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Op Ed: CNN International – Bob Lefsetz

From: Benjamin Bamsey
Subject: CNNi Thank You


I produce the 9p "CNN Newsroom L.A." show. Thank you for coming on the program last night. I've been reading your letters for years and always appreciate your commentary. Great fun getting the guest perspective in your behind-the-scenes CNN experience post. You may have left a couple of things out and mixed up the order of the Bush brothers on live TV… but you hit a grand slam with your knowledge and energy. You are a music savant. Please come back and see us again!

Click here to watch Bob on CNNi News

These are usually done by remote. As in you show up at a location, put a speaker in your ear and you stare into the distance as you talk to a faceless host somewhere thousands of miles away. That’s right, I live on the edge of the country, far away from the epicenter of the news business.

And the thing about news is…

They just need SOMEONE on. They want you, but if you don’t get back to them immediately, they find someone else. They put out an APB and whoever gets back to them first gets the prize. But at this late date, how important is being on TV anyway? Used to be it was a rare achievement, now seemingly everybody’s been on, and isn’t the web king, aren’t the old outlets in trouble?

So when I landed at LAX and saw the email I figured it was already too late, it had been sent an hour and a half before. Not that I could fully comprehend it, I’d awoken at 6 AM after going to bed at 12:30 AM after a full day of skiing and I hadn’t slept a wink on the van ride from Vail or the flight from Denver, and…I cannot remember the last time I awoke that early. Want to get ahold of me? I’m free after midnight, in the morning I’m unavailable, or as I tell everybody who wants to have a hit and run meeting, that’s what breakfast is for, NO! As in I NEVER go to breakfast, it wasn’t until my nutritionist insisted that I even ATE breakfast, I don’t remember my mother ever waking up and making it for me, I believed it was superfluous, except every once in a while my dad did come home with glazed donuts.

And when I didn’t hear back right away I figured they’d gotten someone else. Which was fine by me, since it was CNN Classroom, obviously some educational closed-circuit-type thingy. I wouldn’t have to say no, I’d been preempted.

Only that wasn’t the case. When I got into the car I heard back, could I come on at 9 PM? Now that’s speaking my language, however I didn’t think I could make it if I had to drive to a studio. But if it was Skype, and since this was a b.s. show, it must be, maybe…

But it turned out to be CNN NEWSROOM, live, in Los Angeles, at 6430 Sunset, and they’d send a car, was I in?

Well I guess I am!

Which meant I had to nap, which didn’t happen, probably because I’d scarfed two Dannon Coffee yogurts and trail mix just before and the caffeine buzz got to me. But eventually I showered and peeked out the door and the car was already there. They’d said 8:30, but it was 8:25, and I was paranoid I would not arrive on time, I was scheduled to be on at 9:30.

But I shouldn’t have worried. At this time of night, driving to Hollywood is a breeze, I was there in less than thirty minutes.

And I didn’t talk to the limo driver. I feel guilty about that. I feel it’s my job, payment for giving me a ride. But maybe he didn’t want to talk. But what I hate most is when they play their music, which is never the music you want to hear, loudly. And they turn it down reluctantly. And I could see the driver was tuned into the smooth jazz station, but it was inaudible to me, I just fooled with the A/C controls and tried to read my phone, I’d downloaded this week’s “New Yorker” in anticipation, broadcast is always hurry up and wait, they make you get there early and you go on late, but I was getting carsick so I just went along for the ride. And we slid up Cahuenga and I viewed a yoga class through the plate glass and we went by the police station where I’d been booked and then voila, we were at 6430.

But I couldn’t get in. The door was locked. I started searching for the contact info before I buzzed, but someone came to open the door and I employed the proper password, which was CNN. It’s hard to get into a building today.

And there are multiple locked doors. But I was on the list so they were treating me grandly, it’s good to be the king, well, at least for a few minutes. Like that limo… There’s no limit to the budget if they want you, but if they don’t…

And you have to ask for the wifi password. Because oftentimes inside signal is weak. But the code didn’t work and LTE was good so I b.s.’ed with the makeup person as I waited for my time.

Always accept the makeup. Learn from Richard Nixon. The host is made up, you want to look good too.

And then I was in the green room waiting to go on, watching the telecast on two big screens.


Well, the producer asked me what provider I had. She rattled off a few I don’t subscribe to, but then said if I paid enough on Time Warner… So I emailed Felice and told her to search and then went back to my phone, fielding e-mail from Bryan Adams, telling him I was about to be on CNN International in mere minutes to talk about his story.

And the Boss’s.

You see it’s big news.

That’s how you know when a story has traction, when the big boys want in on the action.

And the mic man wired me up. He wanted to give me an earpiece, but I wondered why, since we were live, since this wasn’t a remote. Because there might be a package. He’d check. There wasn’t. But there was…

So I’m stretched out on the couch talking with the political expert who’d just testified as to whether the public wanted an entertainer, whether Trump had a chance. This lawyer knew his stuff, I’m always eager to speak with people who are educated on the issues and have an opinion.

And then it was my time.

John Vause was the anchor. I’d done a bit of research, learned he was an Australian, but I don’t like to gather too much information, I find it inhibiting, and the thing about news is…they’re making new stories every minute, and if you think you’re important…than you must be the anchor him or herself, everybody else is just fodder.

Did he want long or short answers? Was it okay to interrupt him? Which camera should I look into?

Look at him, there were so many cameras they’d figure it out. As for my style…whatever worked for me.

Which is how I like it.

Meanwhile, Vause is studying the script. Well, not exactly the script, he’s doing his homework, reading the prepared material, I figure he’s boning up on who I am.

But he tells me he read what I wrote.

And I told him I didn’t want to discuss the subject, to hit me cold, otherwise all the sparks would end up off screen.

And then we were back.

And that’s when it became fascinating.

You see it’s breakfast time in Europe and the U.K. And John is updating the big stories. And he’s reading from the teleprompter and…he’s changing it ever so slightly, the mark of a pro, leaving off words, adding others here and there, making it more conversational. And the thing about TV, and radio, is… You’re talking and thinking at the same time, you’re speaking but your brain is preparing for the next segment and then…

The dreaded package came on. John Kasich talking about North Carolina and Mississippi. But I didn’t have an earpiece! I figured he was taking the conservative side, but he’s the most reasonable of the Republican candidates.

Well, I’ll just have to wing it.

Which is what I did.

Was this the beginning of a trend?

YES! Other musicians are gonna start agitating, pulling out. The youngsters have to learn from the oldsters. Today’s musicians are so busy chasing the dollar that they cannot see that their power is in their voice, and that they can never be as rich as the techies or financiers. My standard rap, you know it.

But then John started talking about Nashville and the Dixie Chicks and GLAAD.

I told him the Dixie Chicks were right. I said how now even Trump said George Bush the middle was wrong to go into Iraq. Ooh, BOO-BOO! I’m talking and I realize there are only two George Bushes, and actually George is older than Jeb, should I correct myself? I do, which is kind of a faux pas, but John had caught my mistake, he acknowledged my correction. That’s always the issue on live TV, do you correct yourself or keep going? Usually, the latter, especially if there’s no time.

And I only had four minutes. And I know…once you start feeling your oats, it’s over.

As for GLAAD… I told John that was a nonstarter, and my brain is going through its mental rolodex, who was that country singer who finally came out of the closet…CHELY WRIGHT! But I couldn’t remember her name during the broadcast, which pissed me off, I like to have all this stuff at my fingertips, bring my A game. Was I just too tired or just too old? I just laughed and said GLAAD would get no traction with their boycott, because it’s hard enough to come out of the closet in Nashville! But country acts might ultimately join the boycott.

And I’m trying to maintain my momentum, it’s like taking the SATs or the bar exam, you cannot get flustered by your mistakes, you’ve got to keep going, giving it as much as you can.

But then it was over.

It always ends too soon. It’s not that you want a do-over, it’s just that you want to stretch out and give it your all.

But Vause said to come back anytime. Which I figured he said to everybody, but the mic man said that wasn’t the case, that John actually gave me extra time, if you’re not good he cuts you off after two minutes. And most people aren’t good, because they don’t realize the first rule of television is…IT MUST BE ENTERTAINING! Content is secondary to delivery. And I was warming up, but I wasn’t completely comfortable, but…

I wanted to stay, I could feel the heat, the energy. This train was running down the tracks and even if not everybody was on board, plenty were, this was serious business.

Then the producer wanted a selfie.

Sure! I always said I’d give no autographs, but by time I garnered enough fame for anyone to care everybody just wanted a picture, you’d be surprised who wants a picture.

And that’s when I fell off the stage.

Who knew?

Turns out the set is on a one foot high riser. And when I backed up to stand next to the producer and anchor…there was nothing there. And I was falling, falling, falling…and I’ve fallen enough to know this can be bad, I thought I was going down, but I wrenched myself into an upright position, I stood, but my shoulder hurt from the strain and how can it be that I can ski for a week and emerge intact but go on TV and have an accident?

And the producer held out his arm with the iPhone, but the mic man said he’d take the pic and then suddenly it was all over.

There were new people in the green room.

The makeup woman removed my greasepaint.

I took a pee and then…

Got into the wrong limo.

Mine was hidden behind a tree.

And then I got in and felt…

Well, usually I feel empty. You send this stuff out into the ether and then…nothing. Oh, every once in a while someone says they saw you. But the irony is the more you’re on, the less you hear from people.

So I’m researching John Vause on my phone. And riding down the silent streets of Hollywood and I’m thinking…

I’m never gonna be an anchor on a news network, but that carrot is enough to keep me going.