Other stories: I used to work in TV news, Part II
“This boy has no idea what he’s doing!”
There are few things I will take sitting down. Having a seasoned anchorwoman get pissed off and slightly berate me just so happens to be one of those things.
I was running out of time and was no closer to a solution than I was to winning a daytime Emmy.
It was middle of the Sunday morning newscast and I sat in the teleprompter chair. I slowly turned the nob on the controller, scrolling up, hoping that would fix the issue.
Come on, please work, I thought to myself. For the love of God, please work!!
Surprisingly, slowly turning the nob down wasn’t doing the trick, either. The anchorwoman’s eyes were fixed on Camera A, sternly explaining to the producer I wasn’t scrolling correctly.
A few feet away, the meteorologist was wrapping up her two-minute segment. For a minute and 50 seconds, I was caught in a Who’s on First back-and-forth with the anchorwoman about where I should be in the script. She asked me to scroll up, so I scrolled up. No, up! So, I scrolled up some more, then down, then up again, looking for any positive sign that I was at the correct spot.
We were 10 seconds away from returning to the news and I still had no idea what the hell she wanted me to do.
As a “broadcast trainee” for a TV news station in St. Louis, one of my responsibilities was to work the teleprompter, a task that scared me to death in my first days on the job. For weeks, I sat hunched over for three hours with my eyes less than three inches from the teleprompter’s screen. From 4 a.m. until 7 a.m., I slowly turned the nob and tried like hell not to make a single mistake.
One small mistake could derail the whole newscast, I thought. But I was an idiot who thought too highly of himself and the job he possessed. It’s like that time I thought a high ACT score was paramount for my future.
Then 10 years and two low ACT scores later, I realized the ACT is actually worthless. Classmates who scored higher on the ACT are either in the same boat as me or sharing Anti-Vaxx memes and selling plant supplements through Facebook.
But the truth was if I dropped dead in the teleprompter chair, the newscast wouldn’t skip a beat. The anchors would read from the scripts and the janitors would lift my fat ass out of the chair with a cattle harness before we hit the commercial break.
I know all of this now because of hindsight. But when I was in that chair, I felt like I was a part of the actual news team, like they would also introduce me in the TV promos as, Tim the teleprompter boy. Or include me on a billboard — the four-person news team standing back-to-back with one another in suits or dresses, and have me waving like a buffoon in the background wearing dad jeans and a Big Dog T-shirt.
I initially worked weekdays at the news station, but then I did a “solid” for a coworker by covering their weekend shift and I was stuck working weekends for the rest of my tenure. The lesson, of course, is don’t ever do anything for your coworkers.
I never got my revenge because I don’t think I ever worked on the same shift with them again. But to make sure someone paid for that coworker’s transgression, I microwaved steamed broccoli and tuna every day.
The weekends aren’t terrible because there’s not a whole lot going on. The only people in the newsroom would be me and the assignment editor. Aside from robbing my social life and ruining my sleep cycle, the weekend shift wasn’t all that bad.
My first weekend shift was the first and last time I worked with the anchor who scolded me, who we will refer to as Deb. Ol’ Deb was pleasant to me for most of our 3-hour relationship. We could have been great friends had it not been for one mix-up.
By this time, I was two months on the job and I handled the teleprompter like a pro. No issues. No mistakes. Nothing. And while I was taught everything about the teleprompter, no one taught me about teleprompter speak.
Scripts on a teleprompter roll like the end credits of a movie — from the bottom to the top. When someone says, “scoll up,” they mean scroll the script upward, which means you have to turn the nob down. When someone says, “scroll down,” you turn the nob up.
It’s pretty simple to understand when someone calmly explains it to you beforehand; not shout-whispers “go up” through gritted teeth during the weather forecast block of the newscast.
With her arm extended and her wrist at a 90-degree angle, Deb kept motioning upward and repeating “up,” which was just as helpful as her making balloon animals at the news desk. In hindsight, it’s obvious what she wanted. But when you’re cold-sweating in a panic, nothing makes sense.
“This boy has no idea what he’s doing,” she said to the producer through her mic.
In the last second, I figured it out. I scrolled up and got her on the right script block. Like a pro, she snapped herself into a camera-ready face and calmly read the next story. Viewers at home had no idea she was about to spit fire down my neck.
“I’m sorry I was harsh with you, Tim,” she said during the commercial break. “I just needed the the teleprompter on the right spot and you weren’t there.”
Yes, but thank God you mimed! Of course, that’s not what I said. I was two months on the job and as bold as a glass of water. What I really said was:
“It’s okay! I understand! I wasn’t there! Sorry, Deb!”
Deb and I parted ways after that God-awful newscast, perhaps for the better. I can’t really blame myself because it’s never my fault. No other news anchors scolded me since then despite many — and sometimes far worse — mistakes.
The moral of the story is it wasn’t my fault and Deb is a terrible mime.