|B.J. Sams and I at Empty Bowls 2008
The station was Today’s THV. I spent eight years there, all of it on the morning show, producing Today’s THV This Morning. There are a lot of morning shows out there coast to coast, but this one was special. Different.
I started at Today’s THV in July 1999, just months before I married and after 10 months of drifting in Little Rock trying to figure out what I was going to do. I’d been in Jonesboro before that, a three year stint at KAIT-TV, where I got my feet wet in television and learned a lot about the world -- some good things, some very bad things.
When I came to Today’s THV I’d spent 10 months in different jobs. I’d been an executive assistant, a banking clerk, a radio traffic reporter, a receptionist, about 20 other things -- all while being a professional temp. I was waiting for my big break, and I thought it would come with KKYK-TV -- which my fiance worked for at the time.
I’d “settled” for working at Ron Sherman Teleproductions as a producer and production gal for about two months when I got the call to come back to Today’s THV for a follow-up interview. My first interview in September 1998, three days after I’d left KAIT, got blown when I was asked what a five o’clock news program should be. “Evrerything to all people,” I had said, and apparently I was wrong. The answer the management had been looking for was “caters to women,” and I failed.
But Lane Michaelson kept me in mind when a position came open on the morning show. It was supposed to be a temporary position -- three months as the third producer on the show while it went through an expansion. It had been 6-8 a.m. for a few years, but with CBS creating The Early Show for the Fall 1999 lineup the management had decided to start Today’s THV This Morning at 5 a.m., and they needed three producers instead of two.
It was a crapshoot, really -- leaving a job that was a certain steady paycheck for one that might evaporate a few months later. But I’d made myself a promise. See, at KAIT I had spent a year and a half producing the morning show. I enjoyed it -- the overnight hours, the quiet, the freedom to put together a show within a very loose frame. After the Westside School Shootings and the Manila Tornado I was given an involuntary boot up to the 10 p.m. producer spot -- which, frankly, bored me. I made myself a promise that if I ever ended up in television again and ever got the chance at a morning show, I would never leave it.
I guess it’s fortunate, then, that there was a stirring of the pot at the station. One producer left, another moved up, another… it came down to the morning show, and our lead producer Amy went to the 6 p.m. show, leaving me to step up. It wasn’t long before my co-producer and reporter Christa Olsen moved up, too.
|Robyn met Bobby Vinton on our 2005 Branson trip.
There was the director, Jerry Don Burch, who had been at Today’s THV for close to 40 years at that point. He used to come in every morning at 3 a.m. with his lunchbox, then come start up the printers. There was Hal Mitcham the audio guy, Brian Frazier the graphics guy, Robert Settles and Jimmy Staton (who started the same week I did) and Badi Galinkin and Sidney Woodbury on the floor, with Gary Burgess as the floor director. Mark Denny was in master control.
|One of my favorite photos of Rich Gunter.
We never got back to that number again after the first summer. But on the other hand, there weren’t a whole lot of new faces here and there, either. In the director’s box, Hal stepped up when Jerry Don retired, and Rob Hatfield came in to be the assistant director. Tim Sullivan became our man in the audio booth… they all developed nicknames, too. Tim was “Eric Clapton.” Hal was “Antonio Banderas.” You get the idea.
|Tom thought he’d blown his interview
with Ray Stevens about 30 seconds in.
|We called the Hogs with Dave Price.
We had a lot of good times on the show. The station had this idea of creating this Weather Garden, and we took it and ran with it, filling it up with people and things and ideas. We came up with all sorts of neat promotions and contests and what have you. Probably the most famous of these were the Weddings of a Live Time we held -- three of them, crazy contests that culminated in nuptuals at dawn. Wow, huh?
|I got to meet White House pastry chef
Roland Messnier when the Clinton
Presidential Center opened in 2004.
Yet some of my favorite times from the show were when the anchors just had a chance to chat and relax and share a bit of their lives with us. I quite clearly remember the day after Game & Fish Night back in the summer of 2000, and that Robyn was supposed to race in it. We showed the footage, and then she mentioned that it was her husband Keith driving the car. She handed baby booties to B.J. and Tom, her way of letting everyone know she was pregnant.
I do believe I was the first person who told Robyn she was pregnant with her third child, Parker. She had just returned from maternity leave after having her son Lowry, and she kept having this flu that would not go away. One morning it struck me that we’d been to this rodeo before, and after the show I told her “Robyn, I think you’re pregnant.” She told me it wasn’t possible… and the next day came in and almost hissed at me… “how did you know?” Well, we’d been there with Lowry and with Olivia before that… go figure.
I used to remind Tom about his wedding anniversary. I got married exactly a week before he did -- and so I’d always make a point to tell him not to forget LeAnn on the 20th of November.
|I married Paul in November 1999.
Boy, I am rambling on. I’d meant to just write a few paragraphs, but I suppose my time at THV just can’t be summed up that way.
|Tom with Yakov Smirnoff.
|Rich and I on his retirement day.
My last day was September 7, 2007. Walking away from the morning show was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I left behind my security, my friends and the career I thought I would follow for the rest of my life. I had no idea when I left that Friday morning if I’d ever enter that building again. I though I had a future in public relations, but hadn’t made up my mind. I was being courted heavily by the competition, but after about a week I realized my days in television -- at least on the reverse side of the camera -- were over.
You probably know the rest of the story… it’s documented on this blog. The places I’ve been and seen have been fabulous. I have, for the most part, created an entire career from scratch. I’ve gone through an interesting pregnancy and have started the process of raising a beautiful daughter. I’ve grown. As one of my friends recently put it to me, I’ve come into myself. I know who I am. Another friend says I’ve become my own brand. I can accept that too.
Yesterday I received a message from Tom, asking if I’d come stop by this morning. I wasn’t sure what it was all about, but I figured that hey, it was about time. I’d missed out on the morning show the day B.J. retired and I felt bad about that -- but Hunter was still very young and it was outside her comfort zone. I did come for a gathering at the station later, though.
This morning was the first time I went back to the morning show in nearly four years. To say I was apprehensive would be mild. I really didn’t know what to expect.
But when I went through the gate, there was very little different from before. Well, there was the weirdness of having my name checked off by a list. I almost found myself doing the whole “do you know who I am?” to Tyler, one of the producers of the show today. But seeing so many other faces I recognized sort of soothed that over.
Rich Gunter was there -- he had retired about a year before I left and I hadn’t seen him in so long. I missed Rich. We used to spar a bit on our thoughts on live shots and the like, but he’s a great guy and he was usually right. Married life is treating him well. He told me they’d just got their first computer… I find it amusing.
James Staats from Golden Corral was there, as was Anthony Michael from Cross Eyed Pig BBQ, who was grilling up pork ribs for the occasion. The four of us were comparing notes and sharing memories when Robyn and B.J. passed in front of where we were standing and joined Tom and Alyse and Ashley. At one point Tom pointed us out to them, and I thought Robyn was going to flitter.
The show was different from what it used to be. We never really had an audience during my times. Sure, we might have a Weather Garden full of Taekwondo kids or Foodbank volunteers, but just folks who watched the show? Not often. There were maybe 30 in-garden guests and the whole cadre of us, talking with each other and sharing our memories. I talked with Dr. Bob Hale the veterinarian, with Derrick Rose the magician and with state trooper Cpl. Alvernon Rogers. Becca came in early (she now works upstairs from the newsroom, good for her!) and Matthew Carroll, the guy that replaced me (bless his heart) poked his head out.
I went in for a bit and walked around the control room -- which has changed a lot. No more clunky tubed video monitors. Now it’s all plasma screens and computer interfaces. Robert Settles was manning the cameras. Hal and Rob were still calling the shots and punching the show, and Tim was in the booth.
At the end of the show all us old-timers got together for one last shot, just for a minute. And then it was over. Some hung around for another hour, while others had to take off immediately. That’s life for ya.
I went to the newsroom to take a look around. It looks very similar and yet some things are different. The big computer monitors have been replaced with flat screens. There’s a new editing system that allows producers to put stuff together at their desks and make it all work.
This was my desk. You know, I think the only photo I have of my desk is from when I received the Employee of the Quarter my last year at the station. It doesn’t look that much different, just a lot cleaner. B.J. sat at the one across from this one, and Robyn’s desk was to the right on that side.
|The dedication of the new studio, I think in 2005.
I thought I’d cry this morning, I really thought I would. I did cry, and profusely, the morning I left. I was pretty damaged back then. I didn’t know, couldn’t know, that in many ways I was emerging from my chrysalis that last morning. Most of the time I spent at Today’s THV I was a hermit, content to let someone else step in front of the camera and grab the glory. Don’t get me wrong, I loved what I did. It’s part of me. I spent longer there than anywhere else I’ve ever been.
But this morning I realized not just how much that time meant to me, but that it is a time long past. I have grown, as have my fellow former co-workers. Life has proceeded apace and we have all moved on in our own ways. In just a few weeks I’ll mark my fourth anniversary away from the station, and it’ll be a happy one. I can finally hold my head high and confirm that I have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams at this next segment of my life. Today’s THV This Morning wasn’t the zenith of my life. But it was important to me.
I may go back again. I don’t know. Going back this time, though… paved the way for more moments in my life. I have moved on. I am thankful and grateful for it all.