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An Encounter With Grace

Categories: Media

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Here's a sentence I never thought I'd write: I appeared on Nancy Grace's show last night.

Why? Google is probably the reason. As you may recall, CU-Boulder student and self-styled satirist Max Karson was arrested on April 17 after saying in a class that he could understand why the disturbed Virginia Tech gunman might want to kill 32 people; after all, the fluorescent lights and unpainted walls in the classroom made him feel pretty homicidal, too. When this story broke nationally, Grace representatives must have Googled Karson's name, and as of April 19, the second hit (after Karson's newsletter, The Yeti) was a Message column about Karson that dated back to last November. (This blog contains links to the Message in question, as well as an Associated Press story about the more recent incident.)

Hence, the frantic phone call I received on the afternoon of April 19 from one of Grace's producers, asking if I could appear on that evening's live program. I'm the opposite of a Grace fan, but the novelty of the request piqued my curiosity -- and besides, I'd get a chance to get a better idea how cable-news talking-head shows are assembled. I agreed, not really knowing what I'd gotten myself into.

The producer called back shortly thereafter to say that she'd arranged for me to appear at a local studio called MFG; I should arrive by 5:15 p.m. in advance of the 6 p.m. live program. I did as requested, showing up at the appointed time only to learn from the folks there that this amount of a cushion was wholly excessive. However, I had a delightful conversation with them, and during it, I learned that MFG is one of the main facilities at which Denver pundits and newsmakers appear nationally. The week had been a busy one, given the ties between Columbine and Virginia Tech. Just that morning, for instance, Brooks Brown, who'd been a friend of the Columbine slayers, had been interviewed from there for a spot on CBS' The Early Show.

Finally, at about 5:45 p.m., I was taken into the room where the camerawork takes place -- a delightfully funky space that bore more than a passing resemblance to the mythical Illinois basement where Wayne's World originates. I was placed in one of two director's chairs in front of a cityscape backdrop held to a metal frame by plastic strapping and duct tape before being powdered with makeup by a woman named Dee, who had intriguing tales to tell about the film industry in Denver. Then I was fitted with an earpiece and a microphone, and after doing a brief soundcheck, I sat back and waited for my turn.

And waited. And waited. According to the MFB staffers, producers at most of the hour-long cable-news shows they work, including those hosted by Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and CNN's Lou Dobbs, give guests an idea about when they'll appear, so they can pop in prior to the time in question and leave when they're finished. That's not the case with the Grace show, however. Interviewees must be ready at the beginning of the broadcast and stay until the end, no matter what. As a result, I got to listen to the lion's share of the program through my earpiece; the monitor is turned away from speakers for fear that they'll look over to watch themselves. But in this case, audio was preferable to video. I discovered that Grace is a lot easier to take when you can't see her.

I'd been told I would receive a heads-up when my turn came, but that didn't happen. I was making small talk with the camera operator when all of a sudden, I heard Grace mention Colorado. The next thing I know, I was talking about Karson, and I don't have a clue what I said -- mainly because, in the middle of my spiel, my earplug popped up and I had to stuff it back in on live national television. However, I think I got out about two sentences before Grace threw to a Virginia Tech parent, who said that even if Karson had been joking, he should have been thrown in the pokey. Shortly thereafter, the segment ended, and after one more commercial break, Grace thanked her guests generically, and the sound of her voice vanished from my head.

What a relief. -- Michael Roberts


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