(From Elliott Walker, TODAY Producer)
My name is Elliott Walker ("that's an unusual name for a woman...") and I have been a producer on the TODAY show for 17 years.
That's 119 in dog years, yet it has flown by because something compelling is always going on and it's our job at TODAY to find a way to get it onto your television. Politics, music, the military, national security, movies, religion and American history are some of the things that excite me, and therein lies the addictive thrill of working on TODAY: I'm always learning, but more importantly, hoping that the stories I work on will give you, the person watching, something you'll want to think about, tell a friend about, feel outraged or maybe inspired by, the rest of your day. At least, that's what I look for when I watch television. (OK, I also love to watch Hugh Laurie act, but we can talk about that another day.)
Recent interviews I produced with bestselling authors Bernard Goldberg, Harlan Coben and Michael Beschloss are good examples. It's great working with authors who are coming on the show because I love to read and I believe book publishing is a boiler room for fresh ideas.
Bernie Goldberg was a correspondent at CBS News for 27 years until he couldn't take what he considered its liberal bias anymore. He quit and reinvented himself as a conservative media critic who apparently touched a nerve, because his first book, "BIAS," was a #1 bestseller. He's a regular on FOX News but chose to come on TODAY to talk about his newest book, "Crazies to the Left of Me, Wimps to the Right: How One Side Lost Its Mind and the Other Lost Its Nerve". WATCH VIDEO
As you can see, Goldberg doesn't shy away from name calling (not my favorite aspect of TV punditry) but he also doesn't spare either political party. In fact, he's increasingly disgusted with both of them. And even though he called Rosie O'Donnell "the Queen of Stupid," he opposed calls for her to be fired from "THE VIEW" (before she announced she was leaving anyway) because, as he put it, "she has a right to be stupid".
Talking to Bernie before the segment was tough, though, because he views network news producers - in this case, me - as unlikely to give him a fair shake. From my point of view, I've always been tasked by NBC News with bending over backwards to be fair to all political views, and I sincerely hope it shows. In the end, you, the viewer, really have to be the judge.
So we invite Goldberg on to bash the media - that is, us. Why? I liked a remark Matt made to Bernie during a 2002 joint interview with Michael Moore. Both were criticizing the press, to which Matt replied, "let me stop it there and say this is a little bit like inviting two guys over for dinner and then they tell you they think you've done a terrible job decorating your house." Indeed.
But in the final analysis, I believe most of us, like Bernie, make our political choices a la carte, taking some liberal ideas off the menu, adding some conservatives ideas, and probably ending up more purple than pure red or pure blue. For that reason, I like hearing Bernie's voice on TODAY from time to time ... even if he criticizes the decor while he's here.
If Bernie Goldberg thrives in the day-to-day political rapids, NBC News Presidential Historian Michael Beschloss takes a much, much longer view. WATCH VIDEO Even though it's fascinating to talk to him about what's going right now, Beschloss believes you can't tell if a President has really done a good job until 20 to 30 years later! Sometimes the assessment can be radically different then. This week "NEWSWEEK" magazine has a cover about Beschloss's new book, "Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America - 1789 - 1989" and relates it to the 2008 Presidential campaign. NEWSWEEK's cover reads, "Wanted: A New Truman". But it's funny to think that when he left office, Harry Truman's approval rating was about 35%, which Beschloss says is about the equivalent of 25% today. Amazingly low. Nobody was looking for a "new Truman" then! But, as the saying goes, many of his decisions "wore well" and today, "the buck stops here" sounds good all over again.
Then there's Harlan Coben, the engaging author of fourteen thrillers, including his newest, "The Woods". Fun fiction you want to take on vacation, if you don't mind a sleepless night as you approach the end of the book and can't put it down. WATCH VIDEO
Coben sets all his stories in New Jersey, mostly in the suburbs, yet is a huge international sensation. His books sell very well here, but he is so popular in France that we tease that he's the Jerry Lewis of crime fiction. Now he teases back that he wants to build his readership in Germany, so he can become the David Hasselhoff of thrillers there. It shouldn't be too hard - he's already #1 in neighboring Poland!
The other thing I find so refreshing about Harlan is that, unlike many authors who can be reclusive or shy, he prefers to work in public places. So if you enter a Starbucks in northern New Jersey some time and see a bald man, 6'4" tall, scribbling on a big pad of paper, you may have spotted Harlan Coben at work on his next novel.
I'll have a tall skinny latte with cinnamon... and a shot of inspiration, please.