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We surprised ourselves Friday night and got back to D.C. for the show from our road trip to Georgia. Click on the links in the photo and video boxes above to see my photo essays and video from the trip.
It was no easy feat to get back to D.C. — in fact it turned out to be the proverbial photo finish. And don't forget, we all started the day getting home after midnight the night before (Thursday), up at 5 a.m. and on a plane to Georgia for the marina walk around with Chet Lynch (search).
When we left the marina after the interview and walk around and headed to the Savannah airport, we assumed we were headed to nearby Atlanta to do Friday's show. That had been the original plan since we did not know when we would finish the walk around. We planned to take an early flight back to D.C. Saturday morning since we were to do a 9 p.m. special on Iraq election on Saturday night. There was much preparation needed for that show so getting home early Saturday was important.
We were somewhat disappointed in that while we were doing the walk around, we got a call our return flight to D.C. on Saturday morning had already been cancelled due to the ice storm bearing down on the area.
We also were told it was unlikely any flights would leave Atlanta for D.C, on Saturday. This complicated matters since it also meant our Saturday night special would have to be done out of Atlanta. I did not have time to really worry about that since we still had ahead of us the Friday night live show to do. First things first:
We called to find out if by chance there was a flight that we could still catch late Friday afternoon that would get us back to D.C. in time for Friday's live 10 p.m. show. We were told no and that the next flight to D.C. was 6:30 p.m. This was disappointing since we did not want to fly to Atlanta as planned to do the show and then be stuck in Atlanta for undetermined amount of time. The thought of doing a special from an unfamiliar studio and a weekend in an Atlanta hotel iced in was not high on my "I want to do" list to put it lightly. The staff I was traveling with felt as I did — but we are all good sports and decided to make the best of it. Plus, we were consumed with getting ready for the Friday live 10 p.m. show — it is not easy to plan and prepare for a full hour live news show from blackberries and cell phones in cars and airports. We did not have time to moan our expected misfortune of being iced in in Atlanta for an uncertain time.
We had another complication: We had to get to Atlanta soon enough to feed the tapes from the interview and walk around to New York producers so that a five minute segment could be cut from the interview for air at 10 p.m. They needed time to look at it — there is an hour plus of tape — and figure out how to do it.
We rushed into the Savannah airport — stopped at Starbucks to get some badly needed caffeine since we were sleep deprived — and went to our Delta gate. Each of us was on our cell phones talking to different people about the show etc., as we went through security and to our Delta gate. We got to our Delta gate about 4 p.m. — the flight to Atlanta was about 4:30 p.m.
As we sat there talking on phones about the show, one of my producers looked up noticed that across the hall — about 20 feet away — was the Independence Air gate with a sign that said Washington Dulles, 4:35 pm.
With quick math — and a familiarity with flight times to D.C. — we figured we could get into Dulles by 6:30 p.m. Dulles, in traffic, is about an hour and a few minutes to our FOX bureau in D.C. If we got on the 4:35 p.m. flight, we could get to the bureau by 7:45, feed the tape, do scripts, make up etc. in time for a 10 p.m. show. It would be close ... very close.
There were some problems — nothing is ever easy. We had already checked into Delta for our flight to Atlanta and sitting at the gate, but we had all carry on luggage, which was good. What should we do?
Did this Independence Air have seats for us? Can you buy a ticket at the gate? We did not have time to go back through security etc., to the Independence Air ticket counter. It would also mean we would all have to do it since we would have to present picture IDs and we had so much gear with us. I also knew that buying a one-way ticket to D.C. at the last minute would mean that "extra" security check which we had no time to submit to. There were other issues we had to consider. Could we get a crew in D.C. to do our show? We had not planned for a show on D.C. and so no crew was standing by. It was late and we needed audio, camera operators etc.
My producer walked over to the Independence gate and I called my assistant in D.C. and told her to call and see if she could book it somehow for all of us. I figured it would be faster to do this way since I did not think I could buy tickets at the gate.
My assistant put me on hold, came back and said Independence Air did not have a 4:35 flight. I said, I am looking at it. She put me on hold and came back and said the woman she was talking to was denying it. I don't know if she was speaking directly to Independence Air, or FOX Travel and did not have time to argue since the flight was being called to board. I repeated that I was looking at it and gave her the flight number since that was also posted at the gate.
She put me on hold again. My producer went back and asked if we had time to get on the flight and was told that we had very little time but that the flight was virtually empty. I could tell it was empty as well since I did not see many in the boarding area before the flight had been called for boarding.
My assistant came back and said the woman on the phone finally admitted there was a 4:35 p.m. flight, but that the woman had not told her about the flight because it was COMPLETELY FILLED. I nearly fell over since the plane was empty.
I told my producer to call New York producers and see if we could get a crew to do show from D.C. should we make it on this departing flight to D.C .
We walked the 20 feet to the Independence Air gate. The agent at the gate said we could buy a ticket right there. He was doing all he could to stall so that we could find out which plane to board — Atlanta or D.C. The agent was a real hero.
As luck would have it, the New York producer my traveling producer talked to could not find the right person in D.C. to find out if we could get a crew in D.C. for the show. I told my traveling producer: "Call again. Tell him the flight is leaving." He did and still no luck. The agent could not stall any more.
Time was quickly passing, so I decided to just buy three tickets while we waited. My producer with me could not get an answer and we were getting frantic. Our Atlanta flight was now boarding and the door to the Independence Air flight was long closed. I figured that while Independence Air was selling us a ticket they would not takeoff. As the tickets were printing — slowly, thankfully — I realized we were out of time. I figured the only solution was going up the management chain of command and I did that. As I watched the Atlanta gate, I placed a call to New York, to the network's executive producer. She said, without hesitation, "board D.C. flight. We will get a crew."
We raced to the closed door and sheepishly got on since we figured the other passengers — very few — might be annoyed with us for holding up the flight a bit. The plane was virtually empty. (As an aside, what a great airline! Great service... clean and new planes.)
We landed at Dulles on time, jumped in a waiting car and raced to the D.C. bureau. In the dark of the car and with help from the car interior dome light, I read guest lists, notes, pre-interviews, etc. from the New York producers about our 10 p.m. show. We have six segments and often multiple guests in each segment so it can be a challenge keeping everything and everyone straight — and doing it from a handheld device in a dark car makes it even harder. (I should be an ad for the Blackberry company!)
We arrived at the D.C. bureau about 7:45 p.m. My producer raced inside to feed the interview tapes to New York and our make up artist went to a fast food place to pick up a bag of hamburgers. The tape got cut at 9:50 p.m. and we got it to air at 10 p.m.
Oh, I forgot one other thing: Somehow during the afternoon while we were doing the walk around we got in touch with the woman who spoke to Cindy Lynch the night she disappeared. She agreed to meet us in Atlanta for an interview a few hours later. The problem: As we were scrambling to make the DC flight we realized we had a guest meeting us in Atlanta. With much more scrambling we managed to figure out a solution and make the arrangements. Here is what we did: After arriving in D.C. 7:45 p.m. and racing to get ready for 10 p.m. live show, I went into our studio at 9:10 p.m. and taped an interview with the woman, Donna Kent. We showed part of it Saturday night. I interviewed her for five minutes and stopped — so that we had a self-contained segment we could easily air Saturday. Then I spent another 20 minutes asking her more questions since she has much to say. The rest of her interview will be showed tonight or tomorrow. I was delighted to interview her, but it also meant giving up valuable prep time for Friday's show, which was just minutes away.
Finally, two things. First is that I can do this because there are so many good and talented people working on our show who you never see. Likewise their jobs are chaotic and they are real pros. Second, while the day was chaotic, I love my job and it is so easy compared to other jobs, e.g. police, fire, teachers, etc. I am very lucky to have this job.
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