Summertime: that magical season when co-workers go on leave and I’m forced to play well with others. This week it was the early morning shift that needed a body behind the lens, so before I knew it, I was setting my bedside alarm for 4 am. I’ve written about the early shift before. Like the Marines, your average morning show news crew does more before sunrise than most people get around to all week. Perhaps that’s because the modern viewer expects so very much from the early bird broadcast - from anchors who look like they should be married to the requisite wackiness from winking correspondents in the field. Requisite wackiness: that’s where I come in.
No, you won’t see me working the morning mic - not when there’s so many more telegenic staffers at El Ocho. Take our regular morning reporter Shannon Smith, for example. Here she’s pictured working the skins as part of our preview for the Drum Corps Associates Preview of Champions. Shannon and I go way back, having covered hurricanes, murders and more American Idol happenings than either of us want to talk about. A couple of years ago, Shannon set aside her hard news chops for the softer side of local TV. Now instead of frequenting crime scenes and the like, you’ll find her flashing her dimples on the a.m. remote - be it a cooking segment, scuba diving lessons or blistering drum solo. Through it all, Shannon remains fun to be around - even when she’s hammering out a backbeat a few inches from my lens at six in the morning.
On Friday, Shannon filled in on the anchor desk, creating gaping hole in our planned preview coverage of the Buckmasters Hunting Expo. Enter Jeff Varner - weekend anchor, former ‘Survivor’ contestant and possibly the one man who knows even less about hunting than yours truly. Still, that didn’t stop either of us from plunging headfirst into the Greensboro Coliseum’s Special Events Center, where alleged celebrity Jackie Bushman met our every broadcast need with a smile and an oversized cowboy hat. Soon we found something sufficiently goofy for Jeff to do on -air: demonstrate his lack of archery acumen for the entertainment of a region full of coffee-stirrers. To his credit, Jeff nailed the bulls eye several times over, withOUT the help of trick photography. I asked him if he’d honed his bow and arrow skills in the Outback, but he assured me that’s not the case.
In the end, my forced stint of pre-dawn television wasn’t so bad,. With pros like Jeff and Shannon riding point, how could it be? Still, morning live shots ain’t easy. For every three minute segment of light and fluffy news banter, there’s easily an hour spent pulling cable, rigging lights and emergency battery replacement. These are things the viewers never see (and shouldn’t have to). Perhaps those who read this though, will come away with a better appreciation for the hokey morning live shot crew. Maybe the next time they see their local newscaster, beat a drum, shoot an arrow or any other feat of labored incongruence, they’ll think of the guy or gal behind the lens. Possibly they’ll see the morning news from a new perspective: that of the camera-grunt who suffered greatly so his region could be amused by obsequious antics and throw-away chatter...Naaah, who am I kidding?
P.S.) Do you recognize the man in the middle? I didn’t either, but his many minions soon filled me in. He’s Jackie Bushman, former tennis pro, host of two TV shows and founder of the 360,000 member Buckmasters. If that means as little to you as it did to me, don’t feel bad. Jackie doesn’t mind. He’s too busy ruling over a kingdom of camouflage zombies and dedicated deer-killers. Hey, it’s not my idea of a good time either, but one look around the sweeping Buckmasters Hunting Expo and its painfully clear not everyone sees the world as I do. That’s cool. Besides, Jackie’s a nice enough guy - a self-styled marketing visionary who doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty to get his message on-screen. After shooting the breeze all morning , I came to think of him as just another dude in a cowboy hat and turtleneck. Then I stumbled across a grinning life-size cardboard cutout of the man himself. ‘Take a Picture with Jackie Bushman!’ the sign read. More than a little weirded out by the corrugated doppelganger looming over me, I backed away slowly, never taking my eyes off the eerily grinning figure.
Celebrity - it can be scary...