Saturday, January 23, 2010

The White Hot Spotlight of Regional TV

(Natchitoches, LA) – Do you remember the movie “Broadcast News” (1987)? One of the most memorable scenes in it involves a character played by Albert Brooks. A credible, hard-working broadcast journalist, Brooks’ character gets an opportunity to anchor at the network level. While doing so, he breaks out in a nervous sweat.
I thought about that today as I hosted the “Toyota Intermission Report” between games of a men’s and women’s basketball double header on the Southland Conference Television Network. About five minutes into the show, I was sweating vigorously, if not profusely. It had little to do with nerves but rather was a function of the furious pace of setting up the show immediately following the first game and the proximity of the lights. Plus, it was warm in the arena and I was wearing a wool suit. I could have chosen something more light-weight like a blazer and slacks, but it’s January!
I had a half-hour to fill without script, but with plenty of scores, standings and interviews. It was the kind of television I really love: live, extemporaneous and on location. It’s been almost five years since I anchored from a studio with a TelePrompTer. I believe if the opportunity to do so should arise, it would be like falling off a log. I made one mistake today, tossing to a break before I was supposed to. That’s an issue and I know I tackled the production guys for a loss, but I hope we all recovered well.
Even though I don’t do this sort of thing for a living anymore, I still like to think I have enough intellectual dexterity to pull it off without embarrassing myself or the network. Deep experience certainly helps. I see young broadcasters who have such a dependency on their prompters, some of them really struggle when they’re asked to be live from a remote location.
On a personal level, I really enjoyed going to Northwestern State and doing this assignment. Many of the people there have been a part of my life for decades and it was a pleasure to see them again. It was comfortable to spend time with coaches and broadcasters I’ve known for so long. My wife went along and observed from a distance. She later said, “It really looked like they were happy to see you.” I hope she’s right.
I look forward to doing it again, assuming I’m asked. I feel fully confident that I’m up to the task. Really, no sweat!
Here's a peek behind the curtain: You get two guys who are not as young as they used to be. Shine television lights in their eyes. While they are live on the air, tell the host through the gizmo in his ear to refer to something on the monitor. Then watch with hilarity as the two old guys try in vain to actually read the information. Their faces might look something like this:

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Leftovers From the Road

Various obligations led me to the unusual circumstance of staying home this weekend. So, with nothing particularly exciting to report, there are fond recollections of a couple of recent trips. Squeezed into my frigid Yankee Holiday was a quick visit with one of my oldest friends. We met when we were fry-cooks together at McDonald's in the 1970's, and our friendship has endured despite time and distance. He lives in a DC suburb and we were able to squeeze in a quick burger lunch before my flight home. Longstanding friendships are interesting that way. You may go years without seeing one another, but when you do get together,things feel very comfortable. Our visit was too brief, but it was great to see him and the burger was tasty.
Later in the month, I found myself in Orlando, America's playground. While I did not set foot in a theme park, there was plenty of football-related fun. Me being me, though, food stories leap to mind.
Being from the country and all, I had never eaten at a Cuban restaurant, so when I saw one, I convinced the traveling companion to give it a try. We were not disappointed. I ordered a sampler dish that had three kinds of meats and several sides. There was rice involved, some kind of black beans and plantains! Plantains? I've seen them in the grocery store, but I don't recall ever eating any. I can't say that anymore. The dinner, accompanied by Mojitos, was outstanding.
The trip to central Florida was all about football, so certain details were overlooked when we were packing. For example, we made no provisions for New Year's Eve. After a long day of following around the LSU football team and providing coverage of their activities for TV viewers back in Louisiana, we were tired and hungry. Given the day, we had trouble finding anyone willing to accommodate us. The hotel restaurants were booked solid. We found our way to a great development called Pointe Orlando and wandered around looking for food. Time and again, we heard "Sorry, we're closed for a private party," or "all seatings are full." And the unspoken but obvious "You guys are way underdressed for tonight, boys."
Finally, a Maitre D' took pity on us and directed us to patio seating by the outdoor bar. It was fantastic. They had a bowl game on a big screen HD television, the bar was nearby and the waiter was attentive. And the food: outrageously good. Expensive, but worth every penny.
On the way home, I was asked what the high point of trip had been. I said, quite honestly, "For me, it was the first bite of that steak at the Capital Grille." Twice in 2009, I had the opportunity while traveling to eat at one of those places and both times the experience was through the roof. I may even choose my next trip by making sure they have a Capital Grille there. Next time, though, I have to make sure I take my wife along. It's just not the same without her.

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Feeling Very Civilized

We had people over, hosting an honest-to-goodness, by-God dinner party. This isn't something we do. We should do it. I mean, shouldn't we all? The people were perfectly nice. How could they not be? They're from the church. One couple even lives in our neighborhood, so we might have been able to pass it off as a block party.
This involved setting the table, cooking the meal and cleaning the house. There were table linens and good china and four couples sitting around the dining room table catting amiably. Maybe if we did have our friends over more often, we wouldn't have felt so much pressure.
The concept is honorable. It's called "dinners for eight," and the idea is to bring together in family homes couples of varying ages. It was our turn to host and I have to say my bride did herself proud. The house was scrubbed clean and filled with the aroma of home cooking. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience. We had perfect attendance, the food was good and everybody hung around a good, long time.
Yep, they hung around for a good, long time. I'm looking forward to seeing them again the next time we have dinner, WHICH WILL NOT BE DURING A DALLAS COWBOYS PLAYOFF GAME.
To be fair, this dinner has been long-planned and there was no legitimate way to foresee that the Cowboys would play on a Saturday during prime time. BUT THEY DID! And I missed the first half. The Cowboys hadn't won a playoff game since 1996, and they were playing their fiercest rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles.
But Dinners for Eight will not wait! There was no way we were postponing. We didn't even discuss it. I should mention that this whole concept was brought to the church leadership by my sweet mother-in-law, who popped in before dinner to check on her little project. This is the first year for DFE,and by all accounts it has been a swimming success. It's an all-volunteer enterprise and she had many couples sign up. In fact, she is making the rounds of her DFE's, taking group photos to help promote a possible expansion of the program in Year Two.
Speaking of success, the Cowboys took a 27-7 lead into halftime.
While they were exorcizing the demons of playoffs past, we were saying grace and swapping stories.
I only snuck out of the dining room once to take a peak at the game. Thank God for Tivo. I caught up during halftime and settled in for a tremendous second half as the Cowboys thrilled their fans with their first playoff win in thirteen years.
We'll have people over again. Soon, I hope. But probably not during football season.

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Quick Hitter from a Suddenly Silent Cowboys Stadium

What happens when the most highly touted television in the world suddenly stops working?
100,621 people fall disquietingly silent, like primitives experiencing their first solar eclipse. Breathing becomes shallow. Nostrils dilate. A murmur develops.
There's a black hole in the collective consciousness.
People begin text messaging about exit strategies if the power fails. Flashbulbs fire like New Year's Eve.
Then someone repairs the problem and everything returns to normal.
Oh, and the Cowboys beat the Eagles to claim the NFC Eastern Division title.
The place is loud again, just like it should be.

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Feeling Silver and Blue in Jonestown

(Arlington, TX) – In a 26-hour span, I spent more than 17 hours in a moving motor vehicle, but for me it was worth it.. On the way from Orlando to Arlington, I spent the night in my own bed and reacquainted myself with my lovely bride, who has been dutifully keeping the home fires burning. She had our daughter and the pets to keep her company, but somehow I get the feeling that didn’t help her much.
This is my first trip to Cowboys Stadium, and it certainly lives up to its billing. Like so many people have said, it’s difficult to force yourself to watch the game as it’s played on the field because of the spectacular giant high definition screen commanding your attention.
I made the trip with my friend Roy, who is my Cowboys connection. I’m grateful for the opportunity, as I am for my friend Tim, who lets me tag along to LSU games. It just turns out to be a kind of cruel coincidence that they invited me to games quite literally a half-continent apart. It says something about the nature of friendship and the intensity of football fandom that I was eager to avail myself of these opportunities.
It’s easy to be struck by the obvious contrast between the facilities I have visited in the last three days. Citrus Bowl Stadium, built in 1936, has been well maintained, with the unfortunate exception of the playing surface. Still, it is more than 70 years old and in places it shows. This place cost more than a billion dollars to build and is still brand spanking new.
For me, there is great emotional symmetry to being here. This game against the Philadelphia Eagles is the last regular season home game in the first season at the new stadium. I had an opportunity to say good-bye to the old facility a year ago, and I made it here just under the wire. There are people who have already experienced eight or nine games in this facility and they have grown accustomed to its modern wonders. Not me. I’m thrilled to be here.
The trip home should take about three and a half hours, which will seem like nothing more than a commute after the trip from Central Florida. I just hope I can stay awake long enough to make it.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

A Sloppy Loss

(Orlando)- The new year got off to a sloppy start for the LSU football team and its fans. Organizers of the Capitol One Bowl put a great face on the stadium and the field.
It was all for show. Thanks to overnight rains and a torrential thunderstorm that soaked central Florida until about a half-hour before kickoff, the playing surface was basically a bog. LSU lost to Penn State, 19-17. Remarkably, the Tigers have not won an outdoor post-season game since the 1997 Independence Bowl. They've won two national championships since then, but both games were played in the Louisiana Superdome. They also have a Sugar Bowl win over Illinois during that period, in the same venue.
The field conditions were so bad, more than one LSU player described the surface as "the worst field I've ever played on." The Tigers were clearly victims, robbed of the ability to use their superior speed, particularly going sideline to sideline.
In the big scheme of things, the outcome of the game and the factors that led to it are not that significant. There was no championship hanging in the balance. It was simply an interesting, competitive intersectional match-up.
I still enjoy watching a good football game, and this was will go down as one of my favorites. The conditions will be discussed for years to come, no doubt becoming part of LSU football lore. Joe Paterno was roaming the sidelines and I got to see him in person. I even got to ask him a question. It wasn't a particularly clever question, but I made eye contact with him and he responded. Just like the final score, the quality of the query will become insignificant in the quagmire of the day. I'm just glad I was here.

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The New Year is Here and Where am I?

(Orlando) - I welcomed a new year (and most people seem to believe a new decade) with a group of guys, all but one of us married and away from our wives. We were hanging around in a hotel lobby, where the staffers were handing out festive headwear.
Media people from around Louisiana have gathered here to chronicle the exploits of the LSU football team, but New Year's Eve is New Year's Eve, so why not enjoy a little revelry? Most of us know one another reasonably well, having spent time together around events like this one. The highlight of the evening was an impressive fireworks show offered by our hotel. Imagine a group of a dozen or so guys, ranging in age from mid-20's to 50 or so, hanging around a pool at midnight watching fireworks light up the night framed by palm trees. It was fun in a lonely kind of way.
There has been a lot of talk about owing our families a trip. Guilt: something else we all seem to share. Later today, there is a football game. In that setting, we will all know how to behave.

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