Many years ago, as a young television reporter at WJZ in Baltimore, I was given what was considered a plum assignment. I was sent to Los Angeles to interview the stars of ABC's new fall season.
At first I was thrilled. Here was a chance to prove myself a good interviewer—alone, without the help of my usual co-anchor. And a chance to add some celebrity cachet to my world of local news reporting. But by the time I arrived in California, I felt like a small fish dropped into the Hollywood fishbowl.
I started to doubt myself: Who was I to think I could just walk into their world and expect them to talk to me? Reporters from every other ABC affiliate in the country had been invited. There were throngs of us local newscasters, entertainment/lifestyle reporters, each given five minutes to interview an actor from the network's upcoming lineup.
This was 1978—I was 24 years old and I'd been a TV reporter since I was 19. I'd interviewed hundreds of people in difficult situations and prided myself on being able to break the ice and establish rapport. But I wasn't accustomed to real "stars."
I thought they had some mystique that being famous made them not only different but also better than us regular folk.
I started to feel nervous. Uncomfortable. Inept. Not good enough to be there with all those other reporters from much bigger cities with more experience than I.
To make matters worse, a representative for Priscilla Presley, who was there for a new show she was hosting, told me—as I was 11th in line to talk to her—"You can ask her anything, but whatever you do, don't mention Elvis. She'll walk out on you."
So now I wasn't just intimidated by this new world of "stars" and their handlers—I was feeling completely inhibited. I knew my only saving grace lay in finding a way to be real, but I was having difficulty figuring out how I'd pull that off in a five-minute time frame with the most real questions being off-limits.
For some reason—some would call it coincidence, but I call it grace in action—I was switched from the Priscilla Presley line to interview a young comedian who was starting a new show called Mork & Mindy. What followed were five of the most exhilarating, wild, off-the-charts minutes I'd ever spent in an interview, with the most uninhibited, out-of-the-box, free-falling-in-every-second celebrity/human I'd ever met.
I don't remember a word I said (but I know I hardly said any). He was newly released energy. I remember thinking, "Whoever this guy is, he is going to be BIG." He wasn't afraid to be his many selves. I had great fun playing with Robin Williams, and I learned in that instant to go where the interview takes you. He's all over the place, and you have to flow with it.
So when my turn came to talk to Miss Priscilla, I for sure had gotten the lesson. You can't accomplish anything worthwhile if you inhibit yourself. If life teaches you nothing else, know this for sure: When you get the chance, go for it.
I asked about Elvis. She didn't walk out. She obliged me with an answer. Shortly after my trip to Hollywood, I was no longer doing newscasts but was offered a job as talk show host. Some would call it coincidence....