Our 2011 Road Trip, Part 7: Not Necessarily the NBC News


“America’s Most Trusted Newsman” are four words that appear nowhere in this chapter.

[The very special miniseries continues! See Part One for the official intro and context.]

Once we’d had our fill of the Today set, many of the remaining minutes before our 9:45 appointment were wasted on scrounging up a meal for my son, who hates breakfast food and had refused any solids at the Bouchon Bakery because his appetite never awakens till an hour or two after he does. Some tunneling through the underground Rockefeller Center shops brought us to an everyday Subway franchise, thankfully willing and equipped to serve lunch before 10 a.m. While we strode back to where we needed to be, he did his best to cram an entire five-five-dollar-five-dollar-footlong chicken teriyaki sub into his gullet as quickly as possible without choking.

He had only a few bites left of his special-needs meal when we arrived at the NBC Studios Store to kick off our official NBC Studios tour.

30 Rock!

Right time, right place, wrong show.

Photos were prohibited while our walk, our elevator rides, and our studio stops were in progress. Our official NBC pages Ted and Grace first led us into an auditorium to watch an introductory video with a brief history of NBC and its products and employees. A bit of queuing awkwardness stuck me with a front-row seat that forced me to crane my neck up at the grinning visages of various non-HD sitcom characters towering over me from across the decades.

The offices of MSNBC gave us a window into the action, which consisted mostly of producers on phones and one isolated guy with low-level MS Excel skills painstakingly rearranging a no-frills scheduling sheet. In this same location was a desk The Brian Williams uses for news reporting, but there was no sign of him or any loose objects he might have touched with his own famous hands. (We got to be there when Breaking News was coming into the studio. Anne peeked at one of their computer screens which was visible on the other side of the window and found out about an embassy attack in Syria.)

The studio where they film Football Night in America, whatever that is, has a bluescreen floor so producers can insert whatever sort of tile, sheen, carpet, or CG crocodile pit they prefer in front of the anchors’ desk for a given episode.

We walked past an occupied makeup room to reach fabled Studio 8H, home of Saturday Night Live. More specifically, we reached a walled-off booth of cheap seats from which we could see the actual seats on stratified levels below us. Just beyond that was a half-constructed stage, off limits to us while preseason preparations were in progress. Stupid union safety rules. Behind us in the same cramped room were display cases with famous SNL costumes, including one authentic Church Lady outfit, Conehead pajamas and Mary Katherine Gallagher’s unattractive faux-Catholic ensemble.

Ted and Grace asked for two volunteers who like to read. I immediately raised my hand. In second place was a brave lady from Arkansas named Norma. We were escorted to a news studio room where, with thirty seconds of training, I was given the opportunity to play anchorman in front of the rest of the tour group. I sat at a desk in front of a TV camera and read several seconds of scripted whimsy from a real TelePrompter. As instructed, I then directed everyone’s attention to stage left, where Norma used her two minutes of training to play weather lady, pointing at general areas on a bluescreen behind her while reading a random TelePrompter forecast that was just as probable as any real TV forecast. From where I was sitting, her job was much harder than mine. She was a trooper.

The NBC tour folks were nice enough to provide Norma and me with DVD copies of our demo. I’m breaking historicity here in 2016 because in 2011 I had no idea how to copy or convert the DVD file to something I could upload online. Now the technology is there, and I can share this low-budget, amateur recording with the world for the very first time.

I must stress all the words you hear were 100% scripted for us. This 2011 freebie has also not yet been remastered for the Criterion Collection and is definitely not available in 4K.

I have hundreds of notes for me. This is what thirty seconds of training buys you, folks. I can do an exaggerated announcer voice of sorts, though I find myself trying to hide my teeth from the camera. My posture would earn me much shaming from any 1950s schoolteacher. I didn’t expect to need a dignified shirt on vacation. And I spent the first several seconds addressing the crowd instead of the camera, so my eyeline is all over the place. Up until the moment where I realized it and tried to hold my eyes still, it looks as though I’m watching a drunken bird flit around in wide circles while I’m speaking. Lesson learned. Now my next TV appearance will be even better, if this one video hasn’t already sabotaged my chances for all time.

Sadly, no matter what I do with my limited 2016 computer science powers, the program keeps cutting off the last fifteen seconds of Norma’s segment. This is how her forecast ends:

“…but enjoy that sun now because our future-cast shows clouds moving into the northeast later tonight, as well as some severe storms for our friends on the west coast.”
[points to Nebraska while standing in front of California; pauses, laughs, points westward toward Hawaii instead]
“But don’t let the rain get you down –”
[background map dissolves to tropical paradise; distracting music changes to mild samba]
“–because it’s always sunny on the NBC Studio Tour!”
[other tourists applaud]

Here ended the tour. We chatted for a few minutes with Norma and her son, who had tickets to see Letterman that night up at the Ed Sullivan Theater. Unfortunately most TV shows that tape in NYC have audience age limits, and our under-18 companion prevented us from making any such plans. We wished them well.

Norma + Me!

Your NBC Action News team. I think I was going for “stoic anchorman” but accidentally landed on “Die, paparazzi”.

Ted and Grace were also kind enough to pose for posterity.

Ted + Grace!

Hopefully they won’t forget us little people on their way to superstardom.

When they’re each famous enough someday, I cheerfully grant permission for this pic to be used on their respective WikiPedia pages. Bonus points for Ted for a few minutes of small talk in which he alleged to have coworkers who hail from the Indianapolis suburbs of Fishers and Zionsville. Nice touch.

While still in the neighborhood, we couldn’t resist frolicking around the NBC Studios Store.


Hanging on a door that probably didn’t lead to Dunder Mifflin.

My son got a pair of T-shirts celebrating “Creed Thoughts” and Community‘s Greendale Human Beings, while I nabbed myself the souvenir to end all souvenirs: a “Troy & Abed in the Morning” mug. This replica of an actual show prop commemorates the Best Comedy on TV Probably Ever as voted by the male demographic in our household. Now that is my kind of souvenir.

To be continued!

[Historical notes:

1. With the subsequent endings of both The Office and Parks & Recreation, and that time they canceled Community because some other network’s stupid juggernaut stole all its ratings, we’re not currently following any NBC shows, unless you count the three or four SNL clips I pulled up on YouTube last season.

2. Remember when Brian Williams was worthy of a tongue-in-cheek “The” in front of his name? I debated whether or not to leave that in, but rolled with it because it helps make the story extra dated.

3. If either Ted or Grace are now starring in their own NBC shows, by all means I’d love to know. Googling “Ted NBC” brought up NBC Chairman Ted Harbert, and you TV-savvy folks who remember the 2000s can guess what sitcom “Grace NBC” got me.

4. I just finished watching Community season 6 on DVD last week. Setting aside the apocryphal season 4, my opinion remains unchanged, though Parks & Rec came reeeallly close to stealing that title.]

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for future chapters, and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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