Thursday, June 15, 2006

ET on ET: Behind the Scenes

If you're one of the many people who moved out of the city and didn't expect to see my mug again—um, well, sorry. Tonight or tomorrow night I'll be appearing on Entertainment Tonight Canada as a "tech trend expert," alongside Debbie Travis and her son Josh.

I never (make that rarely) try to get on the air, but it seems to happen anyway. And I always find it educational, because every show is different, depending on the format, the subject matter, and about 8,327 other factors.

In this case, I got the call (actually, e-mail) from the show's producer last Wednesday at around 4:30 p.m., asking if I could tape a segment with them the following day at 3:00. The story goes a little something like this: Debbie Travis's son Josh is graduating, so what tech gadgets should he take with him when he goes off to university?

(I'll confess that I had no idea who Debbie Travis was—I recognized the name as one of those things I hear floating around the pop-culture aether, but if you had asked me point-blank before Thursday at 3:30 what she did, I'd have looked at you blankly.)

So there I was at Best Buy on Thursday, with Debbie, Josh and ET reporter Natasha. Basically, we went around the store to five predetermined departments to talk about five predetermined gadgets. I was told beforehand what the gadgets were, and given guidelines as to the angle they were looking for, with plenty of wiggle room for what I wanted to say and how. The only gotcha: each device had to have some kind of connection to an A-list celebrity.

Everyone there was pretty much improvising on the spot. We'd go to the display area for a given device, I'd give a quick rundown as to what it was or did. Josh and/or Debbie would ask for an extra detail or two, and I'd try to find out what interested Josh about the device. Natasha or I would mention the celebrity hook, and we'd be rolling.

We were kinda lucky, in that it was easy to find something that Josh liked for everything. For instance, the XM Radio celebrity hook was supposed to be Oprah or Bob Dylan, both of whom have their own shows. Josh is a huge Dylan fan, so I could run with that. Sometimes, though, we'd sort of get into a corner. Natasha was really into Snoop Dogg's link to iRiver when we talked about the H10 jukebox, but Josh (and I) are big Red Hot Chili Peppers fans, so I wanted to make that connection instead. No luck, though—they led off with Snoop and we weren't able to get an opening.

The final broadcast will be about a minute and a half, and we anticipated spending an hour in the store. In reality, we spent almost an hour and a half there, what with shooting introductions, bits with just Debbie and Josh, and B-roll footage (that's footage of things like the store, people walking, or an aisle full of MP3 players—incidentals that establish place, and can be dropped in over the sound of someone talking either for transitions or to cover for a troublesome video clip).

The need for footage, the compressed schedule, the limited number of devices we could work with, and the limited technical knowledge of most of the people involved contributed to a few things that, as an editor and publisher—heck, as any kind of journalist—would give me a heart attack. While talking about the MacBook, they were only able to tape PowerBooks; while Josh was interested in the idea of commercial-free XM Radio with a Bob Dyaln-hosted show, it doesn't help him much as he's going to university in England; and as a Mac user, the iRiver H10 isn't of much use to him. Just another reminder of why you shouldn't believe everything you see on TV.

Overall, it was an interesting experience, and I can't deny that it was fun. But one aspect of the whole thing didn't sink in until later in the day, and it's left a bad taste in my mouth since. During the bit about the Sony PSP—a gadget I certainly don't mind talking about, and which Josh seemed to find interesting—the celebrity hook was Paris Hilton, who so far as I'm concerned is one of the most pointless people on the planet. (I knew about this beforehand, and voiced my opposition to the idea to the producer; to her credit, she said I could go with any other A-list celebrity I could find who had some kind of link to the PSP. Unfortunately, in the time that I had I couldn't find any who had the appropriate celebrity wattage.) So, somewhat awkwardly, I had to work her name into the bit. When I was relating this to my sister later on, I realized with horror that I had unwittingly contributed to the cult of celebrity that I detest down to my every last subatomic particle. At first I was hoping that the Paris Hilton bit would be edited out, but so far as I'm concerned the damage was done. I've officially become part of the problem.

Dammit.

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