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When Things Go Wrong in Television

Kerry Burch, Producer

Kerry Burch is an experienced television producer and one of the most organised, calm and glamorous producers I’ve worked with. But she didn’t to get to where she is without going through her own baptism of fire.  Kerry has done her time on live television, including producing ITV’s daytime magazine show, ‘This Morning’ – two hours of live television broadcast every day from Monday to Friday. Being live, of course, means anything can happen and Kerry agreed to share her story about the things she’d rather hadn’t happened!

THE NOT SO GLAMOROUS SIDE OF TV…..

“Don’t get me wrong, working in TV is fab and I wouldn’t swap it for anything, but for the people working behind the scenes it’s not always quite as glamorous as people think!  And when things go wrong, especially in live TV, a super show can very quickly turn into a living nightmare and you’re caught right in the middle of it!!!

You may have seen the infamous knife-throwing incident on, ‘This Morning’ and that’s a prime example of when things go wrong on camera! (And if you haven’t seen it check it out here: http://wanttoworkintelevision.com/friday-fun/)

But believe me, there are a lot more things that happen off screen that viewers never get to know about because thankfully they are dealt with quickly and professionally by the hard-working production team.

Just like the time I nearly killed a guest.

Well, not me personally, but oh dear god did my career flash before my eyes!! We had booked a group of American tap dancing brothers to come on the show, and at an average of 90 years they claimed to be the World’s oldest tap act!  So far so good.  However, on the morning of the show, things took a dramatic turn for the worse.

When they arrived rather than being shown to the lift and escorted up to the studio, a runner or security guard (we never did find out who) sent them up the stairs instead. Now you’d like to think that being tap dancers, despite their age, they might have a certain level of fitness that could sustain two flights of stairs. Sadly not.

By the time I greeted them in the green room one of them was having serious breathing difficulties.  I sat him down and tried to calm him but I could tell he was getting worse.  Luckily ITV have on-site nurses so I called for assistance.  And it was a good job I did….. It turned out he was having a serous angina attack, but thanks to the swift actions of the nurse he made a full recovery.  In true TV style, as all this was going on backstage the live show was going ahead as planned on screen! Unfortunately when the time came for the troupe of tap brothers to perform there was only one who could dance that day.

The Funny Side

That’s probably my most dramatic moment in TV but there have been lots of funny things that have gone wrong along the way too.  The thing about working on a daily live show is that you very rarely get the chance to meet your guests before the day of transmission because of the super-quick turnaround. Most of the research takes place over the phone and sometimes it’s not until the day itself that you realise the story isn’t quite what you were expecting.

Like the tightrope walking rats that were going to ‘wow’ us, except it wasn’t a tightrope at all – more like a plank of wood that you and I could have quite easily walked along! Or the contortionist who could apparently defy logic and squeeze herself into a ‘tiny’ box.

Brilliant!

Except when the box arrived it was big enough to fit the presenters – Fern Britton and Phillip Schofield – and half the crew in as well.

And who could forget the man-eating crocodile we had in studio?  Our production manager spent hours sorting out the risk assessment for this one as it could potentially end in blood and tears (like knife-throwing all over again) if we weren’t careful.  So we commissioned a purpose built Perspex enclosure and had vets with tranquilizer guns in studio just in case the ‘beast’ turned on someone.  I think we might have got a little carried away though because when the ‘killer’ croc turned up, it’s fair to say it was about the same size as the pet hamster I had when I was a kid!

Celebrities

Celebrities can be equally as unpredictable!

There was the well-known actor who nodded off on the sofa during his interview? (Well it is a morning programme I guess!)  And didn’t the press just love it when model Caprice decided to say the ‘c’ word live on air!  (And that’s the word that tops the list of words you absolutely must not say on daytime television). And I’ve lost count of the number of times a celebrity simply hasn’t turned up for some reason. On those occasions I’ve been told 5 minutes before we go ‘live’ that our first guest isn’t going to make it and my job as producer is then to re-jig the entire 2 hour running order, re-write the whole script and somehow fill a huge 10 minute gap!

But whatever the drama or disaster, how impossible the situation seems, somehow the adrenaline of live TV kicks in and, as they say, ‘the show must go on’…….”

Thanks you, Kerry!  Now what to categorise this post as?  ‘The Fun of Television’? More like the horror of television!

1 comment

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