(By Mark Traub, TODAY Senior Stage Manager)
Hi there, my name is Mark, and I am the senior Stage Manager for the Today Show. I began work here in May of 1983, after working around NBC on different shows since June of 1980 and a brief stint at Good Morning America! I was to be a fill-in for a month and I guess they liked me, or someone lost my paperwork. Anyway, what I wanted to tell you about is some of the travels I have had with the show.
I travel all over the world with the show, and often I find myself in situations that take my breath away. In 1987 I took my first international trip with Today to Australia. We left New York in what turned out to be the start of a blizzard, and landed a day later in summery Sydney. One of our camera crews decided it would be great to get some video from the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, that iconic structure that towers over the Opera House, and asked me along. Well, we didn’t bother to ask permission, and just began our climb to the top, festooned with cameras both professional and personal. It wasn’t until we were on our way down that someone thought to stop us, and once we showed some ID we were allowed to pass with the request to next time stop at the office for permission. Now the general public can climb the bridge, but you can’t bring your own camera. I have all the pictures of the bridge I want, taken from my unique point of view.
We had coordinated our broadcasts with the America’s Cup sailing race and Dennis Connor’s quest for the cup, so our first shows were from Perth. Bryant Gumbel and I were put on a Zodiac inflatable boat and sped across the harbor to get an exclusive interview with Connor on his yacht. We had a very limited time to tape an interview and had to make it as live because we would have no time to edit it. So I would hide on the boat so only Bryant could see me for his time cues and time the interview to fit into its hole in the show. I still think about that trip across the harbor, trying to beat the sunset.
Later that year we traveled on the Orient Express across Europe, and then in October we went to China for a groundbreaking series of broadcasts. I’ll never forget the feeling I had standing at the top of the Great Wall as Bryant and Jane Pauley opened that historic week. Our show was the first to ever be allowed to broadcast from the Forbidden City, and in a slight mix-up my stage manager partner and I were told to be onsite at 5 a.m. Well, no one was there to open the door for us, and knocking on a 20-foot high, 6-inch thick wooden door to a centuries old Chinese castle will get you nowhere. Eventually we were allowed in and wandered around the grounds of the Forbidden City, unmolested by other people. Later that week we broadcast from the Bund in Shanghai, and it was quite a culture shock to return there with Matt in November of 2005 for Where in the World is Matt Lauer and find they’d built an entirely new city in the 18 years since I was last there.
Speaking of Where in the World, two of my favorite memories of my travels come from my experience with the series. The first was on my first trip with Matt, his fifth, when we arrived in Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We watched eagerly as we landed for the sight of the temples, and we were rewarded by vast rectangle carved out of the jungle, walled temples with stunning stupas rising from their midst. We were soon on site, and in my scant 15 minutes of free time that day I was able to wander through a bit of the temple. I so want to return.
Another place to return to is Easter Island, the most remote place on earth (that's me on Easter Island in the picture above). Where in the World had to be scheduled so as not to violate the strict international flight rule on the point of no return. We could not take off or land within a five-hour window of any scheduled flight going to or from the island. If we crashed on take-off or landing and another plane had to make an emergency landing, then you had potentially two airplane crashes on the isolated island. It was a tricky piece of maneuvering the schedule, but Mary Alice O’Rourke and Evan Klupt were able to work out the details with the great folks at the GE travel office, who know everything about flying everywhere.
Suffice it to say, we had the great pleasure of staying on the island for two full days and truly enjoyed the sights and hospitality of our hosts and incredibly qualified guides, with nary an inch of the island left unseen by us. Oh, except the caldera of the ancient volcano, completely fogged in when I got there.
Matt Lauer on Easter Island