Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at a national morning news program? Earlier this week I headed to the Canada AM studio to find out!
My gracious host (and co-host of the program) Marci Ien greets me in reception at 4:30 a.m. (yes, you read that correctly) and the whirlwind morning begins.
4:30 AM: The team gathers for a morning meeting to go over the rundown for the show. While it was planned the day before, news can change overnight (especially with the Olympics taking place in a different time zone), and headlines need to be discussed. (If you don’t believe the time, check the clock in the background for proof!) The team goes over the order of news items, who will be interviewed live, and what videos or stills should be used with stories.
One of the reasons I watch Canada AM is the comprehensive content, so it’s fascinating for me to see how coverage decisions are made. I like to get major international and national news and staples like sports and weather, but also the balance of lifestyle and entertainment stories as well. On one episode last week, Marci went from talking about the Northern Pipeline to Kristen Stewart’s “dalliance” (her word) in a matter of minutes. Talk about versatile!
My biggest surprise sitting at the meeting? The huge butterfly tattoo Marci is rockin’ on her left foot, which I’ve never noticed on camera before!
4:55 AM: Marci heads to hair and makeup (though believe me, she looked gorgeous even before going in). She shares how things are different on the show with co-host Beverly Thompson on holidays, and today it’s just going to be Marci and Jeff Hutcheson manning the desk. The Olympics are keeping the show very spontaneous, as they can’t predict event results, or when athletes might be available for interviews. I ask Marci about her holidays, and she shares that her family went to Italy at the end of June, and she’ll also be taking a break at back-to-school time to support her eight year old daughter Blaize. (Son Dash is 11 months old.)
Having served as News Anchor for Canada AM for eight years, Marci officially took the co-host chair next to Beverly (after filling in for AM hosts many times previously) in January of this year.
I eavesdrop as Marci chats with makeup artist Leslie and hairstylist Bruno about current events, shoes, and her interview the previous day in Stratford with actor Christopher Plummer. Looking up at a TV screen, she notes what a great job fellow CTV-er Lisa LaFlamme is doing covering the Olympics, and how fantastic her layered hairstyle looks.
While the pros work their magic, Marci goes over the daily newspapers and her notes for the show. (To supplement her own research, she is provided with key points and suggested questions for each segment, which I was given copies of and will treasure as journalism-junkie souvenirs.) She’s very much a terms of endearment gal, using lots of “sweetie”s and “love”s with her coworkers, but it all sounds sincere coming from her.
5:45 AM: Marci is miked up and camera-ready.
5:45 AM: We sneak into the studio and I glean some more insider information. Jeff is on-camera, recording questions for former Olympic medallist and Charmaine Crooks: the same questions he asked her over the phone the day before, while she was videotaped giving her answers in London. His on-camera questions are merged with her answers, and run later in the show, giving the appearance of a live interview. Tricky!
5:56 AM: Marci tweets me a welcome message…perhaps as I was taking the below photo. Next, she and Jeff review the big headlines and get last-minute instructions from Floor Director Vern.
6:00 AM: The show begins! I sit on a stool in front of the Canada AM kitchen (which is definitely not ready to be seen on-air today) and take it all in.
What I learn:
- The room is not as silent as I expected. As cameras roll, a printer whirrs, guests are escorted in and out, the crew snacks, and the camera operators make low conversation. (Clearly this is old hat to them, and they are past my “Isn’t live TV so exciting, people?” awe.) Apparently if you don’t have a microphone, no one is going to hear you anyway.
- Jeff is not, in fact, standing in front of maps or screenshots to cover the weather; just a green screen
- There are little details unseen by the audience at home, like Jeff’s breakfast sandwich hidden behind his laptop for commercial break munching!
- Glitches do happen (e.g. a piece of footage run is not what the hosts were expecting), but few, if any, viewers would even even be able to catch them.
7:00 AM: Guest coordinator Vicky (who is too sweet for words) escorts me up to the control room to really get behind the scenes. It looks pretty much like I expected: about ten people at computers (one with the title of “overnight writer”; definitely not the job for me) in front of dozens of screens showing in-studio and remote cameras as well as other networks. Time is being tracked and counted down, TelePrompTer text is being edited (“Zara Phillips is Princess Anne’s daughter, right?” someone confirms), and graphics are being inserted in the show.
However, I am surprised by the calm, quiet atmosphere in the room (which I don’t think is for my benefit; no one really notices me or seems concerned about my presence). Phone calls are made to and from the studio downstairs, and occasional directions are given, but everyone seems to be watching, typing and clicking away, getting their jobs done.
7:40 AM: I head back down to the studio, to be followed shortly after by makeup artist Leslie, scooting in and out to do shine-control (Marci had pulled out a makeup bag and touched up her lipstick just minutes before).
Marci and Jeff ask for confirmation on Canada’s current Olympic standings, as one source has us in 18th place, another says 27th, and the co-hosts want to make sure they’re delivering accurate, up-to-date information to the viewers. (Unfortunately 27th was correct.)
There are several different studio guest segments, which all take place on various parts of the same set, including an Olympic discussion panel being prepared for in this photo with Greg Westlake (Canadian ice sledge hockey player), Brian Stemmie (retired Canadian skier) and Canada AM regular Dr. Marla Shapiro (I am pleased to meet Dr. Marla in person, having interviewed her over the phone for a Momterview feature
just last year.)
Later comes a taped segment of Marci’s interview about animation with Michael Kowalski of Pixomondo. As it runs, she explains to me that Kowalski was waiting at the studio to be interviewed live the morning of the Colorado movie theatre shooting, and many of the prepared segments were bumped for the breaking news. Instead, he stayed after the show and did a taped interview (as did some other planned guests), which was saved for today’s episode.
Not a huge sports enthusiast, I don’t live for Olympics coverage as many Canadians do…but I certainly perked up for the last segment (the perfect way to end my visit): Loulou Magazine presenting Fashion Sleeper Hits of Summer 2012. In the photo below, you can see accessories on display as models get their last-minute instructions.
Since I’m sure you’re dying to know, here are the aforementioned fashion hits:
statement pants (e.g. patterns)
pleated skirts, including the longer-at-the-back “mullet skirt”
geometric prints, mixed and matched
As an aside: it’s a good thing when you’re wearing the same nail colour as as the Shopping Editor for a fashion and beauty magazine, right?
9:00 AM The show ends, and I am shocked by how quickly the time has gone in. I find workdays fly by quickly in the classroom as well, but the major difference is that 9:00 is usually when my “showtime” is just arriving!
The hosts and crew dwell for a moment on what they saw as issues with the day’s show (don’t we all do that with our workdays?), but as Marci points out with her usual perspective, “It’s live TV, warts and all!”
The cameras have stopped rolling, but Marci’s day isn’t over yet. A “post-mortem” of the show takes her until about 10:30 AM, and she heads home around 11. The afternoon finds her interviewing the Olympic bronze medallists in synchro diving, then squeezing in a nap before picking Blaize up from Art Camp. Next it’s a conference call at 4:15 to discuss the following day’s show.
The evening is for family, and once the kids are in bed she lays her clothes out for the next morning, does a bit of research and turns out the lights at 10, with the alarm set again for (gulp) 3:30 AM.
I’ll leave you with a parting shot of Marci (who quite unfairly never appears sleep-deprived) and me at the desk. It suits me, doesn’t it? (Hey, one of the cameramen thought that by “shadowing” Marci, I was preparing to cover for her on the show, so it’s not that unbelievable!)
Thanks again Marci, and everyone at Canada AM for being so welcoming.
During the Olympics, you can find Canada AM on CTV Newschannel. After that, it’s back on CTV, bright and early every morning at 6.