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So… I Guess I May Actually Kinda Be On TV Sorta Soon

Newhart, Weenie, Vermont TodayI want to tell you a story about my favorite episode of Newhart, Bob Newhart’s second sitcom. In this series, Bob was a humble Vermont inkeeper named Dick Louden, who, as the show’s producers searched for sharks to jump, became a host of a local cable TV talk show. (They never jumped that shark, by the way. The best episodes came after Dick started his TV gig.)

Dick kept his show low-key and respectable, as PBS as possible, against the wishes of his cheesy, more FOX-like producer, Michael (my hero, Peter Scolari). Dick’s idol was newsman Edwin Newman, and in the episode I’m going to tell you about, he actually books Newman as a guest. But Newman cancels at the last minute, and the fill-in guest is a phony spoon-bending psychic from the mall. Grumpy about losing his A-list guest for this clown, Dick calls the psychic a “weenie” on air. In typical Bob Newhart style, this is the extent of him blowing his cool, and afterward, he’s mortified at his momentary breach of journalistic decorum.

To his surprise, though, ratings go through the roof, and before long, his producer is intentionally booking lunatic guests who will bait Dick into calling them “weenies”. They even add a peanut gallery of overhyped audience members chanting, “WEE-NIE! WEE-NIE! WEE-NIE!”

Dick gets caught up in the spectacle and basically morphs into Jerry Springer, though I should add that this was four years before Jerry Springer’s talk show debuted. This was satire at its finest, people.

Have I mentioned that I love this show?

Well, I always thought that I’d make terrible television because I’m not a weenie shouter. I’m more like Dick at the beginning of the episode — quiet, reserved and just a tad sarcastic. Somehow, though, a few weeks ago, I was approached to do weekly roundtable segments for a new show that’ll be airing on HLN (the former Headline News, CNN’s sister network) called Raising America with Kyra Phillips. The premise of the show is to report the news through a parent’s eye and with correspondents who are parents like me. Hey, I’m a parent like me! No wonder they picked me!

I didn’t announce my big news on this blog, because I was roughly 100+% convinced that, as soon as they saw me do some sort of rehearsal, they’d realize they made a terrible mistake and they’d find someone else to be their token “Dad blogger from a nontraditional family in the Northeast”.

Today was the rehearsal. A few minutes before I was scheduled to Skype in for my segment, a producer sent me a list of topics we might discuss, including this one, Snoop Lion to Educate Children on Smoking Weed. Here’s all you really need to read from that article:

The rapper said he would be happy to provide guidance to the eight and nine-year-olds he coaches at the Orange County Junior All America Football League on how to avoid irresponsible drug use.

‘It’s not that I would ever push weed on our kids,’ Snoop explained.

‘But if they wanted to, I would love to show them how. The right way, so that way they won’t get nothing put in their s*** or overdose or trying some s*** that ain’t clean.’

A great topic for discussion, but I could only imagine how a panel of parents would react. We’d all just be trying to out-shout each other with our condemnation of Mr. Lion. I figured my only way to stand out was to go a different route and play up the snarky cynicism. “I’m pretty sure if you read the rest of that quote, Kyra, it ends ‘and please be sure to mention my new album while condemning these views.’” I practiced my zinger a few times to get it just right, then dialed in for the session.

Because of how they setup their Skype connection, I couldn’t see who I was talking to, but there was a man and a woman on the panel with me. When Kyra raised the topic, the woman jumped right in with something like, “Well, pot is legal in Colorado now, so maybe Snoop has the right idea.”

Wait… what? She agrees with him?! I could hear a voice chanting softly in the back of my head… “Wee-nie! Wee-nie! Wee-nie!

The chant partially drowned out whatever the man said, but he didn’t challenge her premise. If I remember, he seemed to think kids smoking pot was inevitable, so why fight it?

Kyra could clearly tell I was bursting to say something. “Jerry, do you want to comment?”

“Yes, well, pot may be legal in some places,” I began, calmly, “but IT’S NOT LEGAL FOR 8 AND 9-YEAR-OLDS!!!!!!”

So I took the bait. I lost my cool. Here I was, against every instinct I had, arguing with people about current events on TV. (Granted, it was just a rehearsal, so I can’t show you the footage. The best I can give you is this.) “Anyway,” I went on. “I doubt even Snoop believes it. I’m pretty sure if you read the rest of his quote it said, ‘And by the way, my new album drops this fall!’”

It got a laugh. Zing! He shoots, he scores!

Cindy Brady, stage frightSuddenly, I’m starting to believe this may actually happen. I mean, I may still go all Cindy Brady when my big debut actually comes, but I think I’ve managed to trick the producers into thinking I can be interesting television for now.

So here it is, my official announcement and my plug for Raising America with Kyra Phillips, weekdays from 12PM-2PM on HLN, premiering Monday, February 4th.

My first segment is scheduled for Friday, February 8th, but I’ll be promoting it more as the date approaches.

Watch out, weenies! Here I come!

We Were On “The Today Show”

I never planned to put my kids on camera.  I mean, my cameras, sure.  I have about 10 bajillion hours of video of them doing completely mundane things like drooling or singing that new Taylor Swift song, which in my son’s interpretation, goes like this:

“We are never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, never ever ever, NEVER EVER EVER, NEVER EVER EVER… WE ARE NEVER EVER EVER…”

That’s it, over and over.  It never ends.  Never ever ever.

You can see why I keep these things to myself.

On the other hand, I feel a kind of parental duty to educate people about my family, to make the world a better, more understanding place for my kids, and of course, other kids in nontraditional families.

So when my friend Robin Sindler, who’s smart and talented and amazing and just happens to be a producer for The Today Show, came to me and asked if she could shoot a segment on our family, I thought about it for a bit and then said yes.

Then Drew said no.

Then, Robin said she would fly Susie down for an interview, meaning we’d get to spend a few days with her and her daughter, Grace.

We talked about it a lot, and eventually Drew agreed that if we were ever going to do something like this, we’d want to do it with someone we trust, on a show we respect, so our lives don’t get Jerry Springer-ized or used as a jumping-off point for some loudmouthed debate.

The Susie visit was a bonus, and of course, no story about my family would be complete unless it adequately praised Susie for her gift to us.

A few days later, Robin arrived with a small (and terrific) crew, and Drew and I slogged through what was probably our worst day of parenting ever.  We said things like, “Careful with Daddy’s mic pack!”  “Stay on the swing and keep smiling!”  And, “If you can just make it through one more bit of b-roll, we’ll have McDonald’s for lunch.”  We made the kids sit in the basement watching Beauty & The Beast while we shot our interview.  When Grace started crying, we asked Susie to take her for a walk so it wouldn’t ruin our audio.

We filmed at our swim class.  Usually, Drew’s at work for swim class, and I’m forced to sit with the other parents in a galley area so I don’t distract the kids.  For the camera crew, they let us sit at the edge of the pool, with our feet in the water.  The kids got to swim up to us and show us their moves, while a camera pushed in on their dripping wet faces.  They felt like movie stars.

It reminded me of all the reasons I never wanted our kids to be child actors.  “This is just for one day,” I kept reminding Drew.

I knew it had made an impression a couple of weeks later when we were reading one of my kids’ books.  (I think it was a Curious George book, but I can’t seem to find it now.)  There was a picture of a camera crew, including a woman who was standing in the back, taking notes on a small pad.  Sutton pointed at her and said, “That’s the producer!”

We had no idea how the piece would turn out or how many months would elapse before it would air.  It turned out it was only about three weeks.

I was terrified to watch it.  I didn’t want the kids to see it.  Drew had it on in his office, and he promised to call me afterward with his assessment.

“Go turn it on now,” he demanded.  “Sit and watch it with the kids.  It’s beautiful.”

So we did.  I backed up my Tivo and sat with the kids on the couch.

They were most excited to see their cousin Grace.  “Oh, she’s so cute!” they squealed.  I think they’re so used to seeing videos of themselves that they didn’t see this as anything special.  When it was over, Sutton asked, “Now can we watch another show about us?”

I’ve heard from lots of people since this piece aired — friends who loved hearing the story for what was probably the millionth time, strangers who enjoyed hearing it for the first time.  Now that we’ve seen it, we have no regrets.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy it, too.  It may be the last time you see us on TV for a while.

Until I can figure out how to embed, you can click here to watch the segment.