Monday, July 20, 2009

Wherein Mike provides further backstory to his visit to NYC

I freely admit that in many ways I’ve lived a charmed life. This trip to New York is hardly the first example. Heck, I’m wholly undeserving of my beautiful, charming wife and smart, healthy kids, just for starters. Another instance of progressive good fortune began when I stepped up to serve on the Board of Directors for the Central New York PC User’s Group back in 1996. A few years later, around 2000, I was made president during a period where most of the “old guard” officers had decided they wanted to step down and were considering closing down the thousand-member non-profit organization. This adventure is a story unto itself, but one of the duties (or perks, depending on how you see it) of the president’s job was an annual appearance on the locally-produced Time-Warner Cable TV show Point ‘n’ Click.

This hour-long show aired weekly on a channel Time-Warner set aside for local programming they produced themselves. These weren’t “public access” shows where anybody with a camcorder and a living room could produce the equivalent of Wayne’s World, these were actual TV shows produced in a very nice studio using multiple cameras, professional sound and video gear, teleprompters, producers, directors – a whole control room full of people making the show come together.

I did my guest appearance on the show as CNYPCUG President and hit it off with Mark Yafchak, the producer/director of the show. He was looking for somebody to produce a regular segment on computer games and asked if I’d be interested. For those keeping score, this is serendipity stage two. I worked with Mark to produce several game reviews for a segment titled “The Game Arena,” which included capturing video of the games on my PC, writing a voiceover script/review of the game, and coming into the studio to tape the segment opening title shots on green screen (which I just did once) and going into the recording booth to tape the voiceovers for each segment. I was lousy at the voiceovers, requiring multiple takes to get the audio in the can, after which poor Mark had to go back and edit it together into something coherent, but I think it was probably easy to see that I was having an absolute blast regardless of my lack of natural ability. Just because you’re referred to as the “talent” doesn’t automatically make you talented. It’s just a name.

Serendipity phase three began when Mark asked me to join Nancy Roberts and Chuck Swanson at the main anchor desk as a regular co-host of the show. Chuck and I would alternate week to week. Again, I nearly fell over myself in my eagerness to accept, and soon I was a bi-weekly regular host, in addition to producing the gaming segments. It was a tough show to produce, as in addition to talking about gadgets, new technologies and internet concepts, we did a live question-and-answer with viewers calling in to the show for computer advice. Often it amounted to live, audio-only computer troubleshooting wherein the caller did their best to describe (usually in the most vague of laymen’s terms) what was wrong with their computer while Chuck, Nancy or I tried to figure out what was broken and offer a solution. Did I mention we did this live? On camera? If you’ve ever tried to fix somebody’s PC and got annoyed because they were watching over your shoulder, you have a taste of what it’s like to fix somebody’s PC just by talking to them over the phone while untold hundreds or thousands of viewers look on.

Once again, I was passable in this role, but I’m in no danger of being recruited as an on-air personality for a major news program anytime soon. But as before, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’m a ham and I like being on TV, even if I’m not especially qualified. I wasn’t bad at it, I’m just no Charlie Gibson or Bill Weir. What I did get was a lot of joy at being part of the cast of the show, and a taste of what goes into producing a TV program. I could never get enough of talking to the lighting or sound or camera technicians, asking questions and learning about how everything worked. Whenever I was on-set but not on-camera, I hung around the control room and watched Mark and his team produce the show. All of the little pieces that had to come together just right for the live show to work fascinated me, and still do. The two years I spent on Point ‘n’ Click were some of the most enjoyable of my life. If I could find a legitimate way to get back on TV again, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

As such, it’s no surprise to folks who know me that a tour of the GMA studios was truly, to me, a grand prize. As Serendipity struck once again, I found my wife and myself arriving at a black door on W 44th Street in New York City at 6:20 on a bright Saturday morning in July of 2009. What followed were three of the most exciting hours I’ve had in recent memory.

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