Sunday, November 16, 2008

Hits & Misses on MSNBC

Contessa Brewer on set, MSNBC
Originally uploaded by John C Abell

On Saturday I made two appearances on MSNBC, subject Barack Obama -- the tech president. I gratefully accepted the Town Car for the 30-mile trip and brought the fam to along for a day in the Big City, punctuated by my two brief appearances on the TV.

It was a quiet day in the studio: We had the green room to ourselves (though a page told us that Beyonce was in the building for her SNL gig later that day) and the halls were mostly empty, except for several tours ambling by perhaps disappointed there wasn't anyone famous in the green room.

I try to be casual about these things, the better to suppress the nerves. But this was only my second time around as a talking head and I may have come off as a wee bit too casual.

In makeup, a woman who clearly worked there and was going to be on the air sometime soon graciously walked over and introduced herself as I was about to be layered with foundation.
"Hi! I'm Contessa."
"Without makeup."
Me: "Oh! Yes! Hello!"
(and then -- wait for it -- the capper)
"The last time we did this I was in Washington!"
I feel compelled to reveal at this point that I watch MSNBC incessantly. I know MSNBC Anchor Contessa Brewer's work very well. So it was not hubris but nerves which prompted me to think she was not being gracious to a stranger but saying something akin to "Nice to see you again." Consummate professional she may be, but it did not dawn on me soon enough how unlikely it was she'd recall me from the three-minute hit I did last July. That and the fact that she didn't say, "Nice to see you again."

Ms. Brewer even tried, I think, to excuse my faux pas by casually saying, "Yes, the bare-faced Contessa," as she strode back to her chair. Then she began chatting amiably with Bertha Coombs of CNBC, who does know how to have a polite conversation and actually needs no introduction.

Things deteriorated a bit from there.

After being mic'd (it's like getting tagged for an EKG with your shirt on) and tested and re-tested by the control booth for sound, I missed my cue when the on-air the moment arrived because I couldn't hear a thing in my earpiece. I knew what was going on (too late) because I could see myself on split screen out of the corner of my eye. They cut to news and when it all got sorted out, my time was cut in half. Lucky viewing public.

Two hours later, on my second hit, more audio troubles. The sound check from the booth was, "Can you hear me Bertha?" -- Ms. Coombs was doing the hit before me, and she was already at the desk with Ms. Brewer. I had the wrong pod. Sound man fumbles around and sorts it out seemingly with seconds to spare. If only.

The California wildfires were getting much worse and coverage of the disaster was extended, as it should have been, so the very thought of talking happily about what a techno-geeky-web-social-network-savvy guy the president-elect is seemed ... out of place.

And -- oh yeah -- the G20 summit was in progress and at the exact moment I was supposed to go on President Bush decided to give an update -- cut to the prez live. By the time he was done I had been in the flashcam seat for about 30 minutes, straining not to move a muscle lest some kind of John Edwards moment be captured.

I did some doodling on post-it notes left on the table. I took out my iPhone and sent some Tweets. About two minutes before I actually did go on my daughter called me, and I had to tell her I it wasn't a good time to talk. Surreal.

No clips of either hit online yet. My money's on there won't be. But if Wired ever sends me back out to do media I'll be doing a lot this: "Hi there! I'm John Abell from Wired!" So, watch out pages and security people and candy stand guy.

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