So you want to be on TV, huh?
Well you've come to the right place.
That was the come-on (the "peg" or the "hook" in TV-Talk) for a seminar on Saturday ($125, thank you) given by Hampton, Bates and Associates, an Arlington firm specializing in what their brochure called "professional communication skills."
About 30 people who either wanted to get on talk shows themselves or had clients who wanted to get on talk shows listened for three hours to talk-show pros Lou Hampton and Ellen Miles. Hampton, who has game-show-host looks and can put on the kind of AM-radio voice that could wake Francisco Franco, specializes in preparing executives to appear on television and before the public. Miles, who has the gift of making strangers feel at ease, was formerly a co-host on "A.M. Washington" and the "People" reporter for WJLA, and now works for Hampton.
Together they were the Tex and Jinx of Rosslyn as they gave practical advice on such topics as "How to create a gimmick" (Miles: "Somewhere in the world it's Tulip Day or Coffee Grinds Day. Come up with a peg. Give them something cute and they'll go with it"), "What to wear" and "How to get invited back."
It was, after all, a seminar on how to get on the tube, and as Miles, quite reasonably, said, "I'm not here to say I approve or disapprove of wanting to get on a talk show; I'm here to say what works." This was after Miles told the story of the two women from The Great American Nutritional Campaign who sent her their pamphlet about how to eat right and promised that if they could get on the air one would dress up as a eggplant and the other as a stalk of broccoli.
"How could I refuse them?" Miles asked. How, indeed? In the immortal words from the "Gypsy" song "You Gotta Have a Gimmick": "Once I was a schlepper/Now I'm Miss Mazeppa."
Miles made it clear she wasn't advocating this as the only way to get on a talk show. But one is left pondering the philosophical question: Et tu, asparagus?
Many of the contestants . . . (Did I say "contestants?" Sorry.) . . . Many of those in attendance were involved in public relations, like Tina Pugliese of Alexandria, who said, "I have clients that have requested to be on talk shows, and I want to make sure I'm taking the right approach." Bette Wildermuth of Rockville was in that category too. And there was Sandy Trupp of Acropolis Books, and public relations-oriented representatives from Clyde's, a veterans' organization, a nursing organization, the Association of Trial Lawyers and Giant Food.
But there were also people looking to make a Name for themselves. Like Richard Bray, whose name tag read "Singer/Model/Radio Voice." And Marilyn Wulfekueheler, a representative for Diet Center Inc., who said, "My name's too long; next year I'll be Lynn Lewis." And David Denholm from the Public Service Research Council, whose been on "Today." And Ted Woynicz, who likes to call himself "a creator of alternative realities."
And maybe we should hear from them, since they paid the $125 just to show up in our living rooms between ads for toothpaste, soap and the peripatetic Underalls. Presenting New Faces of '81. A little mood music if you will, maestro.
Bray: "I've worked mainly hotels and lounges. For years I sang at the revolving rooftop restaurant at the Quality Inn in Crystal City. Now I'm working at the Seaport Inn in Old Town, Alexandria. . . I've been on TV a number of times -- I've always wondered if I did it right. . . I was really interested in what they said about having a peg; I think that's a good idea, thinking of a gimmick. I have songs that fit holidays. For example, I have songs that would be perfect for Father's Day. I guess I have to wait a year, though."
Wulfekueheler: "I came here from southern California two years ago. I was on TV there once, in Bakersfield; I was promoting a retarded children's home at the time. I'd be willing to go on TV here for Diet Center -- to get the word out to fatties all over. . . I keep thin because if I'm 50 pounds overweight, who's gonna come to my Diet Center?"
Denholm: "I do a lot of talk shows. One thing that bothered me most was getting back on. I learned enough from this to be well worth my time and money. First of all, to bring my own tapes so I could better critique myself afterwards. And second, the idea of having a gimmick; I never even considered that." (Would you dress up as an eggplant? "No.")
Woynicz: "I've been exploring alternative ways of creating my life, and especially healing people. That's the field I'm in -- psychotherapy and alternative healing methods. . . Specifically what I do is teach people about physical immortality -- that only life is inevitable. . . I had illnesses and did different things to heal myself. . . I just got tired of established methods. . . I want to get on any kind of media where I can tell people about things that do work." (Do you want to make money doing this? "Yeah. Sure.")
The seminar was, as advertised, a How To . . . and Hampton and Miles went step by step with these people whose ambition is to get Naugahyde burns from talk-show couches all over the country ("Johnny's guests tonight include Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand. And of course you all remember Marilyn Wulfekueheler.")
Hampton: "If I am booked on a talk show, what do I want the viewers to remember? That's the starting point. . ."
Miles: "You get on to get free publicity. . . You'll have a minimum of five minutes of free advertising -- think what that's worth. . ."
Hampton: "Convey enthusiasm; keep telling yourself 'I'm glad I'm here.' Convey concern, sincerity, knowledge."
Miles: "Lou doesn't like to use the word 'gimmick.' I do. You need a gimmick. . ."
Hampton: "Be manicured."
They discussed how one might contact one of the local talk shows, TV and radio, listing all the shows and the contacts to first write and then follow up with a call. ("Maintain contact. . . Always have something new to offer. . . Send some possible questions. . . Just try to be helpful"). They advised the people on what to say in the letter, how to prepare for the interview, what to wear ("avoid white, avoid flashy colors"), what the studio looked like and what to expect from the other people on the set, how to make a good impression, and how to be invited back.
Establish a rapport. Create a climate for your appearance. Create a need. Get a gimmick. (Be an eggplant.) Then sell, sell, sell.
Parts of previously aired TV interviews were shown and critiqued. Again, the message was: You don't want to blow this opportunity; you may not get another. In one tape, Billy Mills, the American Indian who won the 10,000 meters race in the 1968 Olympics, was shown talking about his work with the American Indians. Part of Hampton's analysis of the tape was that Mills' answers were too long. "He was there to plug a cause, but he took too long to do it." (Hey, Billy, keep it bright and tight, okay sweetie?) In another tape, a physician was interviewed, and Hampton said, "His answers were much too complex. He answered like a physician." (C'mon, Doc, give us a break. Can't you jazz it up and sound like Quincy?)
For the closer, Hampton left his audience with a Snoopy cartoon strip. It was the first day of school and the teacher wanted compositions on "What I Did During Summer Vacation." Linus' effort is long-winded, metaphysical and overwritten, but it obviously curries favor with the teacher. The punch line was Linus cynically talking, presumably to all of us: "As the years go by, you learn what sells."
Everyone at the seminar laughed.
Some, of course, louder than others.