A Christmas Parade
By Steve Kremer
This is a true story. Only the names have been changed.
Back in the late 1970's I got my first job out of college working at a television station in a mid-sized Midwestern city. I was hired as a floor director. Perhaps you've seen floor directors portrayed in movies and on TV. We are the people wearing a headset and microphone who stand next to the camera and tell the TV anchors "Three minutes to air." Plus, you might see us using our fingers to count down, "Three, Two, One" then a pointed finger "cue" to begin. We also often hold cue cards, and help adjust microphones and other duties on the "floor" of a television studio. Along with our normal duties we were often first hand witnesses to some of the funny things that can happen during a live television broadcast.
The TV station were I worked had a tradition of broadcasting a one hour program every morning during the two weeks leading up to Christmas. The program was called "Christmas Parade" and had been a staple on the station since the 1950's and the format hadn't changed. A mixture of a cooking show featuring holiday recipes, Christmas carols sung by local high school choirs, and the very important visits from local retailers with products for sale. We called the products "suggestions for the viewer's gift giving needs." The show was hosted by the station's local sportscaster and by a woman named Martha Weaver. Martha was a legend in the city having hosted cooking and talk shows on radio and television for over thirty years. Martha was very sweet but not particularly bright. She was like the dear old befuddled aunt that everybody loves. She's very nice but she's just one teaspoon short of a full cup if you know what I mean.
It's hard to describe the chaos of doing a large live show like "Christmas Parade". The studio had a full kitchen in one corner, a set of risers for the live choirs in another, and two corners set up for the advertisers to bring in their products. Everything from full size cars, to snow blowers, to pianos and organs were wheeled in and out during the hour. Also a daily feature was a live fashion show. Bill Reed, owner of Bill Reed's Fashions, would bring in some models who would do a fashion show of the latest Christmas and New Year's women's party gowns.
The script for the third show of the week seemed fairly routine but ended up providing a few unexpected laughs. First scheduled was a cooking segment and later a performance of a Christmas song by a local owner of a piano and organ store. After the performance, Martha would interview the owner about the organ for sale and then introduce Bill Reed and his models for the fashion show.
The cooking segment started fairly smoothly with Martha admitting she was cooking a recipe she had been making for years. Shortly after making that observation she admitted that she had forgotten some of the ingredients and said "Oh, where did I put that recipe card." She began searching the counter top ad-libbing some of the ingredients. Martha's secretary Trudy was standing just off camera and immediately realized that she had the recipe card in her hand. Being a true broadcasting professional she quickly dropped to her hands and knees and crawled behind the counter out of camera range to hand the card to Martha. Most television hosts would have discreetly reached down and taken the card. But with Martha you never knew what she would do. She was in the middle of mixing something and she stopped abruptly and said "Why Trudy what are you doing down there on the floor. Oh, you brought me the recipe card." Because of the cooking counter all the viewers at home were seeing was Martha looking down talking at the floor. Again at this point most TV hosts would just take the card and continue on preparing the recipe. But Martha had other plans. She said "Oh, thank you so much for the card Trudy." Still staring at the floor to the viewer's eyes she continued "Everybody, this is my secretary Trudy, she is such a help. Why don't you stand up and say hello to every one." So up popped Trudy from behind the counter with a very embarrassed smile. Martha described what a great secretary Trudy was for a moment or two and then ended by patting Trudy on the head. To this day I don't know whether Martha pushed down on Trudy's head or Trudy just decided against walking away, but Trudy left the viewer's screen by slowly sinking down behind the counter the opposite of how she had appeared. There were howls of laughter in the control room and I had to cover my with my face with my clipboard to keep Martha from seeing my laughing. Martha finished her cooking segment but she had more unexpected laughs for us later in the show.
The next several segments went on without incident until our interview with the owner of the piano and organ store. The script called for the owner to perform a traditional Christmas song on his new Hammond organ then be interviewed by Martha about some of the features of the new organ and some of the great gifts that could be found at his store. At the end of the segment Martha was supposed to toss to Bill Reed who would narrate the fashion show of dresses from his store. My part was to hold up a large printed cue card for Martha to read at the end of the organ segment. One of the features of the new organ was the addition of a synthesizer keyboard that was a rather novel feature. So the cue card I held for Martha to read said:
"These big organs with the synthesizer keyboards are really in style this Christmas. Speaking of in style, here's Bill Reed with his holiday fashions."
The organ segment ended with Martha thanking her guest for stopping by. Then for a second she had that "deer caught in the headlights" moment of confusion. I stood next to the camera holding the cue card frantically pointing at the card. She then smiled and began reading the card. Except she said:
"These big organs with the synthesizer keyboards are really in style this Christmas. Speaking of big organs here's Bill Reed."
The director cut to the shot of Bill Reed who stood there for a moment stunned. He then began his well practiced routine while the models walked down the runway trying to cover their mouths and giggling. The roar from the supposedly soundproof control room was incredible. The laughter in the studio started to become contagious, but we were able to hold it until the next commercial break.
Martha spent the rest of the show, and probably most of her career, completely oblivious to why everyone was laughing.
Another TV Story...."Hey, Nice Tie."
March 10, 2002
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