Monday, June 28, 2010
In the 1990s, talk shows dominated a majority of the television stations during the afternoon. Dramatically trashy stories about messy divorces, cheating spouses, squaters, hookers, DNA testing for promiscuous moms and dads were much more popular than they are today. Today the court shows seem to have taken their place, combining relationship and family drama with a courtroom backdrop.
In my senior year of college, I decided that I wanted to become a talk show host. My major was Communications with a concentration in Public Relations, however in order to graduate I needed to spend 125 hours interning. I secured a television internship with Geraldo at CBS Broadcast Plaza in the Columbus Circle section of Manhattan. The focus that season was the O.J. Simpson trial and murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. It was such an awful story. I felt horrible escorting family members to the green room and offering them Snapples and gourmet sandwiches.
Yes, it was exciting. No, I never really did anything with it. Looking back now, I should have kept my public relations focus. I do recall sending dozens of letters to the big PR agencies in New York City; none of them replied. I wasn't the right fit for television production at that time. Everyone had these obnoxious attitudes and fake tans. They sucked down a steady diet of nothing but Diet Cokes and cigarettes.
Producers would ask us broke-ass interns to pick up scripts and items they left at home, clean out the fridge and buy $6 cartons of milk at the CBS deli. Our weekly compensation was a $5 metro card which didn't cover a roundtrip subway ride to the studio. Ricki Lake paid for her interns entire commute. I opted for Geraldo thinking CBS was better than UPN-9. I also thought that Ricki was a newer celebrity whereas the legendary Geraldo Rivera had been in the biz for 20 years by that point.
During a visit to my mom's house, I discovered my old internship journal and wow was it an interesting read. Detailed entries about each day and the variety of tasks involved and people I encountered. I completely forgot it all. One of my favorite, yet simplistic tasks was going through viewer mail -- I enjoyed this while at Tiger Beat, SuperTeen and Metal Edge magazine as well.
My journal revealed my reaction to letters written to Geraldo. I remembered a letter from a woman who had burned her scalp with hair dye and the disgusting photos of her follicle frustrations. Letters from viewers begging Geraldo to find Jesus or God. Some letters included cheap, odd little trinkets. I would separate out letters that asked for help finding lost relatives or loves -- those viewers received a form letter from a sponsor that paid the show to advertise their "Find Lost Love" search service.
One letter I included in my journal was from a woman in DC. Her son was shot to death while working at a Washington, DC McDonald's. The letter brought me to tears. His mom said, "I said goodbye to my baby for the last time this morning. He never came home." I yanked that letter and put it in the "Story Idea" pile. I'm not sure whatever happened to it, but I wished I could personally visit the mom in DC and give her a big hug and tell her it would be okay. She described that he was a good boy, -- never in trouble. He was in vocational school and only worked at McDonald's for ten hours a week to earn money for their family.
I realized that day I was too emotional to pursue a true journalism or television. Who knows? Maybe this would have been an asset. We've all seen Barbara Walters and Oprah cry. That would definitely be me had I been given the chance to host my own show. Oh, and that mother from DC? She would be the first guest I'd book. I'd put her up in only the finest of hotels, have dinner with her and offer to set up a scholarship in her son's name.
Popular Geraldo episode featuring club kids.