by Shelbi Voss
I’m a planner.
I think ahead as much as possible, try to have my ducks in a row, and communicate as clearly as I can. But this past Friday proved to me that planning ahead doesn’t always leave you with a clean, satisfactory ending.
On October 2 I had my first episode as a producer for Good Morning Illini. The weeks leading up to it were nerve-racking, as I had not produced TV news since Spring 2019. I took notes each week to try to prepare myself for any last minute things that I could get done early, had a number of back-up plans incase stories fell through and kept my eye out for any small detail that I may have missed.
The content producers had done an amazing job seeking out the best ways to complete their stories and asked questions throughout the week in order to build their skills, and I was incredibly excited for their work to debut on the show. The flow from story to story was smooth and this episode would be an opportunity to continue developing unique ways to have live segments on the show.
Thursday night everything was together. Fellow producer Jose Zepeda and I expected to walk in Friday and have a smooth-running morning, but despite the work put in, it did not turn out that way.
Every video was loaded in an hour and a half before live, every script was quadruple checked the night before, and almost every graphic was finished before the crew walked through the door. But once 9 a.m. hit things started to feel chaotic as a result of miscommunication.
In the edit lab I thought things were up and running and positions were set as soon as I heard people enter the building. But late into the morning I got word that the bustling I heard was not preparation or practice, but confusion from people not knowing where they were expected to be. The rush of getting everyone set and speed through rehearsal before going live felt like an explosion of chaos, and I’ll admit, I began to panic. But I trusted the crew members and had faith in their ability to pull the show together and I knew anchors Taylor Howard and Jose Zepeda would stay calm, cool and collected on camera.
But then the battery for the live shot died.
Luckily the crew was close and could come into the studio and I was able to quickly get Sammi St. Leger set and make changes to the script.
Then certain graphics were not working.
And we pulled together and figured out the problems.
Finally, 10 o’clock sneaks up on us and we go live, but I’m still holding my breath, praying that no other surprises come along.
We make it through the open, meteorologist Anna Dennis’ weather tease is smooth and we’re heading into the live Zoom interview.
And the audio does not work.
I’m so grateful to Taylor for improvising until the segment got killed and Sammi for communicating everything to her so clearly. The anchors and our control room crew were able to gracefully move through and make a number of changes on the spot in order to keep up with trying to get the Zoom interview to work.
Eventually we got the interview done over the phone, and Taylor’s line, “at first you don’t succeed try, try again” was the first time I felt the fear leave my face. I recognized that if we had to go through this crazy morning, this was a great group to go through it with. They remained positive and focused and never gave up on the idea of simply making it to 10:30. Without them, the show would have crashed and burned and I owe them a big one for pulling it out.
Even though we had a number of curveballs thrown at us, we made it through. The content was spectacular, the interview eventually went smoothly, and most importantly I think we all learned something from the morning. Whether it was getting a better grasp on a new place in the control room, thinking on our feet to make everything still debut on the show, and specifically, learning just how crazy TV can be.
I wanted to take a full day to reflect on the episode before writing a reflection. I tend to be hard on myself, and I was disappointed and felt as though I did not complete my duties as a producer. But today after the initial shock has finally worn off, I see this as an opportunity to grow, not just as a producer, but in everyday life. I can create as many checklists as I want, think ahead as far as possible, but in the end it is the current moment that counts.
When something goes wrong in theatre you can always expect to see someone shrug and say “it’s live theatre, stuff happens.” Everyone takes a breath, maybe has a laugh, and continues to tell the story. I think those ideas are easily applicable to live TV as well, especially TV news. Things are often changing, stories break at 12 a.m. (such as the president testing positive for Coronavirus), and sometimes technology is not on your side. But coming together and being able to look your team in the eye and say “I trust you” is the only true preparation that will get you through anything live.
I’m more motivated now for my next two shows than I was for my first. I want to prove to myself and the rest of the Good Morning Illini team that I can lead them to success. But I know now that if my checklists and meticulous planning go awry, Friday morning can still be a success with the focus and hardworking crew beside me.