Back in the day, people thought I had a glamour job as a television reporter, and on occasion, it felt that way. Getting to visit Jay Leno at his home and a chance to see his car collection, being a floor reporter at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, traveling to Cooperstown for a Baseball Hall of Fame induction. Meeting my childhood hero, astronaut Alan Shepard. Of course, that was balanced out on the days I had to cover hurricanes… and then there was that feature at a pig farm which resulted in me throwing out my shoes and taking a Silkwood shower.
These days, the glamour part of television news is in the rearview mirror. Since 2005 (when I reached my on-camera expiration date thanks to the fact that high-definition reveals wrinkles down to the molecular level), I have worked as a freelance field producer for all the networks. I’m one of many news veterans around the country who can “jump and go” at a moment’s notice for a breaking story in my region. (Tallahassee to Baton Rouge, north to Tennessee.)
On this occasion, a producer from the "Today Show" called. “Are you available tomorrow morning for a live shot?”
“Sure. Waddaya got?”
“A couple with sextuplets.”
Hey, a nice change from my usual tornado or hurricane coverage. This should be easy. “Okay, sounds good.”
“Great. I’ll email the info. Call when you’re on the way.”
So at this point, I’m assuming the story will be a breeze. The crew will meet at the hospital, get a few shots of the six babies, interview the parents, and be off to iHop by seven.
But of course, when you assume something, you know what happens.
First, there’s one really bad thing about network morning show live shots which does not remotely qualify as “glamorous.” You have to be in place with the “shot in” via satellite two hours before the show starts, which meant four in the morning. I had a long drive, which meant I had to leave at two.
And I’m not remotely someone who enjoys the vampire shift. One who glares at those perky people who flash a big smile and say “Good Morning!” in a tone that will give you a cavity.
So I’m drinking coffee and blasting talk radio to stay awake as I leave for the story in the middle of the night. (By the way, overnight talk radio is when the tin-foil hat people of both political persuasions call in. Next time you can’t sleep, check it out.) I call the "Today Show" control room to check-in. “I’m on my way. Hey, you didn’t give me the name of the hospital public relations person we’re supposed to meet.”
“Oh, you’re not going to the hospital. The address I sent is the family home.”
Even better, we won’t have to drag a hundred feet of TV cable through a maternity ward. “Ah, so they let the babies go home already.”
“I guess I wasn’t clear. They’re not newborns. They’re celebrating their second birthday.”
NOW I’m wide awake.
A network live shot. With six two-year-olds.
A little background. I’m an only child. My mom was an only child. I have no children. I’ve never done any babysitting, never changed a diaper, zero experience dealing with toddlers. “You’re sending a guy with no kids to produce a live shot with six two-year-olds?”
She laughs. “Ah, you’ll be fine!”
All I could think of was a guy I knew who said after his second child was born that two children wasn’t twice the work of one, it was ten times the work. I wondered if the mathematical formula for the situation I was about to encounter was exponential or perhaps logarithmic, the system they use to measure earthquakes.
Then I thought of a couple I knew whose two-year-old had the Tasmanian Devil as his spirit animal.
Then I broke out in a cold sweat.
I gently tap on the door to keep the noise down a little before four in the morning. I’m not sure why I always do this in the middle of the night, since the satellite truck generator that just fired up will wake everyone in the neighborhood.
The father greets me and tells me the kids are still asleep. The mother makes coffee as we begin to set up the camera, light the living room, and run the cables from the truck. The truck operator tunes in the satellite and we’re good to go.
I discover this family is the subject of a reality show called “Raising Sextuplets” which is about… wait for it… raising sextuplets. (Personally, I would have come up with a more clever title, like “Taking Home a Six-Pack” which would have easily gotten a beer sponsor. “Need a cold one after putting six two-year-olds to bed? This Bud’s for you.”) I also would have created something catchy for the parents. At least “Octomom” had a clever nickname. The wife shows me a photo taken just before she gave birth. The poor thing looks like she swallowed a beach ball.
So the episode for this reality show will focus on a birthday party, which, of course, features a large birthday cake and a bunch of sugary goodies. This will become important later.
The parents get the kids out of bed and at one point have all six on the couch. They’re still half asleep and not moving much so I call the "Today Show" control room. “Hey, I’ve got all six in the shot. Let’s pre-tape this before they wake up.”
“The anchors want to do it live.”
So we have about 90 minutes before the live shot.
The kids start waking up. And running around. Did you remember the dining room is loaded with sugar-filled treats?
You can see where this is going.
Soon the kids are being kids, running everywhere and I realize that to get all six back on the couch at the same time it will be the equivalent of herding cats. The other problem is that there are TV cables all over the place and three very hot television lights on stands near the couch. The kids start bumping into things and we realize this is an accident waiting to happen since we don’t have enough members of the crew to hold all the lights. The photographer makes an executive decision. “I’m going to get the sandbags.”
Every television crew carries sandbags to weigh down the light stands during hurricane coverage or very windy weather. We place a couple sandbags on each light stand so they can’t be knocked over. In my thirty years working in broadcasting, this is the first time they have ever been used indoors.
About five minutes before we’re to go live, the control room calls and tells me to get all the kids on the couch. One kid is screaming. One is running. One is running and screaming. I hear someone in the control room over the headset. “What was that?” I answer, “Terrible twos.”
Let the cat herding begin. Along with the photographer and the parents, I start trying to corral the toddlers. During the next five minutes we have four on the couch… then one… then three… then two. Which is what I think we ended up with. And then during the live shot one walked away.
Finally, the anchors wrap up the interview and I hear the magic words over the headset. “You’re clear.” I wanted to say, “I told you we should have pre-taped this,” but thought better of it. We turn off the lights and start packing up the gear.
By the time I got in my car to head home I was more exhausted than I had ever been during hurricane coverage. Upon reaching the nearest iHop I considered drinking the syrup straight from the container.
That would seem to be the end of the story, but wait, there’s more! I decided to find out “What ever became of?” the family and their reality show.
As it turned out, “Raising Sextuplets” apparently jumped the shark and was canceled after 14 episodes. I figured that like most TV shows it was due to low ratings, though considering what I went through for just a few hours a better guess would be that the producers couldn’t find a television crew willing to put up with the situation on a daily basis.
Sadly, the couple did not have a happy ending either, as they divorced. Turned out the wife later remarried a guy who had two kids of his own so she became a mother of eight, giving Octomom a run for her money.
I suppose the "Today Show" could do a reunion special, since the sextuplets are now around 14. Just think of it, a live shot with six teenagers…
Sorry, I’m not available.
Randy Tatano is the author of more than 20 novels, writing political thrillers under the pen name Nick Harlow, and romantic comedies as Nic Tatano. He spent 30 years working in television news as a local affiliate reporter and network field producer.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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