What to Know If You're Doing a TV Appearance, and Hey Check Me Out on 20/20 Tonight!

Doing TV stuff is kind of nerve-wracking because it lasts forever. Here are some things I've learned and passed on to friends to give it the best go possible.
Publish date:
December 7, 2012
TV, 20/20

It's been interesting to hear people's reactions to my "Dr. Drew" appearance.

I've heard from more than one person that they wanted to see me being brassy and funny, but I'm of the camp that when you are coming over to someone's media home then you try to respect what they're asking for. As in, remember when Sinead O'Connor ripped up that picture of the Pope on "SNL"? Lorne Michaels said that was as if someone had gone to the bathroom on his living room floor. Banned forever.

I'm all for viral moments and what not, but I feel like if you've agreed to play ball according to someone's rules and requests, then that's what you do. And for that show, the producers specifically wanted emotions, vulnerability and for me to steer clear of wisecracking coolness -- and so that's what I sought to conjure. I approached it as if I was doing a therapy session on TV.

Then again, I've also just come to have a kind of wry amusement about the entire media process. I mean, I had several people tell me when I did the "prostidude" story for The Post, I should be careful because that story would perpetually define me. It didn't. Nothing ever does unless you make it define you.

And I firmly believe that the major-leagues players are concentrated on the big picture, not one media moment on one particular day. Almost the only thing you can't recover from is a Michael-Richards-style video meltdown, because the ugliness revealed so permanently soils a person. It's not that I don't still enjoy "Seinfeld," but I won't ever forget that rant. How could you? You don't forget darkness like that.

So I think some people were worried that by not appearing as my strong, funny self on "Dr. Drew," I would somehow damage my appearance as such. My feeling is that if you like it or hate it or are indifferent to it or love it, it simply provides more texture. It's a moment. That's all it was.

Tonight, I have a piece where I'm used as a "lifestyle consultant" for "20/20," airing at 10 p.m. tonight on ABC, talking about the holiday party disaster stories we asked for a while back -- including, hopefully some of yours which you shared with xoJane.com. It was a ton of fun to do, and it was great to do a TV hit that was more authentic to my core (I am as sensitive and vulnerable as I tried to approach "Dr. Drew," but on the whole I'm in a pretty strong place in my life) and it allowed me to showcase more self-deprecating humor and sassiness. Wow. I love that I just wrote "sassiness." Holla, Jane!

So here's what I've learned about doing TV in all the different incarnations I've done it. I've given this speech to friends who are preparing for interviews, so hopefully some of it is useful. And trust me, I realize that I have plenty of notes that can be given to myself (like, um, look the fuck up, since I was staring down so much during "Dr. Drew" -- I was trying to conjure the raw emotion they so emphasized that they wanted).

So, please don't take these as coming from on top of High Holy I Know Everything About TV Mountain. It's just what I've learned, and it may be useful if you're ever doing a TV spot, or even if you're just putting together a video for YouTube. Who knows? Share your advice in the comments, or tell me your TV experiences. My favorite of all time remains the kid who was interviewed wearing a full-on zombie outfit and when asked for his thoughts about the face painting, said, "I like turtles." Perfection. Everything good and innocent about the world, right there. (And speaking of innocence -- your dog training tips are SO FUCKING HELPFUL. Sammy has been responding to my turning my back when he jumps up and he's doing it way less. You guys are so smart. Thank you.)

TV tips:

1. Don't expect there to be hair and makeup, and remember that whatever you're rocking will appear a lot more subtle on camera.

If you don't normally wear mascara, load yourself up with it to make your eyes pop. And, yeah, if you're doing a TV spot, never assume there will be hair and makeup there to do you up. Depending on the budget or nature of the show, it might be all on you. You can end up looking like a ghost on TV if something goes awry.

Related: Advocate for what you know makes you look good. My worst make-up experience wasn't for TV, but rather for one of my first stories in The Post where I was naked and covered in body paint wearing a Vivian Wang painted-on dress. At the last minute, a make-up artist came over and did some nutty kabuki make-up on my face. I looked like ass. I couldn't see what he was doing, and made the mistake of not checking in throughout to make sure he was positively highlighting my features (which are weird, I don't have cheekbones and so can either look good or just kind of puffy and small-eyed -- it's a Renee Zellweger kind of palette).

I was so new to The Post at that point and didn't want to be a diva, but it's okay to take care of yourself and be your best advocate within reason. You know you better than anyone.

2. Conversely, remember that it's not about you and that getting lost in tangents can actually end up hurting you because -- unless you're Britney Spears -- the piece you're participating in probably is about a "topic" or "trend" and not about you.

This means that if you're doing an interview, find out what it's about so you can provide tidy punchy soundbites that work well within the theme. For instance, I talked to a friend of mine before her "20/20" interview for tonight and reminded her as she told me 20 minutes of background, that I, as a person, found her story interesting, but for TV -- and TV producers, who have the height of ADD just by the nature of their profession -- they are looking at you through a prism of how they are going to edit you.

They're looking for, "Am I going to be able to edit this person in a 20-second clip that I can intersperse with the point of view of the piece?" In this way, concise is better, and on-point is always the best. It doesn't hurt to think ahead of time what are some of the points you might want to make.

Whenever you see the comics on "Chelsea," they've all come up with bits and lines to get in there ahead of time. You can still improvise and be in the moment, but anticipating a few lines that are your key messages of what you might be contributing is really helpful.

3. Think about ahead of time what you do and don't want to say.

It's easy when you're doing TV to want to please but you might then end up accidentally revealing something that will have long-range consequences in your actual life. You're not going to be able to get that back. Once it's taped, unless your friend is involved in doing the segment, they're going to use it. Think ahead of time of sensitive points that you want to steer clear of and, by that same token, have a conversation with a friend to decide if certain things you're not sure if you want to reveal are worth revealing.

4. Don't wear stripes or busy patterns or something that looks weird when you're sitting down.

Also, avoid that outfit that doesn't make you feel confident and comfortable. Now is not the time to experiment with that outfit that you almost fit but which kind of gives you armpit cleavage or which might ride up in places you don't want it to. Also a long-time producer friend of mine says that leaning in a little bit on the chair you are sitting on tends to lead to a good visual for an interview. And to remember that no matter what you do, if you do your best, you are going to speak to someone out there -- and maybe even help them.

5. Practice with a friend ahead of time.

It's totally awkward to do this, but it's a great trick. (I do it with job interviews, too, or even a celebrity interview I might be nervous about.) There's something about the ridiculousness of doing a role-play that makes the real thing a whole lot less scary. Have them be brutal and ask the worst possible questions so you're prepared for them ahead of time and not devastated on-air with unpreparedness. Although I suppose it would make for good TV to freak the hell out, I'm talking about your real life-life, not virality here.

6. In terms of virality, if that's what you're going for, then go for it.

We all watch "The Soup," and we know what can make something get clipped or picked up. Anything that's unexpected or awkward or humiliating is a sure-fire way to get some heat on a video clip. Just think about what you want out of an appearance. I still look back on my "Joy Behar" appearance talking about the prostidude and wonder what would have happened if I had completely disobeyed The Post's instructions to not get into any details of what I had done with the gigolo (gave him a half-hearted hand job while I interviewed the shit out of him).

It probably could have had some virality potential. But at that point in my career, I really needed that job and it wasn't a bridge that would have been smart for me to burn. Think of your long game. And if you're seeking virality, turn to Howard Stern for any of the video stunts he's pulled over the years, like the two guys passionately making out in front of Lehman Bros. when it closed down.

7. When you're asked a question, it's helpful (if you know it's going to be edited later) to answer by incorporating the question in your response.

So, for instance, if you're being interviewed for a piece about holiday parties, and you want to see yourself make the final cut, and you are asked, "Are you nervous about the holiday party?" and you answer in a monosyllabic clipped, "No," that's TV death. If you answer, "No I'm not nervous about the holiday party because I don't think I could get any drunker than I did last year," you've given a good soundbite. You've incorporated the question and given a funny, honest, vibrant little quote. Subtlety is great, but when you're dealing with TV (or with a tabloid publication for that matter) you're mostly dealing in broader strokes for editing purposes, so keep it in mind.

8. Give good soundbite.

A long story almost never makes the cut. Think about what the most important thing that you want to say about a story is and get there quickly. It's like a wonderful improv teacher I had at Upright Citizens Brigade once told the class whenever any of us would be doing a scene and one partner would say, for instance, "How are we going to get out of the spaceship?" and one of us might respond with, "I don't know." The teacher would just have this one powerful amazing note. He said, "Know." And that changed the entire scene. Choose to know. Have an opinion, a point of view and think of the soundbite as a tweet. Pithy, catchy, illuminating and something you want to share.

9. Visualize yourself doing well, just have fun and release yourself from the outcome.

I'm a big fan of visualization as it puts me in a much better state energetically. And having fun sounds so no-duh, but when you have fun it shows in the work (or the TV appearance). Stressy appears stressy. Who cares? We'll all be dead soon anyway. So don't overthink. Detach and be right there in that moment.

10. Remember that no one cares about you.

Keep in mind, I say this because I completely realize: No one cares about me either. In the most brutal terms of TV and a lot of media, that is. They care about an angle and a story and the producers are most likely working 15-hour days trying to crank out stories -- so they don't have time to deal with tons of emails, requests and all the rest. You are one very tiny piece in a giant puzzle they have to construct very quickly. Empathizing and anticipating and wasting as little of TV producers' time is always appreciated.

Usually, they are dealing with a volume of infoglut and pressure that is extreme. On the other side of this coin, if someone doesn't get back and you know they need something or have expressed interest, it's okay to follow up because they're probably just buried.

You can say, "I know how busy you are so I wanted to get you these high-res pics you said you might need. I've attached five for you to choose from." Don't attach 50. They don't have that kind of time and might just not want to use you at all because they then brand you as annoying and that you mistakenly think it's all about you -- when it's a piece about something else.

I don't say this to be bitchy. I say this as someone who's made this mistake multiple times, and it's nice to be told it gently by someone who's made the gaffe then to ruin a relationship you might be interested in cultivating.

That's it for now! I hope you watch tonight! Have you ever done TV or YouTube videos and do you have tips of your own for how to rock it? I would love to hear them!


Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.