Monday, June 28, 2010

The Geraldo Rivera Internship at CBS


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.

24 comments:

Cal's Canadian Cave of Coolness said...

How does one keep one's head from not exploding working for 'Tiger Beat, Geraldo, AND Metal Edge. It's amazing how totally interesting people are when you get to know them a little better. That is why I love the bloggers on my blog roll. There is always SOMETHING to make me laugh out loud.

Steve G. said...

I realized that day I was too emotional to pursue a true journalism or television. 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 talk 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.

The problem I've found is that stories like these are the rarities, and when you start digging, a lot of them unfortunately crumble. That's why it is hard for me to take the Dr. Phils and Oprahs and Tyras of the world seriously. In my experience, people tend to clean up their story a bit when re-telling it; regardless of the magnitude of a mistake, few want to admit they've made one.

Mamma has spoken said...

I always wondered what it would be like working on one of these shows. Thanks for answering the question as to what happens to all the viewers' letters. At least they are read by someone first before they are thrown away.

Joe Cap said...

wow, you certainly have had an exciting and interesting life for your young years.
I wonder how many OTHER celebrities you have made cry besides the Britster?

Copyboy said...

Jeez Ally, every time you get down on yourself you should look back at all you've accomplished. Obviously the past has proven you do have the talent to succeed in life as well as in writing. And I bet the comments will agree. BTW...is that Geraldo's real nose?

sara said...

Oh Geraldo. I remember staying up so late to watch him open Al Capone's vault...Al Capone's EMPTY vault.

liz said...

Because of all the things you'd do for her is exactly why you aren't a good fit for that type of career. You have too much soul and integrity. :)

buffalodick said...

I've always said, talking heads read what they say..their actual intelligence is an unknown!

TS Hendrik said...

Sorting out the letters sounds like an interesting job. I imagine aside from the sad ones you must have read several that cracked you up.

MoonDoggie said...

Wow - you've lead some life there Ally!
Hmm... what have I done with my life? ;)

MiMi said...

Dude! You are SO famous!
Also, did you ever wanna punch Geraldo? I do!

80sMom said...

I cannot think of something I would rather do for a job than read Geraldo letters!

Okay, reading Jerry Springer letters. I would rather do that.

Bossy Betty said...

So interesting! What an experience. I am thinking YOUR story would make a good novel, honey!

Nancy C said...

I'm totally hooked into your blog now. I can see posts on MetalEdge letters alone sucking me in.

Thanks for stopping by mine as well!

Kristie said...

Ally~ I believe you and I were cut from the same cloth so to speak. I graduated with a degree in Journalism and Corporate Communication. I interned at CBS as well although it was in Texas not New York. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeves and realized I could not cut it as a reporter. I mean everyday I was seeing or hearing about car crashes, fires, babies dying, murders,etc. I hated it and even if I got hired on, I wasn't going to get paid very much at all. You know that job doesn't pay shit. So, I decided to focus on my writing abilities and now I write books for tween/teen girls. We have a lot in common my friend! Come on over and enter to win my giveaway! :)

Babes Mami said...

Geraldo always freaked me out a bit. Too intense, could have been because I was younger. Now I just don't know what to think of him lol.

pika23 said...

A friend from high school interned at Rickey Lake and wound up as an associate producer there. His name was Walter.

Lady Hill said...

For some reason that I can't exactly remember my mother in law calls Geraldo my boyfriend. She is constantly sending me things in the mail "from" him... very strange.
Geraldo's sister was my husband's principal for a while. Geraldo actually came to visit for lunch one day and landed his helicopter on their field. Caused a huge issue and the woman lost her job lol

Also, I passed an award on to you today. Come by to pick it up.

fromlazytolady.blogspot.com

Joann Mannix said...

You definitely have too much of a heart for that business, Ally. I think there is something very special waiting out there, just a perfect fit for your sweet, engaging personality.

I love your stories of those days. And what WAS Geraldo like?

LaraAnn said...

I could never get into watching those type of talk shows. We did used to watch Regis and Kathie Lee in the 80s. You've done alot of interesting things in your life. I'm just a little jealous. I haven't accomplished much of anything.

Tracie said...

I remember that Club Kids episode! You have such interesting stories to tell. I just love your blog!

Betty (picture circa 1951) said...

At one time I really liked Geraldo. He was a young reporter for WABC and some guys were holding hostages in a sporting goods store in NYC. It was a botched robbery. There was a standoff between the bad guys and the police, but the hostages managed to escape. Without hostages the bad guys surrendered and Geraldo called them punks. I thought that was great. Then Geraldo moved on and his ego seemed to grow. He grew older and more obnoxious. Now if I see him I turn the channel.

So what was he like to employees and interns? Nice or obnoxious?

Sadako said...

I love that clip of the Club Kids on Geraldo!

Heather Taylor said...

Fascinating! I never watched Geraldo as a kid but I did watch Ricki Lake from time to time. That stinks about the lack of giving the interns any stipends, an unfortunate practice that still continues with so many internships.

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