Eyewitness "Today" Account + Twelve Live TV Tips

Thanks to everyone for their kind words about Redfin’s appearance on “Today,” which broadcast on Friday our data-driven guidance on how to sell a home more quickly, for a higher price. We showed up in the local papers and the blogs. Another food-fight broke out with the real estate bloggers. But mostly people have asked what it was like to be on the show. Here is our starstruck eyewitness account…

The segment was scheduled to run at 7:40, and the producer asked me to arrive by 6:50. Outside the Today studio it was festive: there was a gigantic Christmas tree, and traces of snow still on the ground, and a crowd of tourists, and a security guard manning a velvet rope. It was windy and cold. Inside there was another security guard, and — what a thrill! — another velvet rope.

Christmas at Rockefeller Plaza

The green room was just around the corner. The carpets were comfortable and worn. I was alone with two production assistants who were surfing the web on an ancient computer and watching the show; the food was plentiful: doughnut holes, egg sandwiches, cookies, bagels, granola bars, a plastic bowl of cut fruit. The place was crammed full of newspapers and televisions, all tuned to NBC. “Mind if we see what else is on?” I asked. They shook their heads.

A contingent of cooks showed up with a truck-sized slab of beef that they were going to prepare on the air. Since it was so early, I asked the PAs if they ate the food from the cooking segments and they said, “Oh yeah.”

The mood was unruffled. Brian Boitano was in the building, and somebody said, “It’s Brian Boitano.” Julia Roberts appeared just after Redfin, but her segment was taped the day before. Unlike “60 Minutes,” which was as highly charged and carefully wrought behind the scenes as it was on camera, “Today” is sunny, relaxed and fast-paced. It is after all on for four hours a day, almost every day. All the make-up people and production assistants are very encouraging, almost like amusement park attendants.

Heading up the stairs to the make-up room, I walked through a door and literally ran into Matt Lauer. “Hi guys!” he said. “Do I really need make-up?” I asked and the make-up people nodded with religious conviction. I asked them about their favorite stars to work on and they told me “the stars bring their own make-up people.”

The producer called to say I would do great. I think I sounded nervous, which made him sound very nervous. We ended up reassuring one another. I wanted to ask if I could use the word “kick-ass” on the air, for reasons I can no longer remember, but then told him “forget it,” and he said “what?” and I said, “no, forget it,” and then he said “Just don’t get nervous.”

At that very moment I was thinking of a Post headline I saw on my last visit here, when the Mets choked in a pennant-race (“PAGING DR. HEIMLICH”), and the one from the day before, when Mike Huckabee had to apologize to Mitt Romney (“I HUCKED UP.”) A PA escorted me onto the set five minutes before the segment started. I shook hands briefly with Meredith Viera, and with 90 seconds to go, I was wired for sound.

While I sat in the bar-stool, Meredith Vieira’s executive producer kept making jokes in her earpiece that caused her to say “You’re terrible.” And “stop.” She turned to me and said “He’s just being mean,” though of course I had no idea what the executive producer was saying. She sized me up and then said, “Can I preview the out?”– the segue to the next segment which the anchors memorize in case at any moment they have to end the current segment.

I tried to remember the advice I got the day before from a friend of a friend, waiting on the outdoor platform for a train in an ice-storm, clutching a cell phone with a frozen, agonized claw (“How much time do you have?” he asked. “12 hours.” “Oh my God. And what’s all that noise in the background?” “It’s me, freezing to death.” “Ok, the first thing to remember is to sound happy — you don’t sound too happy right now, ha ha!”). Here was the advice we got from him, and an Omaha pediatrician with TV experience, both of whom were enormously helpful:

  1. Enthusiasm, passion, conviction: The most important qualities
  2. Always answer three questions: So what? Who cares? What’s in it for me (that is, the viewer)?
  3. Assume the viewer is channel surfing and didn’t hear the question.
  4. Look at the interviewer; let the camera-people worry about the angle in which to shoot your face.
  5. It isn’t uncommon for the questions to change the night before the show.
  6. Don’t lean back in the chair; scoot forward, as this naturally tends to improve your posture.
  7. Tuck arms close to sides, as this also tends to improve posture, but don’t have your arms too close to your sides.
  8. Talk with your hands if that’s how you’re comfortable.
  9. Avoid correcting the anchor; validate the questions.
  10. If you want to circle back to an answer, you can say, “Like we were talking about earlier…”
  11. The interviewer usually chooses you because he or she is most interested in your area; assume she is interested in what you have to say.
  12. It’s probably best to avoid wearing white or patterns of a finer weave than a centimeter. Wearing a blazer gives depth (“I left my blazer at home.” “OK then, wearing a blazer makes you look stuck up. Ha ha!”)

On the set, Vieira was very relaxed and amazingly good at scrolling ahead through the teleprompter script just before the segment started and then never really looking at it again. She was also friendly, which calmed me down. Then she kicked off the segment by saying that I was here to explain how everything a Realtor tells you may be wrong. I knew that somewhere at that very moment, a blood-thirsty mob of real estate agents was forming.

The rest of the interview, I was wRedfin on Todayorried about what they would think. But then before I knew it we were done. The producer showed up and said we did great, not entirely convincingly. Swinging by the control room — eerily dark but for the light of forty television monitors — I saw on one monitor that Vieira was already doing aerobics with her next guest.

I met a children’s book author from Palm Beach when I went to pick up my laptop from the green room, and someone in the crowd outside cheered when I came outside. I checked my phone and saw nine text messages from Redfin’s well-wishers. And I felt very grateful to Today’s producers, and lucky to have such a wonderful team, and to work at such a great company.

My mom called to say I was “very informative. But why can’t you sit up straight?”

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