(From Nick Palladino, TODAY Associate Producer)
People often use the phrase "it won't happen overnight" to describe a long, time consuming process that takes a while to complete. But here at TODAY, we make things happen overnight every single day. We call those last minute, quick turnaround stories a "crash".
While many of the longer feature stories you see every day on TODAY take days, weeks, or even months to produce, the vast majority of the breaking news and even some of the lifestyle stories you see every morning are put together the day (and often the night) before it airs. And while you may think that a two-minute story doesn't sound like that big a deal, in reality it takes a dedicated team of people racing against time to put together a story in just one day.
Generally, to "crash" a story means that you get a story assignment anywhere from 10am to 3pm on one day, then shoot, script, and edit that story to air the very next morning. For instance, this Monday I was given an assignment at 11am, a real estate mortgage story with CNBC correspondent Diana Olick, that I had to "crash" for air at 7:15am on Tuesday.
After touching base with Diana, we divvied up the tasks and got to work. While Diana was busy interviewing real estate analysts and writing the script (all while appearing live throughout the day on CNBC), I was screening through footage and trying to track down a real life guest who would be the face of the story. By 3pm, I was able to track down a great guest, but there was just one problem...she lived in Boston, and I was in New York. I was soon able to secure a camera crew in Boston who met the guest at her house after work, and I conducted an interview with her via speakerphone. As the crew then raced the tape to a local television studio to beam it to me in New York, my editor Molly Paul and I started to put the story together at 7pm. By 2am, the piece was finished and ready to go.
However, not all crashes go that smoothly. The most frustrating aspect of a crash is when the story that you've worked so hard on doesn't air, or gets "bumped". This can often happen when a breaking news story takes priority over the story you crashed.
I recently had a crash that didn't make air for a slightly different reason. Last week, I was assigned to crash a story on the two "Anchor For Today" finalists, Brad Hook and David Burge. We wanted to do a little "road-to-the-finals" story that would let viewers who may have missed some of the contest see how Brad and David wound up as the last contestants standing.
We started shooting with Brad and David as soon as the show ended on Wednesday morning. We shot them getting anchoring tips from Al, Ann, and Natalie. We shot them meeting with producers, doing wardrobe fittings, and studying for their segments. We also shot interviews with both guys about their experience at TODAY. Then my associate producer Zoe Marcus and I furiously screened and logged all the tapes that we shot that day, I wrote a rough draft of the script, and got into the edit room with my editor Mike Sadowski at around 10pm Wednesday night (12 hours and counting).
Mike and I spent the next 10 hours re-working the script, changing shots and adding effects. Zoe returned with our camera crew at 5am to do a little more shooting, and by 8am, the piece was pretty much finished. Mike and I added a couple of final touches, and we were ready to transfer the story from our editing computer to the studio when disaster struck.
To explain exactly what happened, I'll use a little e-mail analogy. Imagine you had been writing a very long e-mail in Outlook that you had to send by 9am. Now imagine that at 8:30am, you hit the send button to send your e-mail, but your computer freezes before the e-mail is sent. You'd probably restart the computer and try to send the e-mail again, but imagine if after you restarted, your computer froze again. Our edited story is like that e-mail. We have to send our story (a computer file) to another computer that plays it back on the show. The file froze each computer that tried to open it, and ultimately it took our technicians over two hours to finally be able to open the story without the computer crashing. By then it was 10:30 a.m., and the show was over.
The whole experience was extremely frustrating, both because so many people worked so long and so hard to put the story together, and because I was really happy with how the piece turned out, so it was really disappointing that nobody got to see it. But happily, thanks to the magic of the Internet and TODAYshow.com, you can still check out the "Anchor Boot Camp" crash. WATCH VIDEO
(P.S. - Make sure you watch the entire thing to catch the classic Matt Lauer cameo at the end!)