Lester Holt is considered one of the busiest people in televsion news. Luckily, I was able to steal a few minutes of his time after our show last Saturday to talk about some of his other talents. Lester Holt: television news anchor, musician, actor?! But before we get to that, Lester sent in an update from his coverage of the California wildfires:
Q. How do you approach covering a story like the California wildfires?
Lester: I grew up in California and so brush fires are not new to me. In fact I covered massive wildfires in Malibu in the early eighties when I worked for a Los Angeles TV station. My approach is simple. I never take fire for granted. In 1983 I vividly recall watching flames jump the road we were shooting on. We suddenly had fire burning all around us. It was a one-way dirt road deep in a canyon. I jumped in the driver's seat, my crew jumped in behind me and I backed down the road -- literally racing for our lives.
Q: Your son attends Pepperdine University -- which was evacuated because of nearby fires. How are he and his classmates doing?
Lester: I did have a chance to visit with my son while covering the current fires. The students were well taken care of, however flames did reach uninhabited parts of the campus. In addition the fire department helicopters were using a pond on campus to load up water to drop on the fires. The kids were all fine and seemed to take it in stride. I frankly don't think they were too upset at having classes cancelled two days in a row.
Q: Switching gears, our next question comes from Rob, from South Carolina: “What’s harder—evening news reporting? Or morning news reporting? It appears that morning news allows for more fun and spontaneity.”
Lester: Hosting a morning show is much more challenging, because so much of what we do is unscripted. There is a lot more spontaneity in a morning show so you really have to be on your game. You have to be able to react really quickly to things. Doing the Nightly newscast, it’s a much more structured broadcast – scripted, very few live interviews. The degree of difficulty there is trying to give stories the proper treatment in a very short amount of time. You only have 30 minutes, so the hard thing there is making sure you put together a solid broadcast and give people what they need.
Q: Another viewer emailed this question – Randy from Bloomington, Illinois asks: “I recently saw you on the film ‘The Fugitive.’ Were you working in Chicago when they were filming the movie? Been in any other films?
Lester: I was in Chicago at the time and I had a cameo in “The Fugitive.” And from that I went on to other movies. If you’ve ever watched the movie “Primal Fear,” there’s a bar scene and I appear on one of the TV sets in the bar. I also did a cameo as a newscaster on the old CBS show “Chicago Hope.” And I was a semi-regular character – anchor character – on an old CBS TV show called “Early Edition.” If you recall, it was a show about a guy who got tomorrow’s newspaper today. And not too long ago I appeared as myself in an episode of “30 Rock” on NBC.
Q: Many of us here at Weekend Today are huge fans of the NBC show “The Office.” You are a big fan as well. Do you have a favorite episode or an all-time favorite “Office” moment?
Lester: My favorite episode was “Diversity Day” (from the first season). When Michael put the label on his head, “Martin Luther King.” And Stanley put the one “Black” – I just lost it. Absolutely funniest episode.
Q: Sometimes we can hear you practicing the electric bass guitar in your office. Do you ever play in public?
Lester: I do. I have a couple of basses in my office. And I try to be courteous of my co-workers, but sometimes I get carried away and I crank up my amp and I rock out. It’s kind of my stress reliever. I play jazz. I occasionally appear with a friend of mine who’s a jazz vocalist who plays some of the clubs here in New York. And often, when I’m doing a story on musical groups, I’ll jam with them. I recently jammed with Clint Black, a country western star. We were interviewing him for a story and we were at one of his sound checks, and he invited me up to play. We just knocked around for about 15 minutes or so.
Q: You’ve even recorded stuff with a group call “Band from TV” with other members Hugh Laurie from the Fox show “House”, Greg Grunberg from NBC’s “Heroes, and James Denton from ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” to name a few. Should viewers be worried that you might chuck this life in for the glamorous life of rock & roll? [Watch Lester play with the band here]
Lester: No, no (laughing). I love music, but I’m not good enough to make any money at it. Journalism is my first love. But music comes in a close second. What’s important for me is that whatever you do, whatever your passion is, you should have another passion – something in your life. And when I put on that musician hat and I put the bass in my hands, I’m not Lester Holt the TV guy anymore. I’m just Lester Holt who likes music. And that’s nice to have another outlet.
Q: Speaking of music, what would we find playing on your iPod right now?
Lester: You could find everything from Corinne Bailey Rae to Earth Wind and Fire to Ella Fitzgerald and Ron Carter. I have a pretty eclectic mix. But mostly it’s a lot of 70’s and 80’s R&B and a lot of jazz. But the most surprising thing on my iPod – and I’m not sure why its there – I have a Partridge Family song. “I Woke Up in Love This Morning.” I can’t remember when I downloaded it. But it comes on, and I kind of like it.
Q: Television anchor, actor and musician – and I’ve also heard you are a pretty mean scrabble player. Is there anything you are NOT good at?
Lester: (Laughs) Something I’m not very good at? I’m not terribly athletic. And….there’s a lot of things I’m not good at. And if it makes anybody feel better, I was really a pretty bad math student growing up.
Q: We see you in the morning on Weekend Today and in the evenings on Weekend Nightly. When you do actually find free time, how do you like to spend it?
Lester: I like to work out. I think it’s very important, because I have a stressful job and I do like to work out. I just moved into a new home, and I’m spending a lot of time right now trying to refine that. And my music. I do spend a lot of time either playing music or going to listen to music. As a jazz aficionado, I’m in the greatest jazz city in the world. So you can often find me in jazz clubs just checking out the scene.
Q: Just recently we’ve seen your reports from Africa. And in the last couple weeks you did stories from Houston and Chicago. Out of all the places you have traveled, where you like to go back to the most?
Lester: I think actually, South Africa. And its not just because it was the most recent place. I was there and I actually called my family and said, we’re coming back here. The problem with being a journalist is you go places and you’re working. You don’t get to appreciate everything. But I got enough of a sampler of South Africa, I thought I want to come here when I don’t have to interview people for a living so that I can really enjoy it. Because I think it was just a magnificent place. So I’d like to go back there as soon as next summer.