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."