A tornado tears across southwestern Missouri, visiting devastation on the small town of Joplin. The dramatic news breaks in network TV newsrooms in New York in the early evening hours of May 22. What next? ¶ If you’re a booker for one of the networks’ morning programs, the first rule is this: Get there. Fast. Being first on the scene often means getting “the get” — securing interviews with the most newsworthy and compelling people. ¶ Bookers, or, more formally, “segment producers,” don’t shoot video or pictures or collect facts that correspondents report. Their job is to persuade a suddenly famous nobody to share his or her story on air with millions of strangers, preferably from a couch in a New York studio. Live television demands a constant flow of talking heads; bookers are the people who wrangle, cajole, sweet-talk — and often pay for — those heads to speak. ¶ Speed is the biggest advantage for the small army of people who produce morning television, the most competitive part of the 24-7 news cycle. In the elbow-throwing TV booking business, being first can mean nailing an exclusive that denies competitors the same interviews. In other words, the “Today” show’s gain is a loss for “Good Morning America,” CBS’s “Early Show” and the cable networks. And vice versa.
“If we aren’t knocking on your door, we’ll be calling. If we haven’t called, we’ll be at your door,” said Marc Victor, a senior producer who oversees booking for NBC’s “Today Show,” which scrambled freelance and staff bookers to Joplin. “It’s really the first person there who gets the exclusive, and that’s the prize. Either you’re aggressive and on top of it 24 hours a day, or you lose.”