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.