Indecision 2012

When I learned that a  crew from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart would shoot a piece in Ellijay, I initially hadn’t considered turning it into a local news story.

They were doing a piece on some Mitt Romney supporters whose over-the-top enthusiasm for the milquetoast Republican seemed newsworthy when I did the piece in November.  One of them, Joe McCutchen, told me Politico had picked up the story (though I can’t find it), which caught The Daily Show’s eye.

Oren Briner (far left), with Joe McCutchen and Al Madrigal

I’m not a big fan of movie-crews-in-our-little-town stories.  But I do like The Daily Show.  The shoot was topical and interesting.  The story would have  ample layers of comedic potential.

McCutchen blessed our presence at the shoot.  So did Oscar Poole, whose barbecue restaurant would host a portion of the Daily Show shoot.  I did not call Comedy Central to get their permission, figuring it would simply give them an opportunity to invite us to stay the hell away.

I figured our presence there could be a source of some conflict, and wanted to minimize it.  I was mindful of the fact that they had set up this shoot.  But Poole had told me the restaurant would be open to the public during the shoot.  This wouldn’t be a closed set.  Mike Zakel and I went and resolved to be respectful of the Daily Show crew.

The conflicts were minimal but amusing.

Producer Oren Brimer arrived at about 1pm and seemed unalarmed when he saw Zakel’s camera on a tripod, wedged discreetly into a notch near a cash register.  McCutchen said he had forewarned the Daily Show crew of our presence.  Zakel introduced himself first.  The response was friendly.

We had already interviewed McCutchen and some other Romney-supporting patrons (Poole was out of state; I’d gotten his permission by phone the previous day).   The Daily Show shoot was an hour behind schedule.  We were anxious to get what we needed and drive back to Atlanta to produce the piece for the 7pm news.  I told Brimer that it wouldn’t take us long to get what we needed and be gone.

However, the crew (two photogs, an audio tech, and correspondent Al Madrigal, who was making his Daily Show debut as a field correspondent with the Ellijay piece) was hungry and intended to order lunch before resuming the shoot.   Brimer had never heard of Brunswick stew.  I described it to him as “basically meat soup.”  He ordered a bowl of it, plus beef ribs.

Brimer was tall, good humored and barely 35, if that.  When I asked him if I could ask him a question for my story (I try to avoid the word “interview” because it sounds nearly synonymous with “interrogate”), he agreeably said:  Sure.  What questions do you want to ask?

I should have responded by answering the question:  I want to ask you why you’re here, and about your approach to the story.

That would have been easy.

Instead I said:  Did you tell Joe McCutchen what questions you would ask him before you interviewed him?  The crew had just finished an interview with McCutchen that McCutchen said had lasted three hours.

Zakel and Richards use their persuasive powers. Photo by George Winn

Fair enough, Brimer said.  Ask away.

I said: OK.  Let me clip this mic on you.

Then Brimer got nervous:  Wait.  Whoa.  We’re just here to eat lunch.  Maybe we could do this later.  He started to turn away, but turned back as I reminded him that we were trying not to linger.  Plus, lunch wasn’t ready yet.  He became agreeable again.  I clipped the mic on him.  The on-camera chat lasted maybe two minutes.

As lunch concluded, the crew turned toward their gear.  Then Brimer unexpectedly told Zakel that he couldn’t shoot them.

He turned to me and repeated it:  We can’t let you shoot us shooting.  We have to keep our methods confidential, he said.

Your “methods?”  I pondered a diplomatic response.

“I can see by your face that this isn’t agreeable to you,” he said to me.  “What’s the problem?  Because we’ll have to shut down the shoot if you insist on shooting us.”

It appeared he was yielding to an instinct which I fully expected:  We’re a big time TV show with a national audience.  You’re local news.  Bug off.  Yet he remained good-natured, even as he indulged the ill-considered Diva instinct.  He could have thrown a fit and and recruited McCutchen and the restaurant management to force us to leave.  To his credit, he didn’t.

He also quickly realized he was backing himself into a corner.  Rather than start an argument– which was tempting–  I gently reminded him that our needs were minimal and our desire to finish and depart was considerable.  We shared a goal here, I suggested.

We came to an understanding.  He blocked out and shot Madrigal and McCutchen walking into the dining room.  We shot it too.  The scene continued for two or three minutes.  For our 90 second piece, it provided ample cameras-on-location footage.  “Got what you need?” Brimer asked me.  I nodded and thanked him.

We got out, and retained our respect for the Daily Show.   They regained control of their set.  Everybody wins.

When asked when the piece would air, Brimer gave two answers.  “Our goal is to air it before the South Carolina primary (which is January 21).”   He also said they were shooting for Thursday January 19.

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Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

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