Life behind the scenes has its merits, I suppose, but deep down under, I think we all crave our fifteen minutes of fame, wherever and in whatever form they may turn up. The key to these few precious moments in the limelight, it would seem, is to grasp their proximity, hastily prepare as best one can, and proceed to flourish, flaunt, razzle and dazzle with all cameras pointed at you. Often, however, this is the most difficult piece of the task.
I was fortunate enough to finally achieve my crowning fifteen just a week ago, in the beautiful city by the bay, San Francisco, while working as a verbal administrator (a.k.a. tele-prompter operator) for the X Games on ESPN. For those of you not familiar with the X Games, allow me to elaborate: Five years ago, executives at ESPN identified a genre of athletic competition--one that they and their consultants labeled as "extreme"--that featured a host of colorful athletic characters and a large potential for monetary gain. The brilliance dictated that ESPN would create its own Olympics, and thereby be able to manage the competition as well as the television, not having to bother with televising fees, and also take home the profits from concessions, apparel and the like. Indeed, five competitions in skateboarding, BMX biking, aggressive in-line skating and street luging later, scores of medals have been awarded, thousands of fans have been satisfied, hundreds of bones have been broken and millions of dollars have been made.
I quite honestly traveled to San Francisco knowing little of my responsibilities as a so-called "production assistant." It quickly became clear that though my xeroxing skills were expected to be as fresh as the coffee I brought to my bosses each morning, the integral component to my job was the operation and management of the tele-prompter, or, as I came to know it, the tele-monster.
Basically, as many of you may know, when a television host looks confidently at Camera One, he or she is in reality at the mercy of the script that is scrolling, thanks to magical mirror effects, through the lens of the camera. The administrator of these words at the X Games was none other than yours truly, entrusted with a surprisingly phallic-sized wand, the head of which I turned to move the script through the viewing screen.
To the average viewer, the studio host of the 1999 X Games was ESPN's college football anchor moonlighting as a skateboarding guru for some extra summer cash. But as I quickly realized, this was not the case. Instead, he was an enthusiastic street luge fanatic who was hosting his fifth straight X Games, budgeting his work schedule around times for him to attend the events and cheer on the competitors. On a more personal note, he worked out four times a week and by some accounts ate a full box of Metr-X bars for breakfast each morning, resulting in a perfectly sculpted body, with abs that would put any shirtless celebrating member of the U.S. women's soccer team to shame and with power that could knock the wind out of a production assistant during spirited office-time slam dancing, the latter thesis of which I had the displeasure of confirming. Needless to say, any fear I had of failing at my task multiplied considerably when I realized that this individual would be the ultimate judge of my work.
As I discovered during the first show, any knowledge that I had reaped anytime in my education since the required pre-kindergarten coordination exercises I had suffered through in 1984, served no purpose for the task at hand. Sure, my xeroxing was more than satisfactory, what with a summer of interning under my belt, but my fine motor skills were surprisingly rusty. During that first show, as I jerked the text back and forth through the camera, the rippling host became increasingly agitated, and gave me a firm scolding while the set crew and production team waited for Take 13. The speech repeated itself in a abridged version during Show 2, and in an even shorter shorter version during Show 3, but, somehow, by Show 4, I had found my rhythm, and was handling my new friend, the tele-prompter joystick, with the skill of any of the characters in the movie American Pie. Further-more, to be fair, the host abhorred the prompter, and ended up rarely using it during the course of the broadcasts, choosing instead to test his ad-libbing skills against the unpredictability of the motley crew of "extreme" guests on the set, a bout that he admittedly won by unanimous decision.
Then, just like that, it happened. What? You don't remember? My fifteen minutes. Towards the end of Show 9, as the crew grew restless and the host began to run short on ad libs, all eyes drew to me. But, alas, with my luck, my moment of glory, of course, was bathed in a tub of sarcasm. "And look back there," the host suddenly said, after giving appropriate recognition to his researcher, who sat adjacent to me behind the set. "That's Aaron. He goes to Harvard. At the X Games, we have people from Harvard doing menial, behind the scenes work, while we have people like Rick Thorne on the air." (Mind you, Rick Thorne is a BMX "expert" who has tattoos that creep up and down his arms and, perhaps most disturbingly, emerge through his collar on each side of his neck.) With that, the host gave a shrug to the camera, and with a charming glow in his eyes, returned to the scripted show.
Just like that, my fifteen minutes had come and went, like those of so many others before me, gone in closer to fifteen seconds than minutes. Parents, friends and groupies who later saw the broadcast of the show claimed I raised my hand sheepishly to acknowledge the lackluster shout-out, but honestly I have no memory of such action. Though I knew to be prepared for my fifteen minutes, I had failed miserably at the task, and let them pass me by with barely a peep.
So what now? With my shot at fame and fortune seemingly behind me, what do I do? Perhaps it's a good time to begin the denial stage. Maybe those really weren't my fifteen minutes after all, and they'll come at another time, in another place, maybe with me in front of the camera, and not working what goes through it. Maybe, maybe not.
Aaron R. Cohen '00 is editor of Fifteen Minutes, the weekend magazine of The Crimson.
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