Monday, June 4, 2012

Shake, Rattle, and Let's Roll (Or How I Made It Through My First TV Interview)

Thursday, May 31st, 2012 was a day unlike any other. After years of writing in quiet obscurity, I was invited into the light of WGN TV for an interview on their Midday News program. Needless to say, I was excited, but beyond that, I was terrified. The interview was going to be broadcast LIVE. No rehearsals, no video editing, no second chance to take back the bloopers. I would say what I would say, and the whole world--well at least the areas of the US that picked up the WGN superstation--would see me for what I was. A trembling, nervous wreck.

The day started out on a sour note. After a week of sunny, warm weather, Chicago had suddenly turned rainy and cold. The outfit I'd scoured the stores for, bought coordinating jewelry and sandals for, would not work. I'd look like a fool in a summery dress and beige sandals with big, flouncy flowers. So with a sigh, I left outfit A in the closet and slipped into Plan B--a dress with a sweater and closed-toe heels with pantyhose. But at least, the jewelry was coordinating.

After a forty-five minute drive into the city, my entourage and I arrived at the WGN studios. (Really, I was accompanied by my sister-in-law, Barb Manseau, and my aunt, Phyllis DeCicco, but they were as good as any entourage out there. I'd bet my bottom dollar on that!) Barb had graciously offered to drive and I was so glad she did. If I'd been behind the wheel, we probably wouldn't have made it on time. Or alive. But we were safe and sound and ringing the buzzer for our grand entrance. The security guard asked me who I was here to see, and I stammered. Who was I here to see? What were the names of those news anchors? What was the name of the program? I stared at him with wild, frantic eyes, trying to remember my name. He calmly checked his clipboard and said, "You must be the Eastland author?"

Yes! I nearly screamed.The Eastland author. Thank you for reminding me. He chuckled and buzzed us into the lobby. "Green room's third door down on the right," he called and we started on our way down the yellow-brick road to the 'green room' where stars wait for their on-air cues!

We dropped our wet umbrellas and raincoats and purses and bags, and grabbed our cameras. We took turns posing in front of the blue-green door under the Green Room sign. My aunt snagged some guy in the hall and he took a picture of all three of us under the infamous sign. "Would you like a tour?" the nice man asked.

Of course we would! And off we went to the legendary Bozo the Clown's studio across the hall. Bozo's no longer on the air, but the nearly vacant studio elicited 'oohs' and 'awwws' from all three of us nonetheless. Cameras snapped, flashes popped. We circled the cavernous room, delirious with excitement when I spied Bozo's Buckets.

"Tom's favorite!" I cried, snapping a photo for my husband. We tore ourselves away from Bozo and the staffers trying to have a meeting in the corner and headed back to our room to wait and watch WGN's morning programs on the fuzzy, outdated TV mounted on the wall. The television may not have been a state-of-the-art flatscreen, but the coffeemaker was top of the line. We sorted through the Keurig cups while my aunt flagged down another guy in the hall to bring us some water for our empty coffeemaker. We rummaged through the empty fridge, disappointed there weren't any bottles of Perrier or Smart Water, and tried to relax.

Barb and my aunt relaxed, I sweated and fussed and coughed. It was 11:00 am and the Midday News had just started. In forty minutes, I would be on live TV and I couldn't catch my breath. My knees were quaking and I knew I might faint if I didn't calm down. TV thankfully provided some momentary respite for my over-wrought nerves. It was White Sox day at WGN and the building was abuzz with baseball players and giveaways and food catered by Cellular One Stadium. An all-black Smart Car emblazoned with the White Sox logo had been parked in the hallway. Up on the screen, the Sox's newly acquired relief pitcher was being interviewed by the two Midday News anchors--Dina Bair and Steve Sanders. Addison Devon Reed was young and vibrant and chatting happily away while I watched in fascination and admiration. Could I pull off something like that? I didn't know, but I'd find out in twenty-five minutes.

My aunt wrangled the young pitcher as he was leaving the building and he gave her an autograph and a big smile. A few minutes later, the producer appeared. "Which one of you is Marian?" she asked, glancing around at the three of us. I stepped forward. The pretty, twenty-something producer shook my sweaty hand. "I'll come get you at 11:30," she informed me. "You'll be on at 11:40, but we need a few minutes to set you up with a mike. Steve Sanders will do the interview. He read your book already."

"Great," I said. "So what kind of questions will he be asking?"

I held my breath, waiting for the answer when she said, "Oh, he has all kinds of questions."

"What kind? What specifically does he want to talk about?"

"You're the expert," the bubbly producer said. "Who knows your book better than you?" She patted my arm. "You'll be great. Just be sure to look only at Steve. Like you're having a personal chat with him. Ignore the teleprompters and cameras." She smiled, hugged her clipboard to her chest, and turned to leave. "Be ready at 11:30 when I return to escort you to the Studio 3."

She never came back. Instead, a gangly young man with a clipboard knocked on the opened door. "Ready?" he asked in a voice that seemed too small for such a tall person.

I stopped pacing and gulped. "Sure," I said in a voice that matched his. "Okay," I said to Barb and my aunt. "Wish me luck."

"Oh, they can come too," my willowy escort said. We scooped up all our belongings before he changed his mind and  followed him to the studio at the end of the long hall. "It's only my second day," he whispered to me. I stared at him for a frozen moment. Second day? I was being summoned by a kid with only one day's experience? What was going on here? Where was my bubbly producer? Did this kid even know the right way to go? Before I could have a complete meltdown, we walked through the doors marked with a huge number 3 and fell silent. Steve Sanders and Dina Bair were behind the anchor desk reading from teleprompters. A director was standing directly in front of them, pointing to one of three cameras. Red lights flicked on and off as cameramen took turns shooting the anchor desk from left, right, or center. A short guy in a white jersey hooked a mike to my sweater lapel and wrapped a wire around my waist and through my belt as a clip of a BBC news blooper played on the screen.

"We all make mistakes," Dina Bair said, laughing when the BBC story ended and the cameras returned to the anchor desk.

"Yep," Steve Sanders said with a chuckle. "We've all been there." And then his expression turned serious and the cover of my book appeared on the screen. "The author of a new book about the 1915 Eastland boat disaster is in the studio today." Or words to that effect and the screen went to commercials. Steve got up and walked a few feet to a tall round table. I was directed to the chair next to him. I hopped onto the stool, adjusted my skirt, and looked over at him. He smiled and my heart slowed. Steve asked me a few questions and told me what he wanted to talk about. I was thrilled with the direction this interview would take and grinned heartily. "Take a deep breath," he said as the camera turned on us. "You'll be fine."

I never took my eyes off of him. Later, Barb and my aunt told me they were standing only a few feet away, watching as one camera shot me, another camera was aimed at Steve, and the third camera caught the image of both of us at the table. I hadn't noticed a thing. I didn't see my entourage. Didn't see the cameras. Didn't notice the director pointing his finger at one cameraman or another. The only thing I remember when the interview ended was Steve saying, "I hope you sell a million copies."

I hope so too, Steve. Thank you very much for helping me through this! You're a scholar and a gentleman. You can check out the interview in its entirety on the sidebar. If you have any problems, you can always find the video on Just type my name in the search bar. And thanks for watching!   


Nic said...

Yes I saw it! and yes you're amazing! So proud of you.

Say 'Hi' and 'Well done' to the entourage, they did good! (You all look great btw.)

Heather said...

Well done Marian, great account of your big day on TV. You're a natural. Hi to Barbara and Phyllis, love from all here, Heather