Wednesday, February 6, 2013

As Diane Sawyer & I Both Know, One Interview Can Change It All

I’m often asked how I got into television.  Truth is, I grew up wanting to be a Child Psychologist.  In college, I started out studying elementary education for moderate special needs.  But after my very first rotation as a student teacher, I knew the position wasn’t for me.  Even in the second grade of an affluent Massachusetts town, the job saddened me.  Barely seven years old, one beautiful girl suffered from liver issues.  A classmate, consistently late to school, had to deal in the morning not only with getting ready alone, but also with his alcoholic mother.  And this wasn’t even the special needs room.

The teacher whom I was supporting told me that in her first years of teaching she dreaded Friday afternoons, as she would miss and worry about her students over the weekend.  She could hardly wait for Monday morning to arrive.  “If you don’t feel that way, this isn’t the job for you” she said, clearly wishing someone had given her the same advice.

Next on my list of who I wanted to be when I grew up was Diane Sawyer.  So I changed my major, made a great demo reel, and over ordered this ridiculous headshot:

My very first job was at a production company housed in Boston’s ABC affiliate, WCVB.  I knew from the moment I stepped into their newsroom that it was the energy behind the camera, not in front of it, that I craved.  I pursued producing, with great success, but a small part of me often wondered if I had made the right decision.  Until this.

Nearly a decade ago, I spent several months in Austin, Texas working on a show for ABC called “Welcome To The Neighborhood”.  Several “diverse” but well-deserving families would compete to win a home in a very white, Christian & Republican neighborhood, with these peeps.

After months of casting and prep, principal shooting began, and in no time at all we were shooting our first elimination, and accompanying interviews.

So as the professional tattoo artists were shuffled off into their send-off interviews feeling frustrated and dejected, I held the hand of their gorgeous 6 year old, blonde hair, blue eyed daughter, ready to do hers.

She sat on the curb while I sat on the pavement and asked her why she thought her family was being sent home so soon.  She had yet to enter the first grade, but spoke more eloquently than most high school graduates.  We cried together as she expressed how hard it is to have people make assumptions about her parents based only on their looks.  I knew in that moment that I was doing what I was meant to do.

Unfortunately, the world didn’t get to see that interview, or the incredible story that proceeded to unfold throughout the season.  Hours before our premiere, the National Fair Housing Alliance threatened to sue ABC on the grounds that the show violated anti-discrimination housing laws.  Sadly, it was shelved.

Granted, network promos aired where a current resident in the cul-de-sac that would welcome the winner stated he would not tolerate gays in his neighborhood.  But in an incredible turn of events and prejudice (no need for a spoiler alert warning here) the gay family won.  And in a way, so did I.  Years after that interview, it’s camera operator recommended me for a job that I took and was a life-changing experience for me.

Difficult as it may be, often we must wait until an event has long passed before we can fully understand or appreciate it’s purpose.  Thankfully, it can be well worth the wait.