An esteemed newsreader enters the wrong studio to deliver the news, with hilarious results
An esteemed broadcaster takes a wrong turn.
My name is William McWilliam, or Bill, as I prefer to be called. I'm a career broadcaster and have scaled the heights of my profession; covering everything from local political rallies, to the opening of the new gymnasium in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I was once the head of BKO News, the major current affairs show in the whole of Brown County; it's a pity what happened with BKO, but that's another story, and I'm bound by a confidentality agreement anyway.
Today, I'd been trying for a job at HTM Studios. I had a chance to act as a voiceover reader for a documentary on Global Warming; I'd done this sort of work for so many years, I just had to turn up and read the prompts. So long as I knew what the documentary was about, I could put on the appropriate face for the viewers: an expert, even if I didn't know the first thing about it.
The only real doubt I had about taking on this role was that I only knew one thing about Global Warming: it was nonsense; a scheme put together by environmentalists to keep their membership lists growing, politicians seeking votes, scientists after funding; even oil companies justifying their high prices. One of those anyway.
But back to my day at HTM Studios.
If I really thought about it, the day was a complete disaster, nearly everything went wrong. I had trouble finding the studio to start with; they'd given me a map with clear directions; but I'm sure I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere.
When I finally found the studio, I was met by a very large security guard, who appeared amused when I gave my name. His laughter unnerved me a little, because, in my experience, security guards at news studios were always extremely serious.
I was also surprised to find there was a studio audience, which was unusual for documentary makers. It was a rather strange venue I had to admit. There seemed to be a bar, and at the entrance to the studio there were advertisements for, of all things, "The Comedy Club", and something called "The David Letterman Show".
Then, just as I was ready to start, I was informed there was no teleprompter, but luckily I had the script papers the agent had given me, so I winged it pretty well, I thought.
The producer warned me the audience would be a tough one, and would be hard to win over. This confused me a little, since I'd simply be reading the script in my usual serious manner. But it made me more determined than ever to succeed, to perform in front of an audience of my peers.
The studio that had been prepared for me had just a simple desk and executive chair, but I was used to this sort of set up; I'd read the news at BKO. So I prepared myself mentally to be an advocate for Global Warming; which was a little tricky, since I had also been a media spokesperson for the oil industry.
As I sat at the desk waiting to begin my audition, I quickly surveyed the audience. An experienced and accomplished speaker, I could size up a crowd pretty quickly; I'd lost count of the number of Rotary club meetings I'd spoken at.
But this crowd was sitting in absolute silence, and stillness, waiting for me to start. I had a simple script to read; the producers, I assumed, simply wanted to see if I had sufficient credibility and prestige to carry their message to a sophisticated audience.
A gray haired gentleman, who I presumed was the documentary narrator introduced me:
"And now, lets go to William McWilliam"
I felt a slight moment of apprehension, as there were quiet murmurs of what I could only describe as amusement, coming from the audience, at the mention of my name.
Without preamble, I put on my most serious face and began reading my script:
"Some skeptics have suggested the real culprit behind rising temperatures is increased solar activity. But a wide variety of data and experiments still provide no solid evidence to refute the scientific consensus that greenhouse gas emissions are the major reason the planet is heating up."
According to my script, I was to stop here while some graphics and supporting evidence were shown to the audience on a screen behind me. So, I sat there in silence, expressionless, staring straight at the audience members. But, they were no fancy charts or tables, instead, there was complete silence and they seemed bored and simply stared at me.
Or, should I say, there was a short silence. Soon, the room literally erupted with....laughter. This was a tough crowd alright, and I cringed with embarrassment for the tech guys whose equipment had failed them.
I decided to save their humiliation, and continued with my script:
"A study on the Barcelona bike hire scheme suggests averted carbon emissions saves 12 lives each year and London's bike hire scheme has many benefits, some widely acknowledged, others less so. But could it be saving lives by decreasing air pollution?"
This time the silence didn't exist, people were laughing as I was talking, especially when I mentioned about the lives that could be saved by the Barcelona bike hire scheme. Was this an audience of climate change skeptics hired to try and put me off?
I can't say I was impressed by the proceedings, and I was fast coming to the conclusion that alcohol was involved, so rowdy was the crowd in front of me.
After I had finished, I went to find the producer, John O'Reilly. He was in the middle of a telephone conversation, in his office, so I hung back a little, but couldn't help overhearing him: "Look Jasper, this guy is good. He really got the audience going, and he knows how to work the crowd. I'll be honest; I haven't laughed so much since my ex-wife said she was suing me for alimony payments, and that's just seeing the guy for two minutes."
As you can imagine, this confused me greatly. I was a serious news commentator and the producer was saying I was good, yet apparently I was some kind of joke. I was about to end this humiliation and simply walk out of there. Perhaps retirement was the best option for me after all, I'd built up some savings and my golf game could use some work.
"William, there you are!" I heard a booming voice from the office, John O'Reilly was calling me in.
"How bad was I Mr O'Reilly?", I managed to get out.
"You know, William McWilliam, this is all a little sad, and I need to be honest with you." Here it comes, I thought, my career crumbling in front of my eyes. Was it recorded, I wondered, would it end up on my-tube, or whatever that site was called?
"Sad, because I've filled all the spots I need to for this month on "Take-outs". But we're starting a new show next month called "Sorry, Wrong Channel!" and I might want to offer you a contract.
I'd heard of Take-outs. It was a political satire show, that had a different "take" on the news, a humourous angle. It was beginning to make sense, my confusion was lifting: I had come to the wrong studio! But I needed to be careful: if I owned up to being in the wrong place I'd be a laughing stock; I wouldn't be taken seriously ever again!
"What's the show about John?", I asked him, in my most serious manner, as if I was considering his offer. I was actually reflecting on what had just occurred. The audience was expecting a stand up comedian, someone like Jerry Seinfeld, or George Bush; no wonder they were staring blankly at me! When I began my report on Global Warming, they were stunned at the seriousness of it, before realising it was supposed to be funny.
"Well, I got the idea last week," explained O'Reilly. "I'd come home and flicked on the TV, not really watching it. It was on the documentary channel and some serious guy was going on about string theory: he was talking about fundamental constituents of reality, resonant frequencies and other rubbish. Anyway, I didn't realise it, but my wife was behind me, and she started roaring with laughter. I thought she'd been looking at our wedding photos again; but she was watching the TV and going on about how funny this show was."
O'Reilly chuckled at the memory, and then continued. "Then I clicked. She thought I was watching the comedy channel, and assumed the string theory guy was taking a pot shot at the scientists, who have no sense of humour, and she assumed it was supposed to be funny!"
"So, my idea for Sorry, Wrong Channel is about presenting issues in a very serious manner, except we'll have a live audience, and they'll laugh at the most serious bits."
I considered carefully my response; he said he might consider me for a contract. "John, I'm not sure I would want to be part of a show that didn't take seriously some of the issues facing our communities, and, indeed, our planet."
Silence, as I stared straight at him, not a trace of emotion on my face. Then, after a five second silence, during which O'Reilly seemed a little confused, he roared with laughter and offered me a huge contract, there and then.
All in all, a good days work.