It’s all in a day’s work.
Except not really because being on TODAY is not quite like your yesterday or your tomorrow — or the many other days in between for that matter. It’s definitely a toDAY to remember — a day that’s exhilarating and crazy cozy normal all at the same time. How can that be? I say it’s like being with folks you’ve been dying to meet most of your life, but at the same time feeling like you are just hanging out with old friends.
So how do you go from yesterday (yawn) to TODAY? Many folks ask what really happens on the set on TODAY when I go and what I do before, during and after the show.
Each TODAY (segment) is different of course. But if I had to smoosh them all together, here’s how a typical TODAY segment might play out.
Three. Two. One.
Many Yesterdays Before
The Planning Begins
Folks often ask how much time I have to prepare my TODAY segments. The answer is sometimes a month and once only three days. Seriously. We landed on a segment idea late in the day Thursday and I flew to New York Monday morning. So it just goes to show you there is no tried and true amount of time. Everyone at the show is extremely busy and things fly fast or stall as you wait to hear back on things because news is always breaking and big stars are always coming to town. I find that the key is to be patient then quick to action because once the segment is approved, time flies and you have to work very quickly.
My segments usually start with an email from an EP (executive producer) at the show. Or sometimes it starts with me suggesting a segment I think will work well by email and hearing back that they’d like to do it. As the author of “What The Fun?!” and an upcoming book on the power of sensory play, my segments center on ways families can create simple fantastic fun without a lot of money or effort — like creating your own family game or creating back-seat Bingo for that next long car ride.
Ideas, Ideas, Ideas and More Ideas
Where do I find my ideas (like a game of lawn Twister)? I often glean them from my very own backyard and life with my three teenage girls. Often our neighborhood inspiration makes the national spotlight.
Depending on how long we have to work before the show, I work with a producer at the show to land on six or eight fun activities, like turn your driveway into a glow bowling lane or turn your house into a crime scene and have the kids solve a mystery, for the segment. Having worked as a TV producer myself for many years, I try to offer ideas that will make good TV — meaning they are interesting to the eye when demonstrated. The process goes like this: I suggest maybe 20 activities that work within our theme (Winter Fun, Fourth of July Fun, Summer Fun, etc.) and my producer selects five or six based on what she likes, what the show has done or not done recently, and choosing activities that avoid any current controversy. She presents our ideas to the senior team of show producers and once we get approval, off we go.
Once we decide on activities for the segment, it’s my job to gather props. If I am suggesting a game or product you can buy at the store, I’ll contact the marketing folks who represent the product and they will send samples to the studio under my name. If it’s something I need to try out myself beforehand, they’ll also send samples to me. If I am suggesting items you can make or create with things you already have at home or can easily find, it’s a lot of trips to Michaels and Dollar Tree for me. When I’ve gathered everything, I FedEx them to the studio. If we are super tight on time, I will pack them in a suitcase to bring with me to New York. The production crew sends the suitcase and props back to me after the show.
If there are food items in the segment, the designers at the show will provide everything we will need based on my recipes and directions. They also help me gather items that are difficult to fly in or send, like flowers, plants or spray paint. It’s definitely a team effort.
Is It Live?
All of my TODAY segments have aired live, except, the past couple of years, I’ve done the day-after-Christmas show, which is one of the only shows the crew tapes in advance to give some employees the opportunity to have the day off. However, that show is rolled like a live show. After that day’s live show, Kathie Lee and Hoda change into holiday clothes and the crew literally rolls out a winter set — and voilà! It begins to look a lot like the day after Christmas. I’m often asked if I drink wine with Kathie Lee and Hoda and the answer is yes, when taping this show. I don’t get my own glass, but Kathie has offered me sips from her glass.
The Day Before The Show
4 a.m. — Leave the House
I usually catch a very early flight the morning before my segment because I’ll be losing an hour and I have to drop off props to the studio by around noon. I often joke that I take every precaution not to miss that flight. I mean really, how disappointing would it be to roll over and discover you slept in today of all days?
9:30 a.m. — Land in New York
Wheels touch down and I quickly find my driver. He is usually easy to spot. He drives me to my hotel (I usually stay at Club Quarters.) A guest from today’s show hasn’t checked out, so I store my bags and use this time to hang in the hotel’s executive business lounge to add last-minute touches to props and look though my segment notes.
Noon — Deliver Props
I drop off my props to the side door at Studio B. TODAY is taped in Studio B in Rockefeller Plaza right across the street from 30 Rock.
I hang around New York City, waiting for a text from my producer giving me our setup time. Word is supposed to come down around 4:30 p.m.
I get a text from my producer. We are scheduled for 6:15. I go back to the hotel and change. It really doesn’t matter what I wear for set up, but I like to dress the part.
I check in with security at 30 Rock. After checking my license, they hand me my name tag. I walk over to Studio B and walk through those famous TODAY doors to check in with security there. I wave to the picture of Jane Pauley that hangs right inside the door alongside all the previous TODAY hosts. Jane is a fellow Indiana University grad and spoke at my commencement. It’s become my little tradition. I like to think it gives me luck.
I am on the set of TODAY. It always amazes me how different things look the day before the show. Today’s props and sets have been cleared away and tomorrow’s setup is just beginning.
I stand in the wings awaiting my turn while the design director and props crew finish up a fashion segment scheduled to run tomorrow before mine.
My producer and I walk onto the set where I’ll be tomorrow. I say hello to the design director. I see that all of my props have been placed off-set on a table along with any the show has provided or a marketer has sent. We efficiently talk through the segment, going over what I’m envisioning at each table. We discuss which station will be where, how many kids will be at each, and the crew puts the props we decide to include at each station in a mound on the table assigned — hats, tablecloths, lava lamps, piggy banks, little bales of hay. They will be styled overnight, looking better than I can imagine.
The food stylist meets us at the third station and we talk about how she will set up the food and we discuss the best ways to interact with the children at that station. This time it’s gummy worm punch, rocket hot dogs, and dirt you can eat. Yum.
My producer, the lead designer and I discuss any last minute needs like red shoes for Dorothy or another coat of glow-in-the-dark paint for our homemade bowling ball. Tonight it’s sunflowers I need to take home and arrange in decorated tin cans for tomorrow.
Then it’s the night off for me until morning. I use this time to have dinner with my niece if she is in town or meet with friends. If I’m lucky, like tonight, my family is in town with me and we’ll hang out in the Plaza for dinner.
Today is TODAY! I wake up before my alarm — too excited to lounge. I quickly respond to texts — mostly good luck shout-outs from those at home. And I check in on social media.
I try to decide what to wear, having packed a couple of options. I’ll take a quick selfie to catch a quick vote from my neighborhood and friends from college, high school and even grade school.
I slowly make my way through the Plaza — it’s always amazingly fun to see all the people lined up to watch. There are tons of signs — like you see at home on TV — everyone looking for their slice of fame. No one is allowed into the studio except employees and guests of the show, so the sea of fans watch through the windows and of course get a nice seat (standing room only) for today’s outside segments and concerts.
I check in with security and go straight to the Green Room. The Green Room at TODAY is always full of people — lots of famous folks — waiting to go on the show. I grab a quick bite from the array of food they have laid out for the guests. They have bagels, lunch meat, fruit, doughnuts, coffee and juice.
I am called in to makeup and hair. I will say getting your makeup and hair done is always a treat for a busy mom! It’s really one of my favorite parts of being on TV. I get my makeup and hair done in the main area. The hosts and the special guest stars are usually in private makeup rooms behind me. So far at TODAY, I’ve spotted Usher, Martha Stewart and Neil Diamond.
I’m done with hair and makeup. I walk back out into the Green Room and quickly meet the children who will be in the segment with me. I used to line up the children for the segment, but the past couple of times my producer has done that for me. We meet and talk for a couple minutes about the fun we are about to have on LIVE TV.
I find a quiet spot, usually just outside the Green Room in the hallway, to go over in my head what I want to say during the segment. I won’t have access to a teleprompter, so everything I say is ad lib or partially memorized. I find you can’t really memorize a TV segment like you might a script because the conversation is interactive with the hosts. Today I am with Al Roker and Jenna Bush Hager for the first time.
It’s almost show time. The page in the Green Room lets my producer know it’s time to get our group on set. My producer leads me, the children, and a couple of parents to the set across the hallway, through the TODAY show doors into the set. We stand quietly out of the way until commercial break.
It’s our cue. Everything for the segment is quickly moved onto the set.
I admire our props, now beautifully assembled on tables in the set area to the right of the main desk where the hosts will do the next segment before getting to mine.
I hand my phone and iPad to a couple of moms and ask if they wouldn’t mind taking a picture or two. I quickly check on a homemade lava lamp that needs an extra Alka-Seltzer tablet. I make sure my mud volcano is still intact. My producer ushers the children to their assigned station. A stagehand mics me.
Commercial break is over. We are back on the air, but if you were watching the show, you’d have no idea we are standing right nearby. We hold tight (and quiet) until the end of the segment when it’s time for our tease.
The camera person takes a live shot of me as I work with a little one. I smile. I hear Al and Jenna announce our segment — “Coming up, Backyard Barbecue Fun with Donna Bozzo.” Our tease is our first taste of live TV. We will be on live after commercial break.
Jenna and Al walk over to our first station and stand next to me. It’s a very quick hello.
I take a breath, look for my camera and smile. Three, two, one — we are live on the show showing the country how to make that next backyard barbecue fun for your family and friends.
The segment is over in what seems like half a second. I don’t remember what I said, but think it went well. Jenna and Al race back to the desk to wrap the show. All of my props are whisked away, kids are ushered off the set, and we make our way back to the Green Room where we say our goodbyes and thank yous. Today, my husband and girls are with me so we play tourist and wander up to the top of 30 Rock to take in New York City.
When we get to the top, I look down at my phone and see this note from the EP.
I feel on top of the world.
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A Winnetka mom of three New Trier girls, Donna Bozzo weighs in on TODAY, TV shows across the country, and TV shows here in Chicago as a family lifestyle expert. She is author of the book “What The Fun?! 427 Ways to Have Fantastic Family Fun” (Penguin). Look for her new book on the power of sensory play, “Fidget Busters” (Countryman), in the fall of 2018.