Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Famous For 15 Minutes

My 15 minutes are clearly up, but the residual fame does have a purpose. It gives my co-workers the chance tease me about being a "celebrity." It's all in good fun. But even though we're nearly four years removed both my wife and I are recognized fairly often when we're out.

We don't mind, as generally people are very nice and tell us they miss seeing us. After watching one such exchange, Aaron asked me, "When do you think that's gonna stop?" I think it'll be just "one of those things" indefinitely for a few reasons.

First, I'm Asian, which in the Bay Area or big cities is fairly common. But there just isn't a large Asian population around here. In fact, there are only a handful of Asian males who work in television on camera... in the country.

Second, I last worked at WEEK which is traditionally the dominant station in the market and actually in talking to people since leaving, I think it's probably even more watched than the ratings say. The viewers are loyal and I am sometimes suprised what stories of mine they remember.

I think the last part of the notoriety comes from an incident with Matt Hale. He/his group took our wedding announcement and made it into a flier calling for our deaths because we are an interracial couple. There was such an outpouring of support from people... calls, letters, e-mail and just people coming up to us to let us know how badly they felt. I saw a lot of good come from something very hateful.

I know there are some people who work in television who don't want to be recognized or don't like being "bothered" to which I think: what the heck do you expect? You work in television. You should have thought about this before you signed up.

Monday, November 29, 2004

TV News For Dummies - An Introduction

I still watch the news, but now I'm a viewer. A viewer with a decade of TV experience, but officially just a viewer. From time to time, I see and hear things that I find kind of annoying. But I also realize by the nature of the business, there are people in TV who don't want their work critiqued. It's an ego thing. But to be fair, you need to have an ego to put yourself on the line night in and night out. Still, some people feel like because something made it on the air means it must be good. That couldn't be further from the truth. I was far from perfect when I worked in TV, but I take pride in the fact that, I was constantly pushing myself: going through tape, picking it apart... sitting down with people back home and in other larger markets and having them give me feedback... and watching newscasts from as many other places as I had time for. I get the sense that some (not all) of the people I'm watching don't really even care to improve their delivery. So the "TV news for dummies posts" will be my "lessons learned"... with the hope being that current newsies will read those posts, recognize some of the things I'm addressing and work towards changing... that is if you agree with what has been written.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Corporate Television

I have read about bloggers getting in trouble when blogging about work. As I still work at my current company (and hope to do so for a long time) the first and last word on my time working in the television group is this:

It is a great group, made up of talented people, most of whom worked at one or two of the local stations at one time or another. Like me, they were looking for new challenges, better equipment and better pay/benefits and they've found it. I've made some great friends and am still close to many in the group. I was lucky to be a part of it and I am thankful for the experience.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

WEEK

I remember my first live shot at WEEK. It was at Bradley and in my sightline were parked live trucks from 25 and 31. I was just praying I didn't tag out with "CBS 31 News."

Coming to 25 after having spent a couple years at 31 gave me an interesting perspective. WEEK is more conservative, but being the dominant number one station, I fully expected that. Having worked at a similar station in California, I saw first hand how you get credit for a lot of things, but you also get blamed for other stations coverage. When you're number one in television, it's more important that you don't offend your base audience.

There were lots of new things to learn here too. I was doing weather, something I had done just a couple of times out west. I was using a non-linear editing system for the first time. And I was working at a place that had more 75% of it's staff from the area or had worked at the station for 5 to 10 years or more. For a market this size, that's remarkable.

In the course of our work, Shannon and I were became the targets of Matt Hale and his World Church of the Creator. I think he felt threatening public figures was a good way to get attention and he did just that.

It was difficult for us at the time, but the response of support from viewers... by card and letters, e-mail and in person was so overwhelming. It made us feel like such a part of the community.

That fall, Josh Simon and I did a feature called "Pregnant for a Day." With the help of Methodist
Medical Center, I spent a day of work in an "empathy belly" to get a better understanding of how my wife got through a day of work. It was a terrific experience personally and professionally.

Shannon had our first child, a boy, in January of 2001. After two months of maternity leave, she decided that she wanted to stay home with him and didn't want to report any more, which was fine except that we were about to lose two-fifths of our income and added another mouth to feed.

It wasn't more than a week later when my friend, Aaron, a producer in the television group at my current company called. We worked together at WMBD and his boss wanted to talk to me about an opening in their department. It was actually to replace one of our bosses at WMBD who was moving to another position in the company.

Maybe there was divine intervention, but I ended up getting the job and it paid enough to make up the difference for Shannon to stay home. My last show was March 25, 2001. Pretty much no one was watching that night... rare for WEEK... because it was Oscar night. Heck, even my co-anchor Gina was home. She hosts an Oscar party every year.

A couple weeks later, while on vacation in California, I got a message from Jonathan Ahl. "Pregnant for a Day" had won best feature from the Illinois Associated Press. I'm not big on awards, but it was a great way to end one phase of a career and start another.

Friday, November 05, 2004

KSBW

The central coast of California may be one of the most beautiful places in the world. I was hired to be part of the new weekend anchor team at KSBW, the NBC affiliate there. This is the dominant station in the market, even more so than WEEK is in central Illinois.

The market is about the same size as Peoria, but the station had two live trucks and a sat truck, three bureaus and a VHF signal. The sports (Dennis) and weather (Jim) guys had been there forever, the main male anchor was incredibly engaging and I was arriving just after the anchor, Dina Ruiz, who married Clint Eastwood had left the station (although she continues to fill in from time to time).

This is my one funny Clint Eastwood story. Many of my co-workers had met him at some point or another... but I never got a chance. I had only been there a short time, when after a newscast, Dina called. My co-anchor Libby had read something that was wrong and she wanted to make sure we changed it for the late newscast. But she goes into it by saying "Clint and I were watching..." I thought to myself, "Wow... Clint Eastwood was watching... me." There's a switch. I still remember paying for one movie and sneaking over to see "Tightrope" when I was a kid.

This station pushed reporters much harder than any of the stations in Peoria and this was a good thing. Instead of one or two live shots a month, I was doing as many as nine or ten a week. It wasn't uncommon for a reporter to do a package and four or five other shorter stories in the course of a day in addition to fronting their main story live. I first arrived as the El Nino storms hit and it seemed to me this is what it would have been like to cover Noah.

That spring, after traveling back and forth and hourse on the phone, Shannon and I got engaged. As hard as it was for her to leave home, the move was a good one for her. She got work at KSBW, as a reporter and producer. Working at there was a great experience for us. It pushed you to think faster, juggle more and work harder and the sense of accomplishment was great. We learned so much about tv news and life from Dan Green and Erin Clark (including a lot about kids as we would sometimes babysit Erin's on our days off).

When Shannon's dad was diagnosed with cancer, it was hard being away. In the summer of 99, months before our wedding, he was to start chemotherapy. That summer, Shannon got a job at WEEK. We got married in the fall and in November, I was hired to anchor weekends.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

WMBD

It was kind of a culture shock moving from LA to Peoria. I'm from the midwest, but I was starting to get used to life by the ocean. First of all, it took me a month to realize I no longer needed "The Club." Plus, I moved back in the winter. Winter in LA... good. Winter here, just like home. For the first few weeks I wondered what the heck I was thinking.

I can remember my first day at WMBD like it was yesterday. Cliche. Back in my day... Anyway, they had me do a "sit in" as my first exposure to the audience, then sent me out to something in West Peoria. Some woman was in trouble and had a dozen or so dead animals in her house. You could smell it from the street. This was the first instance of "what was I thinking" that I can recall. But things got better, especially as I got to know the other 20 something transplants in the newsroom.

We had the best time. We were all a year or two out of school, not making much money, but learning the ropes together. I found what I did best was features. For some, features are throwaway stories they do just to fill time. For me, they were opportunities to tell fun, interesting stories. They gave me a chance to get to know people with less pressure. It was a chance to have fun with words and pictures and voice.

And others liked them too. My features were consistently picked up by the CBS Newspath (the network feed service that gathers stories from markets around the country). But not only that, they were being broadcast, in full, in much bigger markets (often, features from other places are cut down to save time). Aimee Nuzzo told me she was waiting for a live shot in San Diego when a story of mine popped up. A Newspath producer in Miami was excited to let me know she saw one running there.

But I wanted more anchoring. Eventually, I was named anchor of the sunday morning newscast and got to fill in on the noon and weekend shows. But my eventual goal was to anchor a morning show and do features in the market where I was going to settle down and that meant I needed more full time anchor experience.

During the summer of 1997, I got a call from a news director in the Salinas/Monterey, CA market. She said, "The opening I have right now is for a female" to which I responded, "I can't do that." She continued on, asking me if I was interested in a reporter position there, but I explained to her that I was already reporting at a good station, anchored one show a week and was looking for more experience behind the desk. She said she'd be in touch. I never thought I'd here from her again.

That fall, Shannon and I started dating. It was the best two months of my life. We had been friends and co-workers for four months prior, so the getting to know you period was much easier. I had been dating someone else all that time, so there was never any pressure.

Then, in November, the news director from Monterey called. And even though it was tough to leave Shannon behind, it was off to California, again.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Hollywood

So I moved to Hollywood. It was me, my good friend Dan from high school and for the summer, his sister Katy (Katy has since become an actress.)

I'm sure people who didn't know me well thought I was crazy. I had just given up the chance to start off as a reporter in a big market, my hometown no less, for a two month internship with the promise of nothing more (it actually worked out for the best as one of my best friends, Nikki, ended up with the job and she was a better reporter than me anyway). But here's what I figured. I had never lived anywhere but Milwaukee. If I didn't leave now, I probably never would.

Some guy in "Pretty Woman" ended the movie asking "what's your dream?" One of mine was to make millions of people happy. Kind of Kermit the Frog-esque, I know, but I wanted to tell stories that would entertain. For two years, I had paved the way for a move out there (just in case) by taking a workshop and spending significant time networking.

I met with as many alums of my high school and college that were in the business that would take the time. In sharing my dream over lunch with Peter Bonerz (remember Jerry the dentist from the old Bob Newhart show?), the key thing he expressed to me was you can make people happy anywhere. If you're going to come out here, you have to have a plan. Having the Academy internship made my start much easier. I had two months where I knew I was getting paid.

Dan had a tougher going of it intially working late night edit sessions taking care of clients at a post house. Eventually he got a job at Miramax and helped me get my foot in the door there. We worked on the company's highly successful 1995 Academy Awards campaign.

After eight months out west, I decided to see what my options were for getting back into news and getting back to the midwest. I loved telling stories and I loved the immediacy of the medium. Start your day with an idea, end it with a finished story. Anyway, I was home for Christmas and brought a tape to someone I had worked with previously at WISN. Margaret was now an assistant news director at WDJT. She liked the tape and suggested I look at stations in Madison and Green Bay, as all the people we knew had connections to stations there.

Then she mentioned that she got her first job in Peoria and refered me to Duane, the news director at the time at WMBD. I had plans to see a friend in Chicago the next day so I called the guy up and told him I'd like to "swing by." Like Peoria was a suburb or something. 4 hours later in a car with no radio, I arrived. He liked the tape, didn't have an opening, but said he'd hold on to it.

I was off to Chicago and a few days later, back to Los Angeles. A couple of weeks later, I was out with some friends in Santa Monica. Had a great time. I think I finally felt at home in Hollywood. When I got home that night, there was a message from Duane. He now had approval for a new reporter.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

WISN

Got an internship at WISN in Milwaukee the summer after my sophomore year in college. I would have left after that, but this girl I really liked was about to start an internship there, so when the EP asked me to stay around, I did. Never got the girl, but it turned out to be a turning point.

That fall, I got my first paid job in television. I ran the assignment desk on Saturday and Sunday nights and ran teleprompter for the newscasts.The following summer I was promoted to news photographer. That meant working every Thursday and Friday nights after class and nightshifts on weekends. I learned so much from the shooters there... a wonderfully talented bunch with each with a different, nasty sense of humor. They showed me the ropes of storytelling with pictures. Also enjoyed shooting sports from high school to pro. Didn't like all the stabbings and shootings I had to cover. Of course, being low on the poll in a big city meant that's a lot of what you did.

My senior year, I was set to take one of two paths... move to Hollywood and try to become a screenwriter or look for a small market reporting job. I was in the process of applying for a writing fellowship at a station in Boston, a sister station to the place I was working at. I asked my boss for a recommendation... he asked to take a look at my tape. A couple of days later, he offers me a job reporting in my home town. I'm going to guess that this was probably the absolute best opportunity offered to a senior in college (who wanted to work in TV news) anywhere in the country that spring... with no exaggeration. There would be some transition time where I'd shoot a couple of days and report three days, but the intent was to move me to the morning show so the morning reporter could go dayside.

I accepted the job with one condition: I had applied for an Academy of Television Arts and Sciences internship. About 1000 kids apply each year and they take 25 or so. It only lasted two months so I asked that I be able to go should I get the call. That spring, I got the call, but undestandably, my boss said he couldn't let me go. So I "loaded up the truck and I moved to Beverly." Actually it was a Miata and Westwood.

The Journey

This week, I'll share the short version of the journey. When I get the time, whenever that is, I'll share the long version (most of it has been in draft for the past couple months) and hopefully friends who've moved on or friends still at my former stations can chime in.