Check it, Peons: Your CNN Humiliation Compartmentalized

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Being a floor director was a VJ task that offered plenty of insight into broadcast news. Floor directing consisted of wearing huge-70's style headsets (that often smelled funky because so many people used them and they rarely got wiped down) and waving a folded up piece of paper (or magazine or grocery coupon booklet) in front of the appropriate camera to signal the anchor to begin reading the TelePrompter.

The job naturally put in you in close proximity to the anchors, but wearing a headset also kept you keyed into the control room, thus enabling you to take direction. This also meant you were privy to all the nasty and sometimes hilarious commentary that went on in there. You'd hear producers screaming, crude jokes from directors, and withering assessments of anchors outfits from everybody.

The most unusual tirade I ever heard was from a director undergoing gender-reassignment. She became enraged when some idiot referred to her as "he." She started shrieking, "I'm a woman! Don't you get it? I'm a woman!" Supposedly, she ripped off her bra and flung it around the control room to prove the point.

The show, however, went off without a hitch. What she lacked in undergarment decorum she made up for in excellent director skills.

As for the anchors, some were very kind, like Bill Hemmer, who always knew your name and asked questions about your life. Others pretended you weren't there, until they made a mistake and then suddenly everything was your fault. Others made the same stupid jokes repeatedly, asking with a wink for the "personal vanity plate" when they wanted the mirror. One southern anchor would speak with no discernable accent on air, but off air whenever a cute sports anchor would join her on the set she'd turn on the honeysuckle drawl and purr stomach-churning things like,

"Oh BAY-RAY, if AAAH weren't MAAAH-ried, AAAAH'D be all OVAH you like a bulldog on a biscuit."

Other anchors were so legendarily bitchy that VJ's would have panic attacks when their schedules changed and they'd have to work with them. Deals would be cut, bribes taken. One director I knew told a tale of the old days at CNN, when smoking was still allowed on the set. He claimed that one anchor would throw his lit cigarette butts at VJs just for his personal amusement.

One thing I noticed as a floor director was how often putting a camera in front of a person's face suddenly made them feel REALLY important. Even if they worked the graveyard shift and the PR department didn't even deem them worthy of publicity photos. That camera was instant validation.

The anchor in this photo, whose identity I have spared with a pumpkin, was never a name-brand anchor. No one really knew who she was, even people who worked at CNN. When a friend of mine took this photo, I thought for sure this anchor was in on the joke, and knew that we were just having fun. But afterwards she turned and said without a hint of irony, "Your mother will be so proud to see you in a photo with me."

Little did she know that my mother actually said nothing about her and merely commented on what an ugly outfit I was wearing.

I worked with this same anchor for quite a while, as did the friend who took this photo. He got closer to her than I did. Literally. In what must have been a thoroughly uncomfortable half an hour, he was forced, due to technical issues, to spend an entire show under the set desk, squatting between her legs and holding a microphone.

I did get a close up of her naked ambition though. A few weeks later she was on the set, and we were in a commercial break. She started clacking away madly on her computer. I could see she was excited about something.
Soon the clacking stopped.
She sighed, turned to me and said with a serious face,
"It's not that I want Mother Theresa to die. It's just that if she does, I want her to die on my shift."


Prompter Queen said...

It's a crying shame that "talent," -- those who think they have been blessed, or deemed worthy of such a title by executives and agents who confuse actual on-air savvy and intelligence with the reward of sub par head -- should actually be considered Oscar contenders and not because of their ability to read a TelePrompter, but because of the actions that take place during commercial breaks.

I've listed an example below, but because I have to leave to work an overnight shift now, please continue this thread.

-- Lou Waters; "Where is my Vavoom (hairspray); I need my Vavoom! Can somebody please bring my Vavoom! Why isn't it under the anchor desk?" (which, God forbid the paper should rest)"And, where is the mirror, where is the mirror?" VJ now runs frantically across wires of cable and Rocky's robotics to provide Lou with his smack. As an update, I hear that he is a blissfully happy local evening news anchor at a station in Phoenix. As a personal side-bar, the local hair salon supplies him with an endless supply of Aqua Net. The 'beauty' of being a local news celebrity. Here's my vote for a local Emmy for 'Best Dramatic Performance During A Breaking News Situation!'

LlazarusLlong said...

I just LOVE that Frank/Gloria get's a mention in the above post!

Too often the Directors are left out of the mocking fun.

Unless I'm mistaken about your identity, Prompter Queen. Aren't you the "F#(%ing Epileptic" thet Screaming Steve warned us about on Camera 2?

J said...

Lou and his hairspray. A love affair not to be messed with. My most favorite Lou memory - drinking an Amstel Light with him at his house, by the pool, while he was in bermuda shorts and I was in my new Target bikini and a towel.

Just me and Lou. Lou and me. The Anchor and the VJ.

It was, by far, the most uncomfortable 15 minutes of my life. Idle chit-chat. Glances away from each other. Me constantly checking to make sure I am not showing too much boob.

If I hadn't felt like a total peon while floor directing during his horrific show with Bobby Batista, I felt about 5 years old right then..sitting with that Grandpa that you're afraid of. The mean, strict, pompous Grandpa that made you call him Grandfather and acted like you annoyed the hell out of him.

At least his hair stayed put.


vjhorner said...

I'm the F-ing Epileptic!!!

Screaming Steve and the "Are you epileptic?" was said to ME...It was an early morning down at internat and I'm sure Steve-O was sauced as usual. It was a sports show and steve asked me to move the camera to the left but for me to do that I had to move the camera right to get the big wire out from under to camera in order to move left. Well Steve flipped out and henceforth the epilepsy question.

What was funny about it was everyone who heard it was soooooo offended and we had numerous rehashing sessions to get down to the bottom of became a big issue...someone who was there had an epileptic family member and they were very upset about it!!!! Steve got reprimanded, but what the hell does that mean

Julie The Epileptic