7.19.2008

TV or not TV

In our "15 minutes of fame" world, most of us will get an opportunity, at some point in our lives, to be on television. I'm here to tell you: Given this opportunity, you should go sit in a dark closet until the urge passes.

We're such a TV-oriented society that the prospect of appearing on the small screen tends to make us, as a people, stupid. Look at the idiots jumping around in the background of any "live" news disaster, mouthing "Hi, Mom." Or, watch any episode of "Fear Factor," where people eat worms while skydiving through fire, just so they can be on TV.

Since one of my life goals is to stop being stupid in public, I made it well into middle age before appearing on TV as anything more than a face in a crowd. But I recently succumbed to the television infection.

What made me do it? I was trying to promote my books. In the current publishing climate, desperate authors will do anything to sell books, including eating worms while skydiving through fire. Or, in my case, appearing on a midday talk show in a market so small, there may have been more people in the studio, operating cameras, than were watching at home.

I confess I was nervous. I spent two decades as a newspaper reporter and, therefore, carry around many prejudices about the people who work in TV "news." Newspaper people tend to believe their TV competitors are shallow, egotistical poopheads.

But I discovered that TV people really are a sensitive lot who devote their lives to helping others. Kidding! While there may be TV people who fall into the "sensitive" category, the ones I encountered were -- surprise! -- shallow, egotistical poopheads.

Here's how they prepared me and the other guests on that day's program: They pinned microphones on us and had us count out loud.

That's it. No pep talks, no prepared questions, no deep breathing exercises. We didn't even get any make-up, so all the guests looked like pasty terminal patients next to the hosts, who'd been hosed in Liquid Tan.

When the cameras were not rolling, the TV professionals so thoroughly ignored us guests that I began to worry that I'd become invisible. Each time we returned from a commercial break, a new guest would be in the "hot seat" and the hosts would feign extreme interest in what the guest said, until they couldn't stand it anymore and had to interrupt with their own personal anecdotes, a la Regis Philbin. This usually took 2.7 seconds.

As I anxiously took the guest chair during a commercial, the young-enough-to-be-my-daughter director asked, "Are any of your books inspired by something that happened to you in real life?" Since my fiction tends to be about murder and bank robbery, I had to say, "No." She looked disappointed.

Three-two-one, we're live on TV. The smiling co-host introduces me and asks her first question: "Are any of your books inspired by something that happened to you in real life?"

Let's say I didn't respond well. Other questions followed, but I have no idea what they were or how I answered. I was too busy kicking myself for being on TV in the first place.

(I do remember that the other co-host told a personal anecdote about how he once read a book. It wasn't one of mine.)

As soon as the talk show was over, I kicked myself all the way home and hid in a dark closet until the humiliation passed. I swore to never be on television again.

Why? Because I looked stupid in public. Because it embarrassed me. Because I'm certain it didn't help me sell any books.

Worst of all, because I forgot to say, "Hi, Mom."

2 comments:

Selma said...

wonderful story!!!! I am just happy I didn't have to watch the torture!!Why don't you try to get on Charlie Rose--THEN you can wave "HI MOM"!

celeste white said...

Hey, anyone with an iota of intelligence would be able to watch that program and tell who the stupid one was. And it wouldn't be you.