On a breaking story, half the team get on phones immediately and the rest go out and look. They call police and hospitals, they dial 411, or log on to a search engine. They get on a plane. They hit the ground running. They work a 60-hour week--a 10-hour day is a short day. There is tremendous daily pressure to find the right person. They are on the front line of morning television. They are the "bookers," a more accurate name than their formal titles of "segment producer" or "associate."
The first block of Good Morning America, The Today Show, and CBS This Morning rely heavily on live guests who are interviewed, via satellite, by the studio hosts. A good guest offers a compelling firsthand view of the story. One teenage girl who survived the church shooting in Fort Worth, Texas, kept viewers riveted while she gave her articulate and very moving account of the experience. I doubt that many people reached for the remote, or left to get a second pop-tart during that segment. The immediacy and sincerity of the live interview, along with the heightened state of its participants drives the first half hour of morning television.
An entry level job in the Booking Department can be a great place to learn. Formerly a lackluster unit, bookers were once considered the pond scum of network television. But now, with the ease of satellite uplinks, and the ratings pressure on the morning shows, their job has gained importance. Every show wants an interview with The Guy Who Was There, or The Expert Who Will Predict Something.
Morning show bookers develop their research skills, their people skills, and their news sense. The job is very competitive and the turnover is high--bookers last two or three years before moving on. Some are generalists, others specialize in political guests, authors, or celebrities. Some concentrate their efforts on finding victims of tragedy and persuading them to go on national television.
By the time a booker apologizes for disturbing someone, checks to see whether the Mrs. Jones from "411 directory assistance" is in fact the Mrs. Jones who just became the Widow Jones, explains that NBC/ABC/CBS would like to have them as a guest of Matt or Katie, Charlie or Diane, or the CBS hosts (who I suppose have names), the easy part is telling the guest their limo will arrive at 6:30, 5:30, or 4:30am, depending on their time zone, to transport them to the satellite truck. Or that the satellite truck will arrive at their home at 5, 4, 3 or 2am, to set up.
Morgan Zalkin, a booker who came to GMA with six years of production and research experience, and a degree in Modern Culture and Media from Brown University, told me that her reward comes when "people call and thank me for the way the whole show receives them." Then she excused herself to make calls, looking for a school bully willing to be a guest on the show.
Don't pick up that remote...the next guest
is coming up after the break, thanks to the persistence of a network booker.
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