Behind the Scenes of “Capitol Outlook”
Often in these reports we try to take you behind-the-scenes to show how legislation gets made – the lobbyists providing hand-outs to overwhelmed legislators, the subtle horse-trading at early morning committee meetings, the soaring rhetoric on the floor…and the foolish bombast.
We have our own behind-the-scenes struggles at Capitol Outlook. Every Friday, we have to lasso guests, craft scripts, coach studio crews, edit field shot pieces, and deliver an hour of (we hope) information, insight and (well, let’s stretch) entertainment. And this year, we’re doing it with skeleton staff, new equipment, and a lot of mental duct tape.
Capitol Outlook consists of, essentially, five segments. First there’s a “news roll” – up to the minute events from the legislature, spiced up with snippets of interviews and b-roll (if we’re talking about education accountability, for instance, we’ll brighten the story with some shots from the classroom); second, a “package”, an in-depth story about some issue before the solons and its ramifications (first week: redistricting; second: workplace safety; third week: uh….not there yet); third, a lengthy, in-depth conversation with legislators about the issues, covering the big stories but often focusing on a particular area (this past week, we talked mainly about the cost of health care programs, the elephant – ah, walrus – in the budget room); fourth, our popular “coffee shop” segment, when we get out of Cheyenne and visit what I call the ‘gab tables’ around the state; and, finally, a 10-minute section of commentary, where we hear the opinions of everyone from journalists to lobbyists to academics to (last week) religious leaders.
Kyle Nicholoff, our production manager, has to knit this together on the fly in our satellite production truck. Years ago, he was lulled into thinking Outlook was just a talking heads show, where a group of people who think they have something important to say (including me) sit around and say important somethings; you turn the camera on, and 56 minutes later you turn it off. Instead, I’ve saddled him with a full-fledged magazine show.
We tape it “live” (no stopping to start over) at around 6 p.m., beam it up to the satellite, and send it out to your screens at 8 p.m. We have students and freelancers manning the four cameras in our studio in the basement of the Capitol in Cheyenne, one of whom runs a teleprompter for the hapless host; engineers Robert Haight and Mike Nielsen are out in the satellite truck cueing tape, lining up the dish with the satellite, and jumping to the commands of Kyle, who is talking through headsets to camera operators, engineers and me, editing camera shots as we go; another tech in the truck is switching microphones so the person whose lips are moving can be heard; one of the studio crew is making gymnastics moves behind the camera to tell me how much time is left. With split second coordination, the team has to put pre-recorded b-roll up on the screen during the news section, and come in and out of the packages and coffee shop segments, which are produced and edited a day or two before.
Last week provided a good example of how tough this can be. First, we had some guests grousing about the time (there were spouses waiting, and banquets to go to!), so we had to record the show in reverse order – commentators first, then the legislators, then the news roll. We had trouble getting the b-roll and package (about OSHA and workplace safety) out of a Mac computer we use for editing, which delayed the news roll right up to broadcast time – which meant we had to go live for the opening news segment, which meant neither Kyle (in the truck) or me (in the studio) would have any wiggle room for mistakes. Then the rest of the show had to be reassembled DURING the satellite feed going directly on the air, pasting together the packages and segments we’d recorded just minutes before, so that it appeared the show was flowing from news to package to legislators to coffee shop to commentators. When in fact, it was done in a completely jumbled order.
Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy the adrenaline of such crises, and the edgy feeling of going live, when you can’t fix a missed name, or a curse, or a misstatement. (I made one last week, when I mistakenly said to a Catholic deacon that the Obama Administration was forcing church-affiliated health plans to offer abortion, when in fact it was insisting on contraception.)
We get through these things, though often it feels like failure is imminent. That calls for celebration, but I can’t say we partied last week: the host (now who would that be?) had a melt-down and stormed out when he heard the OSHA package had gone up with some distorted images.
Oh well. A little drama queen posturing makes the behind-the-scenes soap opera more entertaining. The truth is, I’m immensely proud of the small group that works so hard to get the show out. The beers (oh alright – and a martini or two) are on me next week.