New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters recently went on MSNBC’s Morning Joe program at 6 in the morning. At 7:15, the hosts turned to Peters to ask a question only to discover he wasn’t on the set any longer. Next they asked “did he say a single word?”
It turns out that he did speak for a couple of sentences at 6:45 AM. Still, it begs the question, is this normal or right?
Peter’s later made this comment, “One thing I’ve learned from doing TV: I’ve never regretted not opening my mouth. It’s always the times when you do — and shouldn’t have — that get you in trouble.”
Other media commentators weighed in ” @pourmecoffee @brianstelter “Gee, I really wish I’d opened my mouth more on that cable show.” Said no one ever. Restraint isn’t a bad thing”
I think this analysis is off. To appear on a set at 6:00 AM means you have to get up at least by 4:30 AM, take a car to the studio, put on makeup, sit around, do pre-interviews, then ride back to your home or office. It can easily add up to a 3 hour chunk of time out of your day. Three hours for one sentence on TV doesn’t seem like a good trade.
I’ve appeared on panel TV discussions myself at least a 1000 times and I can tell you they are tricky. It requires some finesse. If you talk too much you can come across as boorish and as an interrupter. But if you just wait your turn until you are called on you can end up like Peters, with no air time at all. As a guest, you have to use judgment, not unlike being a guest at a dinner party. If more than a 5 or 10 minute stretch goes by and you haven’t said anything, you need to think of a quick, clever way to add to the conversation. Otherwise, you are dead weight.
It’s true that saying stupid things on cable TV can get you into trouble. But the flip side, which none of these commentators is talking about, is that saying interesting, intelligent ,and insightful things on TV is what can get you talked about, remembered, invited back and advance a career.
Lesson for TV guests: don’t just wait to be called on like you are a kid in first grade.