Amy Bowers TV Talk

"Thanks For Listening"

I hate myself, I really do. I hate when I accept a bad assignment. I took a crummy assignment and now I'm stuck with it.

Here are things I feel fine about doing, while on assignment: I feel fine about driving on the sidewalk. I feel okay about saying: "THEY told me to park here," and then parking wherever I feel like it.

I don't mind knocking on someone's door, to ask whether they would like to talk. I phone and email newsmakers all the time, several times a week, sometimes several times a day. By the time they return my call, or see me on the street, they probably think they know me. I ask people for their email address, their cell phone numbers. I schmooze with them as they remove their wristwatch at the metal detector.

I pretend I play squash first thing every morning with the movers, and take a steam after that with the shakers, but no, that's not really "me."

I feel fine about saying: "Hi, I'm from ABC News, may I ask you a few questions." I can look someone in the eye and ask difficult things.

I tough it out in a media gang bang, and I've been known to follow attorneys through court buildings, dispatching their location by walkie-talkie to TV crews. I'm as aggressive as I have to be.

I'll phone a "Live Guest" with a wake-up call, and it's nice to bring them coffee at 4:50 a.m. when they arrive at the location.

I'm OK about removing my shoes and covering my head to enter somebody's place of worship. I know a CBS crew who refused to wash their feet before setting up for an interview with someone who was supposed to be a Holy Man. They left without the interview.

I'm not too crazy about putting make-up on anybody, but I can stand it, and I do it when I have to. I'll smooth a collar, fix someone's hair, and I enjoy straightening a necktie. People need to look good on TV, and not distract the viewer with some speck of something in the wrong place. I try to be professional about it.

I wire people up all the time with the wireless microphone. Most audio technicians clip the transmitter on the belt, and then string the microphone from the bottom of the shirt, up, with the help of the interview subject. This fishing technique doesn't work for me, so I start at the top, and drop the wire down, letting gravity do its thing.

I had to wire the Mother Superior at a convent this way, several times a day, for several days, on an assignment behind cloistered walls. Eventually, Mother Mary Frances would see me approach and say, "Wire me up!!" pointing her arms out from her sides, in a glorious outpouring of trust.

Microphone placement can be pleasant for certain guy-techs. At the Emmy Awards one year, a very smooth CBS sound tech was gleeful about placing a microphone on the strapless gown of Geena Davis. He slicked his hair, checked himself in the mirror, and swiveled up to Ms. Davis with the mic. I really think he tried to enjoy the experience, but his hands were shaking so much he had to give her the rig and ask her to place the mic...

Some things I would never do on assignment. I spent a few hours with the family of a missing child who was presumed abducted. Their kitchen was filled with food brought to their vigil by friends and neighbors. What kind of person would even think about eating those offerings? Not me. It would be like shooting video of relief workers at a disaster scene, and then eating their donuts.

Actually, I saw the New York Times reporter accept some food and water from the firefighters at a wildfire in Colorado. Maybe she didn't know there was a convenience store just up the road. Maybe she was really thirsty.

So, where would I draw the line?

For one thing, I would hate to be the person who asks someone who just became a celebrity, "Now that you've been kicked off the island, would you pose nude for our magazine?"

I'd have to think twice about working for Doctor Laura. As my brother once said, while working for a tobacco lobby, "If you're gonna sell out, sell out big!"

Presently, I have an assignment that really bothers me. It's a story about a toddler who was taken by Child Welfare from her parents' home because of her extreme overweight condition. I call the assignment "Fat Baby" but that's really mean. Others called it "Obese Toddler," as if that shows sensitivity. Now she's known as the "Overweight Toddler." I can't imagine how I would feel if my child were referred to by anything other than her name by people who've never met her.

At age three, the toddler was said to weigh 120 lbs. when her pediatrician asked the state to place her in protective custody.

I worry over why we cover this story. What is significant about the people involved in these events? Why should I work so hard to book them as Live Guests, or to arrange their interviews? How will our coverage benefit our viewers?

It's one thing to persist with most public figures, even those who became important overnight. But this assignment really bothers me. For some reason, it's a very competitive situation, and the stakes seem high. Several news agencies are jostling over a story that doesn't make much sense. What am I doing, and how could I do this differently, I ask myself when things go wrong. In this case, once I accepted the assignment, probably the only thing I could have done differently was to have been born a fish.

There is no doubt that people are intrigued with this child and her family, so I persist. I really do.

Amy Bowers

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