Been there, done that
It happened Sunday night at 11:00. By Monday morning it was all over Facebook and Twitter.
All of my Facebook friends who were posting it were laughing as they did.
I clicked on the video of KCBS reporter Serena Branson expecting to laugh myself. Instead I watched with a growing sense of dread and even pain. I instantly thought, “did she just have a stroke on-air?”
It turns out I am not alone in wondering if there wasn’t a greater medical issue at play. So far KCBS says Serena was checked out by medical professionals and she is fine, but there’s a growing debate in the blogosphere over whether that is true.
I’m not a doctor, so I won’t try to diagnose what I saw. However I can tell you as a former TV reporter myself I have been there, done that and it still haunts me.
Watching Serena deliver gibberish, my mind is instantly transported me back to that day at KXLY News4.
I had been working on a special report for weeks. The video was edited, my script approved and my slot in the show was just a few minutes away. I remember looking down at my sky blue merino wool v-neck sweater and thinking, ‘I don’t need a tie for this. I’ll just go casual.’ In fact I remember making a conscious decision to leave my glasses on my desk and not wear them on-air…to go with that chosen look.
I remember vividly walking to the set, sitting down next to the anchors in the commercial break before my segment, chatting with them as I put on my mic and then sliding my IFB (earpiece used to listen to the producer/director) into my ear.
The newscast theme music played as the show resumed and the anchors began to read from the teleprompter the introduction to my piece.
I turned to the anchors as one of them said, “and now News4 reporter Travis Mayfield joins us live to explain…”
The director took a camera shot of the three of us as I nodded and turned to my single shot camera to begin my live intro.
It was at that moment my nightmare began.
Usually the single shot camera is nearest the reporter on set, but as I turned to search for the red ‘tally light’ it wasn’t on either of the two cameras nearest me. Instead I could just barely make out the light flashing atop the camera directly across from the weather center literally across the entire studio.
Let me pause here and tell you I see fine without my glasses. What I don’t do well without my glasses is read anything that is more than 8-10 feet away.
My single shot camera (and thus my teleprompter) was at least 12 feet away.
I remember squinting into what seemed like extra bright studio lights and desperately trying to make out what was on the teleprompter. Unable to do that I realized I had paper scripts in my hand and I looked directly down at them hoping to read my intro there.
I will never forget what I saw on the pages in my hand when I looked down. What I saw was not English. What I saw was not a language I had ever seen. What I saw was not something I could read. (after the fact I checked those scripts and they absolutely were for my live intro and they were in English.)
In desperation I looked back up at the camera and thought I’d try to ad-lib and fake it.
But the words that began to come out of my mouth made no sense. In reality they weren’t words. Looking back at the tape after this was all over I can unequivocally tell you I was not uttering actual words. I was making sounds and I was trying to communicate, but the sounds were not words in any language.
I stuttered, I paused, I started again, I fumbled, I gasped and I finally just stopped and stared at the camera unable to proceed.
At that point I heard in my IFB the director simply say, “just roll the package.” My taped piece began to air and I just sat there, bright red and unable to process what had just happened.
The entire disaster felt to me like it took hours, I know however it was literally no more than 8 seconds from the moment the anchors introduced me to the moment the director started playing my taped report.
To this day I absolutely WILL NOT appear on-air without my glasses. It doesn’t matter whether I’m reading a teleprompter, reporting from the field or sitting in a studio to ad-lib a question and answer session with an anchor. Despite it not making sense, I also refuse to wear that blue v-neck sweater on the air.
What happened to me that day?
I honestly don’t know.
Did I have a stroke? If I did I have never noticed any other effects.
So for me watching Serena’s on-air disaster didn’t make me laugh it made me sick to my stomach because I know what that feels like and it is one of the worst feelings in the world.
(Thank goodness my meltdown happened BEFORE the advent of YouTube)