Friday, September 14, 2007

Arrest This Man

Usually I'm not one for issuing fatwas, but this dude should have his teeth kicked in. That, or charged with attempted murder. Think I'm kidding? This ain't no Schmuck Alert. That would be far too tame for this little felon, who - when caught hawkin' knock-off handbags at the New Mexico State Fair - decided to go medevial with a KRQE tripod. That action was rash. Grabbing what looks like a pretty new Satchler, the fake-goods pusher hurled the three legged beast toward the camera(man) with a force that has to be seen to be believed. Now, I'm no criminal profiler, but that is a dangerous individual.

Luckily, his aim was off. The flying sticks only grazed the photographer, injuring him slightly in the leg. Other vendors reportedly jumped in and security booted the dude from the fairgrounds. Too bad they didn't stuff him in the back of a squad car. Anyone who denies that that blunt, top heavy bundle of metal couldn't have cleaved open someone's head has never wrested a pair of sticks up a spiral staircase. I have and I got the pinch marks to prove it. Hopefully the New Mexico State Police, who are investigating the counterfeit purses - will examine the tape that all convicts this fine young taxpayer of assault with a deadly weapon. Until then, tune in here for his consistent villification.

It's one more reason why ... I'd rather be invited.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Have Headphones, Will Gorge

Free Range PhotogI have been to hundreds of trade shows. Lint conventions, belt buckle summits, Insurance Agent orgies: as a serial purveyor of soft-core news, I've turned them all into winking, ninety-second tributes - no matter how dry the subject matter. Well, today ... I hit the motherlode: A food show. A FOOD SHOW! I rolled into the Greensboro Coliseum's Special Events Center expecting three vocational school chefs stirring gravy vapor. What I found was a culinary wonderland featuring booth after mouth-watering booth of glossy-eyed vendors, each ladling out endless samples of pallete=pleasing fare. Prime Rib, Jumbo Shrimp, Chocolate Mousse; it's amazing what's thrust your way when you've got a TV camera slung overpne sore shoulder. Hell, I might still be there had the lunkhead in the security jacket not blocked my access to the cocktail weenie wing. I only wish the web gurus at El Ocho has posted the story I shot between all that snacking, as I almost liked the way it turned out. Just remember - if the marquee outside your local convention center starts flashing 'Food Show', hop every curb you gotta and get inside. Sure beats that morning I spent trapped at the Angry Baptist Expo. Those cats are uptight...

Looking Up to Lagattuta

When I grow up, I wanna be Bill Lagattuta. The former CBS newsman has shed his network reporter’s monkey suit for a life of art, acrylics and acerbic honesty. No longer unfurling true life mysteries for 48 Hours, the career correspondent now spends his days painting, sculpting and avoiding Field TelePrompters of every model. Turns out, Lagattuta's a self-taught ceramic artist and avid italophile: his website, Dipshit Nation boasts many examples of his work - instinctual pieces that haven't a damn thing to do with making deadlines. It also features a giggly peek into his newsgathering scrapbook - clippings and pictures from years on the road accompanied by his own brutally honest commentary. I thought I liked him when he was fronting tales of incest and murder-for-hire .... after perusing his site, well - I may have a brand new hero!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In Memory of Mark Copeland

I never met Mark Copeland, but his reputation and steadicam preceded him. Pictured here at the outset of his career, Copeland discovered his knack for television at a Tennessee station in 1981. From there, he went nowhere but up, working at North Carolina powerhouse WRAL for years, winning Emmies and admirers alike before leaving in 1999 to focus on a bustling freelance career - one that took him to foreign countries and movie sets with increasing regularity. Today that career came to a tragic halt when the helicopter he was shooting video from crashed in the Gulf of Mexico near Sarasota, Florida. Mark was 44, at the top of his game and no doubt doing what he dug when it all went black. He will be missed and remembered and by all of us who a heft a lens in the Carolinas and beyond.

My Broadcast Alma Mater

Sure it may look like a dumpy little station, but WNCT-TV will always be my broadcast birthplace. It was here in 1990 that one Lori Scott took pity on a rookie car salesman who thought he might like to work in Tee-Vee. My wholesale lack of skills didn't seem to bother her, a fact which amazed me at first. Then I got my first paycheck and realized why. At minimum wage my newfound special purpose wasn't gonna buy me any summer homes - or a grocery cart full of food for that matter. What it would do is introduce me to a world I at once loved, grew to despise and to this very day, begrudgingly relish. It was as close to college as I would ever come, and like alot of grads facing middle age, I sometimes wish I could go back. That's impossible, however as the Channel 9 of today bears little resemblance to the chintzy CBS affiliate of yesteryear.

It may have been the dawn of the Nineties, but the equipment smacked of 1971. So did much of the staff. Jim Woods, John Spence, Slim Short and others had pioneered Eastern Carolina newscasting since before I could even spell T-V. To them I was another bleary-eyed studio tech with a budding mullet. To me they were the Mount Rushmore of Downeast television, worn-out ambassadors of a medium that had already peaked. Even then, I knew I was blessed to study at the foot of the Masters - even I did have to do it while operating the very finest in twenty year old technology. What I didn't know at the time is the act of committing television would never again feel so free, so important, so new. Very often it was damn hard to watch - but it was always, always a blast to make. Much like in high school, I never let sound judgement get in the way of a good time. It was a philosophy many in this two story brick temple eagerly embraced.

These days, WNCT is owned by Media General and the product they put on the air is a good bit slicker than the days of yore. But with the new administration came irrevocable change. Channel 9 belatedly joined the nineties and benefitted immensely from their new corporate owners. But gone was the aging talent pool, the antiquated gear, the freedom to eff up and still win the hearts and minds of rural viewers. I dare say it's a far better place these days, but I'm so very glad I got a chance to learn my craft at the Roy Park School of Broadcasting. Where else could a young shyster with an utter lack of pedigree be allowed to learn the business on the fly? Those folk put a TV camera in my hand and station car keys in my pocket l-o-n-g before I had any business possessing either. I'm certain they were just trying to fill a slot but in doing so they enriched my twenties beyond compare and helped give birth to this thing called 'lenslinger'. Frankly, I'm not sure whether to thank them or sue the pants off anyone who encouraged me down this path.

Earlier tonight, during my weekly phone call with a lady we'll call 'Madam Editor', she asked me if I had any interesting anecdotes from my time at Channel Nine. I'm still wiping coffee off my computer screen.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Motley Lot

Satellite DanI'm quite fond of people who don't take themselves too seriously. That can make it hard to work in television, where junior producers swagger with pride whenever the overnight tea leaves tell 'em they're number one. Or how about that consumer reporter from a few years back? The one who called himself 'Spike', claiming the numbers always jumped when he wandered on set. I really think he believed it - just like he believed that over-the-top on-air bellow rang true out there with 'the little people'. That dude was an utter buffoon - albeit one who out-earns me three times over. No bother. I'd much rather hang with my own beleaguered breed: The Photogs.

It's not that we're all the same. There's the scanner hound, the one whose list of police frequencies heavily outweighs his collection of female phone numbers. There's the film school drop-out; you know, the one setting up six C-Stands at the YMCA ribbon-cutting. Don't forget the sports goob, he's back in the lounge dispensing atomic wedgies to that guy who can't to name any Superbowl champs (OUCH!). And we cannot overlook the gadget geek, though it's easy since he's out in the live truck didmantling the latest in pre-heated GPS. There's even that one dude who thinks he's some kind of on-line Mark Twain. Go ahead, ask him about his very first assignment - but pack a lunch! He'll never shut-up.

Eddie Hughes, PlayaYeah, we're a pretty motley lot. Most fashion is beyond our grasp, we're not up on all the social graces and learning the phone system was never our thang. But doggone it, we Get Shit Done. We have to; when it's quarter to six and the mayor has just been caught with his tongue down some trollop's throat, there's simply no time for armchair analysis. No Sir, you gotta load up in a live truck, take every shortcut you know and get to City Hall before three of your crosstown doppelgangers do. Only then, can you scratch your chin-cabbage and ponder the wonder of it all - while your hair-do of the day cranks out hyperbole and froth with the right building over her shoulder.

Still, it ain't the skillset that has me so enamored. It's the attitude. Most TV News photogs possess a well-earned world-weariness that I find far more attractive than that briefcase full of glossy self-portraits. Yeah, the hot chick on yer TV can indeed tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye', but the guy or gal who got her there in the first place can tell you what it smelled like - and how that odor compared with the last six collisions he or she visited - without the hair tossing and cliche strings. So trust me, if you were looking to re-populate the Earth with hand-picked castaways or simply liven up your next backyard kegger, you'd do no better than ring up a bunch of photogs. Just make sure your gas grill ain't overly back-lit. We hate that.

Schmuck Alert: Andy Dick

Oh Andy, where did we go wrong? I used to like you, thinking you hilarious in a skeevy, D-List kind of way. Now however, it seems you’ve gone insane, hefting wretched expletives, trading spit in seedy nightclubs and running your career into the sewer. Most recently you committed that most cardinal sin: you attacked a photog for no real good reason. I can’t get behind that - even if the cameraman in question was just some trollop-stalker from TMZ. So, despite the pain it brings your Mother and me, I’m issuing a Class 3 Schmuck Alert for the entire California coast. Get thee to rehab Mr. Dick, pull your life out of the airport bathroom stall that is West Hollywood and find a way to be funny again - without being a schmuck. Schmuck.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Rot of the Juggernaut

Idol WannabesBy now, most everyone is over American Idol - including Simon Cowell. Strolling out of his limo at the various audition cities, the lumpy Brit now pushes past the ever-rolling Idol cameras with a accented grimace, late for a date with another pack of Kools. Seven seasons into the show that made him famous, he seems sick of the reality show role he helped pioneer. Either that or he’s genuinely pissed at the state of modern American songmanship. Quicker than ever to dismiss borderline talent, demand another smoke break or disparage Ryan Seacrest, he huffs and puffs through the protrcted audition process as if he's racked with constipation. Watching him roll his eyes at pop-star wannabes and producers alike, one gets the feeling he'd be a whole lot happier back in his English castle, mass-ironing his vast collection of undersized muscle shirts. I'd almost feel sorry for him, were he not pulling down such incredible bank. Overpaid or not though, Simon Cowell's infamous testiness is no act. He is, in truth, a douche bag. But you might be too if your job entailed weeks of dawdling in stateside convention centers, chewing on pencils and wishing for death as both the sincere and the psychotic go for their high note.
Thus begins my account of the American Idol Charleston auditions, a rambling report I can only dole out in pieces - lest I reveal any early season secrets that might throw the Earth off its axis.
The contestants still believe. Decked out in their micro-skirts/pink tuxedos/Goth robes/body paint, they fidget and pace under an American Idol placard, amping themselves up for the musical epiphany that's about to follow. Feet twitch, eyes dart , lyrics are recited. Amid this quiet clamor, a bored army of camera operators, soundmen, producers and assistants mill about, comparing wisecracks and favorite tattoos as the faint sound of a female(?) voice singing bleeds through the conventions center's retractable walls. By now, the faces behind the fanfare are familiar: the stylist with the designer swish, the short and swarthy cameraman with the dragon t-shirt and sculpted biceps, the harried production chick - the one clopping around in cowboy boots and clipboard. Wardrobe choices aside, they all wear earpieces which regularly causes them to jerk their heads in unison as they listen to an unseen Idol operative planted deeply in the celebrity judges chambers. "Heads Up!" Like a flock of birds taking off all at once, they swivel into place - pointing their lenses and attention to a well-lit wooden door. Suddenly it bursts open and the globe's most effeminate gang-banger bounds out, clutching a yellow piece with one hand and his crotch in one hand. "I'M GOING TO HOLLYWOOD!"
Despite the rhyming title, I'm certain the show will once again rule the national zeitgeist. Money, momentum and the mediocre hokum that passes for televised entertainment these days.
He rarely sits. Sure, he'll pause over that bank of monitors and put his headphones on - but only for a minute. When he does, a grin often breaks out across his perfectly manicured stubble, he'll laugh and nod at the verdicts playing out in the next room. Other times, you'll find him reading cheesy intro's off a field teleprompter as the four person crew from his gig at E! twist knobs and scrunch their L.A. brows. Mostly though, he can be spotted cavorting with anxious family members - hugging grandmas, high-fiving toddlers, interviewing any housepets that made the trip. All the while two camera crews cover his every move, rolling freely as he ad-libs segues and charms everyone in the room. Once, whiel interviewing a hopeful vocalist's hyperventilating mother, he reached out and demanded she spit out her gum. She did and he held the green glob in his hand as blathered on about her boy Paco's every hope and dream. Only when Paco exits with slumped shoulders and muttered curses does he hand the chewed-up gum to an assistant - at which time an LA based stylist swoops in and plucks at his spiky coifs. Rest in Peace, James Brown. Ryan Seacrest IS the hardest working man in show business. He's also a hell of a nice guy. His Southern-bred people skills almost make up for the placated jackholes behind Door Number Three.
I could go on, but I'll save it for the paperback edition. For now, just know that I volunteer for these Idol gigs for the constant reminder they provide that money, fame, even a hit single cannot purchase one's contentment. It can, however, buy you one hell of a pair of wrap-around shades...