Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday in the Perk with MSNBC

NBC, Third Floor
Originally uploaded by John C Abell

Apparently all is forgiven at MSNBC even though I won't soon be forgetting my embarrasing faux pas with Contessa Brewer.

I got a call Saturday afternoon from a producer for an 8:30 a.m. Sunday hit. The call went straight to voicemail. So did the followup call from the publicist, on vacation in Florida. I was not playing hard to get. I was in a matinee performance of "Equus" with the family on my daughter's (day after) birthday.

When I finally powered up my mobile they were still interested in having me on and, since I have become increasingly enamored of the sound of my own voice (and maybe enjoy the application of professional makeup just a little bit too much, though not to a Sarah Palin degree) I was glad this opportunity had not passed me by as I tried to process Harry Potter as a sexually confused teen.

I gratefully accepted the car both ways and, since we had just been in town all day and my daughter had lready spent nearly every last cent to her name at Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and H&M, the family would not be coming with me this time. It was going to be a quick round trip: out of the house at 7:15 and back three hours later.

When an MSNBC booking producer asks if you are available for an interview they put it in the most genteel way: "We were hoping you could join us ..." is the phrase. That, the limo, the lovely hair & makeup people (always very conversational and informed on my topics; why they just don't book the sylists is beyond me) conspire to make even the lowliest of talking heads such as myself feel a little, well, important.

And since my arc at MSNBC is having a definite upward trajectory I admit I am becoming a bit adicted to the commentary dodge: My first appearances on MSNBC were from a secure but undisclosed location in Washington where I had a disembodied interaction with the anchor in New York. Pros know how to do this so that the viewing public is uaware of the slight audio delays which convey either what seem like awkward pauses or a strangely aggressive cross-conversation.

My second appearance was in the New York studio, not on the stage itself but off to the side at a pedestal table where you also face a lens and talk to it as if that were the most natural thing there was. At the MSNBC studio the so-called flash cam is at the anchor's 5 o'clock and about 20 feet away, so the interviewee has an excellent view to the left of the back of the anchor's head, and she does not have to look at you at all.

This time, though, I got "face to face" -- at the desk, actually speaking to the anchor, at her 11 o'clock and only three feet away. Alas, it was Ms. Brewer's (extremely well deserved, I must say) morning off so I could not attempt to make further amends, but I was delighted to chat with Alex Witt.

At first, however, I convinced myself that my boorish reputation has preceded me. When I was ushered on to the set during a taped segment Ms. Witt did not look even in my general direction. Uh-oh, I told myself: Contessa told her not to bother about niceties with that one. I waited patiently through the piece and then a live interview which preceded mine in which an AU professor (in that secure and undisclosed location) explained why these hard times were like and unlike those FDR faced.

Then, with no warning, I was up: Ms. Witt and I bantered amiably about iPods and the recession. I think I elicited a genuine chuckle when I made some remark that possibly reduced sales figures would nevertheless not be a sign of the Apocalypse. As we spoke I imagined that her friendly demeanor was for the audience's benefit and not mine, my penchant for poor social graces now being legendary in the halls of Rockefeller Center.

After the segment, though, Ms. Witt smiled broadly and reached across the desk to shake hands, and she even apologized for not welcoming me when I first sat down. I didn't miss a beat this time. "Not at all!" I said, in my best imitation of courtly manners. "It was a pleasure to meet you!"

Yes, I am enjoying my upward mobility, I must confess. Maybe next time I get a weekday hit to which I can actually walk from my office -- not that I am complaining, lovely people of MSNBC. And please do send my regards to Ms. Brewer.

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