Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Behind The Scenes at the Anderson PSU Taping

From, one blogger shared his expeience ~

Anderson Cooper Taping Was A Strong Disappointment

On Monday, a group of Penn State student leaders went to New York City to participate in a town hall-style forum about the Jerry Sandusky scandal on Anderson Cooper’s daytime talk show, Anderson. Below is a rundown of the day.

Everyone arrived at the HUB at 7 a.m. to catch the bus to New York City. The event was billed to me as a discussion with about twenty Penn State students on Anderson Cooper’s primetime show, Anderson Cooper 360. As I saw close to 120 people file into the HUB, I quickly realized that this was not the case. Some other people were in the same boat as me, but others were expecting the big crowd. Not a big deal, though.

As we all started to gather at the HUB, we were greeted by a Production Assistant who was organizing the event. Throughout the day, she stressed two things:

  • That we could not tell people on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media that we would be appearing on Anderson.
  • That we were encouraged to be emotional during the taping–and yes, that means crying, yelling, and getting angry.

We arrived at 12:30 and found out that our taping was delayed from 1:15 to around 3:30. While we were waiting to go on, the PA walked around the lobby we were waiting in and asked people if they had anything in particular that they wanted to speak about. Again, she stressed that we should be emotional, explicitly telling us to cry and shout and show our disgust. As she sought out students, she would write their names and ages on a blue piece of paper and take a picture of them.

Once 3:00 rolled around*, the PA started to organize us. She gave a few Very Important People With Valuable Insights yellow pieces of paper, which allowed them to line up and get into the studio first, presumably because they would be the primary people called upon during the hour-long taping. By 3:50, everyone was filed into the studio.

*While all of this was happening, two sophomore girls approached Onward State writer Dennis McNamara and said that he looked like Bradley Cooper. If either of you are reading this, Dennis would like you to email him.

Before the taping, Anderson Cooper addressed the crowd and thanked everyone for coming. He said that he wanted this show to be an open town hall where we could voice our opinions and frustrations. He added that he wanted to focus more on the victims and less on Paterno. Great! I thought, that’s just what I was hoping for! Unfortunately, the reality of the taping was different than how Anderson described it.

The show started with five guests on stage, with two more added after the first break. The guests included Jess Sever, one of the organizers of the candlelight vigil; a parent and Penn State alum who picketed the Nebraska game (he even brought his sign!) and wants everyone in the football program to be fired; a mother of a Penn State student who was a victim of abuse herself when she was a child; someone who used to work with Second Mile; a Joe Paterno reporter; a child abuse victim; and a former Second Mile camper. The first topic discussed? Joe Paterno, of course.

Throughout the show, Anderson Cooper interviewed people in the audience, including the couple who started Proud to Be a Penn Stater, a former Penn State football player, and a professor from Cardozo. During the hour-long taping, only about five students were allowed to speak, and whenever any of us were called on, Anderson would pivot whatever they were saying to the question, “Do you think that Joe did the right thing?” The PAs would constantly motion over at the students to get angrier during the breaks between segments. The taping ended at around 5, and we were on our way back to State College shortly after that.

This whole experience confirmed many of my pre-existing thoughts on the state of cable news. We were bussed to New York City because Anderson Cooper and his producers wanted us to get angry, wanted us to cry, and wanted us to lose our cool. This much is evident from his preview for the show. They were uninterested in hearing our real stories–when a student wanted to showcase, the PAs didn’t care. They had no interest in showing how students have come together in light of atrocities, and one PA even laughed when a student suggested that we demonstrate our pride in Penn State (I understand that the PAs were mostly not at fault for the show’s directions and were likely following orders from their producers).

Instead, they were interested in showing outrage. Why? Because, like Joe Paterno, outrage equates to ratings, which equates to money. They had no intention of getting our real reactions (unless they involved shouting or lying), and when they discovered that a group of some of Penn State’s finest were calm, collected, logical, and not inflammatory, they pivoted toward more emotionally-charged guests, giving students the shaft. And it’s all in the name of ratings, prestige, and cold hard cash. It’s irresponsible journalism at best, and irresponsible entertainment at worst.

Televised national news is in a sad state, and it’s a damn shame.

AC360 Transcript
AC360 Podcast

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this article; very interesting.

The author wrote, "Televised national news is in a sad state, and it’s a damn shame." No, it's not national news, it's a daytime talk show, big difference. Maybe the author was expecting something more like 360.

However, that's actually understandable. With Anderson at the helm and a serious topic, anyone would expect a more serious discussion instead of all of the suggestions to be overly emotional.

The "damn shame" is that so few students were able to speak and Anderson's fixation on Paterno.


Anonymous said...


The student said in the article he was originally told the trip was for AC360 and I'm sure, like many of us, people expect more when Anderson is involved covering a major news story - daytime or at night.

Quite frankly, I was hoping Anderson wouldn't let his show stoop to the drama of the Springer/Maury type of daytime shows.

Also, it appears that as much as Anderson says Phil Donahue is his daytime idol and Phil, himself, told Anderson to use his audience when he stopped by on the Halloween show; Anderson has yet to embrace that advice. From what I've witnessed, the audience interaction seems to be forced and only those that "fit the mold" are allowed to speak.

Hoping Mr. Cooper takes stock of his daytime effort when the show goes to re-runs over the holidays and finds a way to redefine daytime and connect better with his audience.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone looked at the credits as they roll at the end of Anderson? There are so many producers no wonder the show is faltering. These "kids", yes they are kids, grew up with Jerry Springer and Maury Povich and that is where they are taking there cues from. The more sensational it is, the more you entertain your audience the better the ratings. They tend to believe that the more anger or outrageousness shown the better the ratings.

Anon 7:16 you are right saying Anderson hasn't embraced his audience and I doubt he will ever learn to while he has people around him who seem to think that anger and sensationalism is what makes a good show.


Anonymous said...

Just looking at Anderson's expression in the first clip, tells me that AC is feigning the entire performance.
He's got that expression down to a T, show outrage with the furrowed brow look.
It's all so demeaning and meaningless at the same time.
I am not surprised at the experience these Penn State students had.
I live in the NYC area and could, if I wanted to, go to a taping.
But I don't "fit the mold."
I'm not adoring and I will not show outrage on que.
I remember waiting in line for hours to get AC's book autograph....but that was a different AC. The one I so admired.
This Anderson is Jerry Springer.
We hoped for a Woodstein, and instead we got someone who resembles Anderson and acts like the lowest common denominator of any day host out there.
And that, is the "damn shame."

Anonymous said...

You guys must never actually watched Maury or Springer's shows if you think Anderson's show or is anything like them. Anderson's talk show actually comes off as considerably less emotionally manipulative and less pushy about getting emotions out of guests than Oprah's talk show did or even than many of Barbara Walter's celebrity specials.

There's nothing wrong with a daytime show encouraging people to be free with their emotions. The camera tends to make people feel more inhibited and shy than normal. This is an emotional issue, and it's worth letting people know that the speakers who have more feeling behind their words are naturally more likely to get air time. They aren't encouraging them to take off their clothes, swear, fight or beat each other up like Springer's show, and Anderson has shown himself to be a very respectful and good natured host. The audience members who ask questions on air on Anderson's show have been almost universally polite, collected and calm if a bit nervous, so they aren't picking people who act like basket cases.

Anonymous said...

The "damn shame" is that so few students were able to speak and Anderson's fixation on Paterno.

I'm afraid I personally disagree with this. To me students like the one who wrote that article are being self centered and selfish and are lacking in humility. The major important issues here are the victims, why insufficient action was taken over the years to protect children, who should be answerable and what steps can be taken to change things in the future. The institutional response is relevant and deserves serious attention, just it is like the Catholic church cases. A number of students spoke on the program, enough that they covered all the possible positions (not thinking Joe and the school should be the focus; supporting school authorities like Joe; not supporting school authorities like Joe; thinking Joe should have been shown limited support by letting him finish out the year; etc) and expressed reasons for their various views. There's not much else they are qualified to provide, and there were a lot of guests there with greater qualifications and background. The people the author was dismissing as not worthy of time since they weren't students and as only getting attention because they were emotional had actual experience and knowledge about child abuse and the abuses of power it can involve. There was good reason for those people to be passionate about their views, it wasn't some abstract thing to them or some nuisance getting in the way of their football games. The students had an opportunity to learn from those people. It's too bad that the students are inconvenienced by this tragedy, but they are bystanders in all this and shouldn't expect that everything will revolve around them.

Anonymous said...

I've been to an Anderson taping. I've also been to tapings of other shows. In every case, I was told to be free with my responses. If I was outraged, show outrage. If I was amused, laugh - and laugh loudly. At some shows (not Anderson), we PRACTICED laughing. It's TV, people, not an educational symposium.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion with good points. Personally, I'm not sure 'Anderson' should have done this show at this time. I think emotions are too raw and too much is not known. The fact they did the show tells me they wanted to play on that fact.

If the show wanted to represent a variety of student views, why bus 150 students in with the understanding they were going to be part of a "town hall" forum? There were so many hands in the air in the audience that Anderson never let speak, and yes, I know time was a factor. Maybe it would have been better to select a sampling, invite 5 or 10 and let them have their say; instead of bringing 150 in under false pretenses?

I understand the reason for the guests on stage, but to me, this show was typical of 'Anderson' -bring a ton of guests on, either around a related topic or in separate segments, and spend a minute or 5 with each and never "dig deeper" with anyone. This PSU show could easily have been two separate programs - one a town hall with the students bused in and another with the guests on stage talking about child abuse. Or maybe just a show on child abuse with experts in the field instead of those involved with/close to PSU. Actually, I learned more from the man in the audience who wasn't associated with PSU, who spoke about being abused and how it's often someone the victim/family are close to. So if the show wanted to really address child abuse and inform people of what to be aware of and how to help prevent it, perhaps it would have been better to leave PSU people out of it. The learning part seemed to be a referral to the show's website vs. being addressed on air. (I felt the same way with yesterday's show, too. While the topic was okay, it wasn't something I know much about. Yes, I heard the guest's stories, but instead of the last two guests who were given a couple of minutes each, maybe more time with the professionals to explain transgender and how its identified at a young age, instead or referring people to their website. Oh, that's right, the website generates revenue...)

And Anderson's fixation with Joe Paterno was obvious. I understand that Paterno is the name associated with Penn State Football, but that doesn't necessarily make him "the" villain. Let's wait for the investigation to play out instead of trying people in the court of public opinion before all the facts are known. Yes, I went there. I think things are starting to come out that show there are a lot of people closer to/more involved in this scandal and the cover up than Paterno. If the idea is to focus on and protect the victims - as it should be - then let's investigate and remove those people from enabling positions; rather than go after a man based on his national name recognition.

I find myself exhausted from the pacing of the show on most episodes and get the idea that instead of listening to any of his guests, Anderson is thinking about what's next. As much as I like Anderson, and enjoy his lighter side (R&K, the RidicuList, etc.) as well as his field reporting; this talk show has been a big disappointment for me. I had hoped for the Anderson who did the one hour sit down specials for 360/CNN and with a bit of the quirky Anderson from WNN and Red 360 doing segments like the sleep study, the nth degree, etc . Instead, I feel like we got Anderson trying to fit in, in the daytime market and throwing everything at the wall, hoping something sticks. I liked the show he described when pitching it this summer.

I hope he can find a model that he's comfortable with (because often he looks uncomfortable to me) and stick to it; right now I feel like we get random Anderson. Maybe that's the idea - keep people guessing who's going to show up on a given day so they tune it to see?

Anonymous said...

It seems that whenever you meet someone whom you've always admired, they're never like what you imagined. I would really like to keep my first impressions of AC in which he's not afraid to ask hard questions and has no regard for viewership he just does what he likes to do.
Although meeting AC would be amazing, I'm beginning to get over ever meeting him because I don't want to be disappointed. It may seem like I don't want to see him for what he is but to me AC represents something bigger and I'd like to keep remembering him as such.