair and I learned a new TV term: “belly mark.” She moved tape on the edge of the desk dictating where the anchor’s belly should be, assuring that she would be in the light and in the shot. They said the belly marks were already set up for the Imus crew. And it was then that I learned that this desk is intended for Imus when he comes to MSNBC’s studios in Jersey. Sure enough, I looked down at the dashboard and there were Imus buttons for him and Chuck and guests. I took a picture with my phone as proof. I was not stupid enough to leave a Bababooey note for the I-man; I want to come back to MSNBC. I didn’t go to HowardStern.com on the PC. I didn’t make any jokes about cowboy hats. I behaved. But it was tempting.

One of my favorite scenes is watching the analysts who stick around all day finish a segment, for that is when the sound guy comes over to turn off their wireless mikes to save on batteries. The guests turn their backs to the sound man, bend over just a bit, and flip up their jackets. It’s not a dignified pose. It’s these little moments that puncture the facade of big-time TV.

Later on, when my son and I were standing at the edge of the big studio, one of the nice sound guys explained to Jake: You think the anchors are really smart but you don’t see that they read the Teleprompter and people talk into their ear. It’s show biz. And then I get a speaker in my ear and bend over and hike up my jacket. I thought my son might be impressed I was on TV. Instead, he sees me assume the position of analyst submission.

In this space, I rant and rave about exploding TV and how low-priced competitors are coming. Still, I admit it’s impressive to watch TV sausage being made all day. Even at its greatest efficiency, it still takes a lot of work to put out a two- or three-minute segment: The booker books the guests. The producer figures out what the segment will try to convey; for my last segment of the day, on the Monica Crowley and Ron Reagan show, I worked with the prodcer to prepare pictures and video and words to put on the screen. The producer preps the anchor. The anchor interviews. Now ring the room with camera operators — three big cameras plus a boom camera (that’s how they get those high-altitude whooping shots) plus a SteadiCam — and floor directors and that sound guy and lots of folks in the control room: all to convey a few sentences of news to you and make it interesting. TV’s great to watch on either side of the camera.

This was the second time I did a segment with Ron/Mon and this time my counterpart was Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft. It was civilized TV. We had our says; we disagreed; but we didn’t shout. Yes, it is possible.

Before we were on, Ron/Mon interviewed Natan Sharansky because he wrote Bush’s favorite book (yes, he has one): The Case for Democracy. They’re talking with the smart man and suddenly Sharansky yelps, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!” and it looks as if he got a shock. Ron gets a puzzled look; it sounded as if Sharansky was reacting to something Ron had said but he hadn’t said anything yet. They couldn’t investigate because they lost the satellite. Then they get it back. They talk again. And again: “Oh, my God!” Ron now realizes this is what Sharansky says when he loses the satellite. But he recovers and asks Monica the quetion he was going to ask Sharansky and she recovers, too, and answers. This is TV. It’s all about staying in control. That’s the hardest lesson to learn.

Today, they called back asking whether I could dash in for another blog segment. I was too far away and suggested a couple of other bloggers but will admit that I wish I could have gone in. Sure, it’s show biz. And there’s an hour of hanging for two minutes on the air. But I’ll admit it: TV is fun.

: Just now I see that Howard Kurtz wrote about changes and improvements at MSNBC.

  • C Bassett

    Imus actually has a “cough” button? From watching him on MSNBC, I know he often turns his sound off so he can cough or clear his throat or whatever it is he’s always doing, but a label really seems unnecessary.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    C: That’s standard. Everybody has a “cough” button. Howard also has an “f” button.

  • C Bassett

    huh Well, now whenever I listen to anyone on the radio I’ll be wondering if they too have any special names for their little buttons. O’Reilly’s dirty talk button, Franken’s angry tirade button, Rush’s pill time button.

  • http://talkleft.com TalkLeft

    Jeff, I had fun doing the segment with you. It’s always better when the guests let each other finish their sentences and don’t turn the show into a scream-fest.
    One thing you can do to avoid the bend-over: Tell them to put the box on the side of your waistband, hooked onto your belt, instead of in the rear. And try the MSNBC commissary on the second floor…the food is actually quite good.

  • http://blogalization.nu/emigration Colin from Bklyn

    I always enjoy seeing you on TV, Jeff, and admire your work, but I have made it my personal mission to spoil your fun on the topic of the day. You can’t speak with authority on Iraqi blogs if you don’t follow independently produced content in Arabic. Iraq4Ever (ila-l-abad), for example, is a blog by someone linked to the Ba’ath party remnants. Bloodythirsty and snarky little SOB, too. Otherwise, you run the risk of only covering blogging “pra ingl

  • http://ari.typepad.com Steve Rhodes

    BBC’s Newsnight did a
    segment (direct real video link) on the reaction of Iraqi bloggers to the election.