News cameraman Carl Glogg had just come back from a tour of Afghanistan, where he and the rest of the crew spent a lot of time dodging bullets, literally, while covering the War on Terror with Geraldo Rivera.
His first assignment back in the United States: covering an open rehearsal of the Broadway musical "Little Shop of Horrors" with yours truly.
Now you have to picture this...
Carl, a burly, bearded man who could easily be confused with a Special Ops (search) soldier, just back from the sandstorms and heat of the Middle East summer, rolling while I interview singers, dancers, director Jerry Zaks and Disney music guru Alan Menken.
At one point, in what could have been a scene from Bravo's "Queer Eye For The Straight Guy," (search) someone approached Carl and me with a serious, overly-dramatic message.
"Whatever you do, don't shoot video of the man inside the plant!"
Carl looked at me deadpan. "Yeah. We wouldn't want it to get out that that's not a real, man-eating, singing plant up there on that stage," he said. The irony and humor wasn't lost on me.
As a contributing entertainment reporter, producer, columnist and Internet project manager here at FOX News Channel, I take my jobs very seriously. But that doesn't mean I take myself too seriously.
And while interviewing A-list celebrities and covering events where mostly naked super-models roam indiscriminately is a lot of fun and plays an important role in presenting viewers with a variety of coverage to choose from, it's not war. People aren't dying on the red carpet.
A little bit of realistic perspective goes a long way in this business.
That being said, it was a good year in "StrakaVision," as FOX News ENG coordinator/cameraman Adam Petlin, crew chief Janette Shaw, and the rest of the shooters have taken to calling assignments with me.
Long before the recall election, cameraman Tommy Chiu and I were able to get Arnold Schwarzenneger (search) to answer whether or not he'd consider running for California's governor seat if the state's Republican party really needed him.
"I said it before and I'll say it again. Yes," he told us on the red carpet at one of his "Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines" events.
Megastar Tom Cruise (search) demonstrated the fine art of Samurai swordsmanship for Petlin at "The Last Samurai" premiere a few weeks ago, where I asked him if his experience producing the film "Shattered Glass," about a New Republic reporter who made up stories much like Jayson Blair did at the New York Times this year, changed his viewpoint on journalism.
"No," said Cruise. "I've lived through things, people saying things that aren't true, or taking it and twisting it just enough to try to convey their story or making up their own stories ...those people have no sense of responsibility to their viewers or readership," he said, just before wandering off the red carpet to sign autographs for some fans who were braving the bitter Manhattan cold.
Cameraman Mike Fagan was rolling when 13-year-old surfer girl Bethany Hamilton, (search) who became famous after losing her left arm TO A SHARK, showed me just how proficient she was with her right arm by beaming me in the face with a snowball during an interview in Central Park earlier this month.
Fagan also pulled the envious assignment of going behind-the-scenes at the Victoria's Secret (search) fashion show with me, but not to be outdone, cameraman Scott Wilder and audio tech John Kisala covered Playboy (search) magazine's 50th Anniversary party with me, where Hugh Hefner told us "the three greatest inventions of the world are fire, the wheel and Playboy."
At Robert De Niro's second annual Tribeca Film Festival, (search) cameraman Paul Alvarez (search) and I were treated to a lengthy interview with none other than screen legend Al Pacino (search), where he gave this advice to anyone aspiring to a life in films.
"Despite all the obstacles and all the people saying you can't do it -- you can find a way if you truly have something to say," Pacino said.
Making his Broadway debut, movie star Antonio Banderas (search) was nominated for a Tony award for his performance in "Nine." He told cameraman Mayer Dubinsky and me that he's nervous, as anyone else making a Broadway debut would be, but that he's also facing some language challenges.
"I've never done a musical in English on the stage," he said. "So that's an obstacle I have to overcome," he said.
Shooter Rob Ginnane (search) and I covered auditions for next month's "American Idol" on FOX. Acerbic judge Simon Cowell told us when it comes to confronting he, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson, "there's nothing to fear but themselves."
As a native Jersey boy, my assignment with cameraman Rich D'Elia behind the scenes at a Bon Jovi concert at Giants Stadium was pretty cool. Imagine interviewing the rock stars who sang the theme song at your high school senior prom!
Meanwhile, in my travels for FOX Magazine (search), freelance cameraman Rick Smosky and I got around this past year.
In California covering Bob Hope's 100th birthday, we spent the day at the Hope estate in Toluca Lake with daughter Linda and wife Delores, and we took a guided tour of the Reagan Presidential Library (search) in Simi Valley -- where plans to retire Reagan's Air Force One aircraft, along with the limousine he dove in after being shot by John Hinckley Jr., are underway.
We also spent a weekend covering the luxurious side of Walt Disney World for a book feature, and another on the beaches of Bimini Island (search), for a feature on the Miami Dolphins Cheerleaders Swimsuit Calendar shoot.
See. Now noone can say I didn't brave the sands overseas. I don't think, however, that that qualifies me as an "embedded" journalist.
But seriously, every producer and reporter in television news would be lost without the dedication and the collaboration of their camera operators in the field, and the editors back at the shop. I, for one, appreciate their efforts, and look forward to more teamwork in 2004.
I also appreciate the opportunities the bosses at FOX News Channel allow me to pursue. They've given me a lot of rope in the past seven years, and so far I haven't hung myself, although I've come close on a few occassions.
However my most successful collaboration of 2003 was with Mrs. Straka, when she gave birth to our daughter Maxine Elisabeth in November. As far as I know, there was no camera crew involved in any part of that!
Happy New Year everybody!
Mike Straka is the project manager for FOX News' Web operations and contributes as a features reporter and producer on FOX Magazine (Sundays 11 p.m. on FNC), a producer on Sunday Best (Sundays 9pm on FNC), and as a reporter and columnist for Foxnews.com.