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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Ode to Interns: Young, Dumb, New, and Shiny

As our local high school and college students kick off the new year with academic realities and job dreams, I find myself waxing nostalgic for my old days as a young intern at KCTS, Public Television in Seattle . Fresh out of college, quite poor, with a dead end copy center job, no employment hopes on the horizon (it was ’91 and the economy stunk), I felt I needed more work and life experience. I desperately wanted to work at KCTS because I loved public television. So when an unpaid, part-time internship came up for grabs, I jumped on it.

I was the oldest intern applicant, mostly computer illiterate, and vastly uneducated in television (I was an English major). But after FIVE long interviews (grueling for a job that doesn’t pay you a dime), I got hired to work on two locally produced shows: “Seattle Week In Review” (a political show) and “Serious Money”(a financial show). I knew little about either show or their topics, but KCTS and I took our chances on each other.

So, I went to work at my stupid day job and did afternoons and all day on Friday for my intern gig. The fun parts: learning new things, researching stories, coordinating guests, taking care of the guests in the green room on tape day, pitching the show, talking to viewers, and going on a couple of shoots. The lame parts: fetching, fetching, fetching, MANUALLY rewinding beta tapes, logging shoots, and typing.

Friday was the best day though. I got to dress up (in my limited and worn clothing repertoire). I treated myself to taking two buses to work instead of sloshing through the rain on my mountain bike to and from the U district, since I needed to look nice and pick up pastries for the show’s guests. First up was Week in Review. My producer told me that it was my job to make sure the guests didn’t argue before the cameras rolled, so I’d say inane things if that happened (“Another donut hole?”). I got to work with former local boy turned author and NY Times writer Tim Egan and his wife, Joel Connelly of The Seattle P-I, and local conservative pundit and personality John Carlson (who rode to the taping on his motorcycle), among others. The volunteer make-up artist was Bob Newman who played Gertrude on JP Patches. For Serious Money, most of the guests were corporate types in suits and were mostly the same. There was also a commentator (like a local financial Andy Rooney type—can’t remember his name) who taped on Fridays before Serious Money. My job was to type his script onto a diskette to feed into the prompter. One morning I couldn’t get the damn computer to work and screwed it all up and butchered it. He did not like lateness or less than perfect typing. Oh, I can still hear that man screaming today (I hid in the bathroom).

Despite it all, I walked away with a couple of pieces of advice that I remember (and practice to this day). Here you go you fresh interns from one who has been there:

1.The show’s host, Barry Mitzman, told me: “If you learned one thing from working on my shows, it’s this: start a 401K ASAP and save!”

2.Bob Newman (a.k.a. Gertrude): “Life is short—wear more red lipstick.”

3.If you want something bad enough, do it (even it means you look stupid). Stupid will pass. A dream won’t.


Stephanie Frieze said...

Great story, Kim. I especially like Gertrude's advice!

Kim Thompson said...

Oh yeah. He was quite the character--lots of tattoos and a potty mouth (which drastically changed my childhood perception of Gertrude). But he was cool and interesting and I did learn a lot indeed!

Stephanie Frieze said...

My brother-in-law is Tim Haeck who has worked at KIRO radio since he graduated from the U and back in the day when the television and radio stations were owned by the same folks. He's told stories about JP & Gertrude from Christmas parties, but also said that he thought Gertrude's ill health had to do with some of the off-air personality thing. I understand that JP is quite ill now.

M. Sugimura said...

Kim -

This was wonderful! I sooo... enjoyed reading your post which just reminds me, I'd better go out and buy some red lipstick.

JosephMcG said...

from lipstickless in Tacoma
(although this one friend of mine, very manly and all that good old boy stuff) stiffled my curiosity recently when he told me that he was wearing red toenail polish boldly on his sandalled feet because his young daughter had decided to add a little touch to his foot wear)I looked back fondly on my various internships, Kim, and I connected with you on the "oh, oh, time to go moments..."
And I thought I was the only one who had to accept being talked at by folks who had spent too much time in the sewers...
My step father for example was a master... once I listened to him go on for at least a minute without using one word that was not a cuss word...
One of the greatest things I love about our neighborhood is finding out from other folks that they have survived, like me, some really unnecessary and shocking moments (shocking with the small s, not the big one)
Kim... loved sharing your adventures...
Keep the great writing coming


Kim Thompson said...

Aw Shucks, Guys!


Yeah, to Stephanie's earlier point, when I met Bob Newman he had a lot of health problems. I suspect he still does, poor thing.

I am going to do a part 2 to this. There's more to this adventure!


KR said...

Kim - Since you are reminiscing in early 90's about a story about adventuring in the bars and shows of the era?

(And living to tell about it as middish-aged mommies...)


Kim Thompson said...

Oh, yes, KR, that would be grand, wouldn't it?

Jaynie Jones said...

This was a fun read and a well-told story about your over-the-top efforts to make your way into the wacky world of television.

If you read job descriptions very often you may have noticed as I have that the highest paying jobs have the fewest requirements and the grunt jobs have the longest list of requirements and the lowest pay.

I only had the privilege of working with JP one time. It was Easter weekend, circa 1980. I was the host of an Easter Egg Hunt at the Pay N Save store on East Main, in Puyallup. JP flew in for the event by helicopter. After it was over, he and I left the store by helicopter.

For current information on the memorial statue and the status of JP's current multiple medical issues, copy & paste the following link into your Web browser.

Kim Thompson said...

Jaynie, thanks for the reminder about the memorial. I forgot all about it!!! I am going to go check it out.