How does a writer get an appearance on Good Morning America? Not a big-time, best-selling author, or a celebrity who just “wrote” the latest lifestyle trend tome … just a regular freelance writer from a “fly-over” state, like me?
Yes, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a couple of articles about divorce and co-parenting appear in big deal publications (The New York Times and Psychology Today); but mostly I’ve just been slogging away at freelance writing on all sorts of topics for all sorts of places. Just like most freelance writers.
Let me take you behind the scenes of the chain of events. First let me say, Boy! — did I gain a new-found appreciation for what it takes to create some TV! I interacted with more people than I could keep track of and got probably only a glimpse of the extraordinary amount of time and effort it takes to pull together just a few minutes of television.
Here’s the timeline:
April 10, 2019
I opened my inbox to an email with the subject line “Good Morning America” and read this message from Emily (who I later determined is what’s called a “booking intern”): “I ran across your websiteand we are looking to feature a divorced couple in an upcoming segment about marriage. I am wondering if you would be able to point me towards a couple who could be a good fit.”
I emailed her back suggesting that my ex and I – with our amicable relationship and nesting family arrangement – might be an excellent choice. (Yes, she’d mentioned that the couple needed to be in the New York City area, but I figured I’d just deal with that small matter later, if this really did move forward).
Emily replied “That would be terrific! The idea of the series is that couples in different stages of marriage (25th anniversary, divorce, etc.) will come to our studio in NYC and offer ‘what I wish I knew before saying I do’ advice.”
There was that NYC part again. I talked to my ex. We decided since promoting my writing about nesting could benefit my career and our family (“And all of society!” I declared, as I always do. He rolled his eyes, as he always does.). He figured he could find a way to tie a trip to New York into his frequent East Coast trips. I justified to myself that that the chance to appear on Good Morning Americaand talk about divorce and co-parenting to millions of people was well worth what I would spend on a plane ticket and a hotel room.
Oh, yeah, there would also be the issue of what to do about our three kids while we were gone…. Chucked that into the box of “Problems for Future Me”.
Emily had asked in her email that I call her that day. So we spoke on the phone about my background and the state of my current relationship with my ex. She thought my message of “divorce is not a failure, just an evolution of a relationship” would really “resonate with our audience”. She asked that Bill and I send her short selfie videos – nothing fancy, just something so the producers could see if we were “TV-friendly”. Whatever that meant.
I sent mine that afternoon. (Click here GMA demo to watch it.)
Bill had been out of town. I recorded Bill’s at our son’s birthday dinner and sent it off immediately that evening. (Click here GMA demo2 to watch it.)
I got an email from two producers, Sara and Ariel, who had received all the information from Emily and wanted to talk more with me tomorrow.
I called them and we went over our divorce story and how we co-parent. They said they’d be back in touch ASAP to set up sending a crew to our house. “Um, you do know that we live in Fort Wayne, Indiana…?”I asked (fearing that this would blow the whole deal). Oh yeah, no problem, they have freelance crews all over the country and would send the closest one to Fort Wayne. Awesome!
[Now insert old-timey movie image of calendar pages flipping over and blowing away]
I emailed Sara and Ariel to kindly ask if there had been a decision yet on when the interview would be scheduled.
Sara replied: “I’m sorry we’re still waiting on details and final decision from our senior producer before we are allowed to move forward on this. I expect we’ll have better answers for you the week of May 6th. Thank you so much for checking back in, and apologies for the waiting.”
I emailed, “Hi Sara. Just a quick check back to see how your planning is going. Thanks!”
Sara replied, cc’ing in Amanda the “tape producer” (whatever that is), and saying, “Right now we have a rough idea of you and Bill giving advice to another couple. We are definitely interested in having you and Bill participate and will update you as we have more info! Can you remind what cities in Indiana you and Bill live in?”
Uh-oh. What if the location would derail this? I replied immediately, “We both live in Fort Wayne.”
And got no reply.
[Insert old-timey movie image of calendar pages flipping over and blowing away]
An email from Sara! “Thank you so much for your patience. This segment got pushed back to the week of June 17th. I’ll continue to keep you guys posted as we know more!”
I was starting to get a little stressed about the timing. Bill had delayed planning work travel for as long as he could and needed to set up trips for early June. So I emailed Sara, et al.: “Just a heads up that it looks like Bill needs to be out of town for work travel 6/10-14. Thanks. Just keep me posted if you’re getting closer to any scheduling.”
Sara replied, “Thank you for letting us know. I’m looping in Matt who will be in contact with you about all the scheduling. Hopefully we’ll have more answers for you soon. Thanks so much again for being willing to participate!”
Now Matt chimed in, “Hi Beth! Thanks so much for your willingness to be a part of this. I’ll keep you posted this week when I know more about timing for this shoot.”If they were still aiming to air the week of June 17, that meant there were just two weeks left in which to do the interview. The first week was chockablock full of last-week-of-school events, culminating with the high school graduation Friday evening and the grad party for our oldest son all day Saturday. I was already a basket case about getting through this super busy week. Now, fearing that the interview might fall during this same week, I was even more stressed out. BUT, the second week Bill had work travel to DC for work the whole week – so that week was out. There were really very few available hours left!
I emailed (and cc’d everyone else who’d contacted me so far because I still wasn’t sure who was actually in charge of this whole thing): “Thanks, Matt (and everyone)! I’m not sure if you’re still aiming for the same week to air, but thought I’d better let you know our availability”and I laid out a day-by-day list of the VERY limited blocks of time we had open.
“Thanks Beth! Will be in touch when I have more info/concrete plans. Appreciate this! -Matt”
[insert old-timey movie image of me staring at my computer smoke shooting out of my ears; and then a shot – AGAIN — of the calendar pages whisking away]
An email from Matt, cc-ing Suzanne: “Hi – looping in my colleague Suzanne who is producing this piece going forward. She’ll be in touch when we’re ready to film.”
I immediately wrote Suzanne (including the whole email chain back to April): “Just a heads up that my ex is traveling for work the rest of this week (there’s a slight chance he’ll be back by Friday). I’ll be out of town Saturday thru Tuesday (6/18). We’re around after that, so hope we can find a time that works for you!”(I was hoping beyond hope they’d decided to move the segment to later in June. I couldn’t imagine how this could come together in time to air on June 17. And it was so sad to think I’d come so far just to have it fall apart at the very end!)
Within moments a New York number popped up on my phone and I answered to Suzanne (I assumed) saying, “Do you mean to tell me that producers have been talking to you since April? And I get brought in today and have to have you filmed by this Friday so they can air it on Tuesday?!?”
“Ah. A real New Yorker finally,” I thought. I was happy to be done with all the niceties and finally get to someone who just needed to figure shit out. And fast. We had a quick chat about the few remaining windows of opportunity, and…
By mid-morning, Suzanne had arranged for a freelance video and audio recording team from Indianapolis to be at our house on Friday afternoon, June 14. Bill was able to cut short his work trip and get back to Fort Wayne in time for the interview. (Thank you, Bill!) And producer Sara called me to explain the interview process. It would appear that Becky, the “reporter” (this was the first I’d heard of her), would be interviewing us, but in reality, it would be Sara calling in from NYC and asking us questions over a Bluetooth speaker. She also explained that Becky wanted the segment to be our “advice to younger people considering marriage”. Sara explained that Becky would be referencing an imaginary advice app on which you would “swipe right or swipe left”.Okaaayyy…. Whatever! I just wanted to get this thing rolling.
June 14, Friday
At noon the two-person audio and video crew arrived from Indy. It was a blast to see them transform our living room into a brightly lit studio space. The video guy was really into mid-century modern architecture, so he was thrilled to be filming in our house. It took about an hour for them to set up (while I did my hair and makeup and Bill dealt with the pool repair guys who had shown up unexpectedly early). Once the recording equipment was set up, we were wired with mics, seated on our couch, and instructed to look at the small Bluetooth speaker that was attached to one of the lightstands. They’d placed it at the height of a seated person so it would look like we were talking to an actual interviewer in the room with us.
The video guy told us that they do a ton of work in the Midwest for GMA, but because the show has over 200 producers (!), they never work with the same producer – it’s a new person each time. Oh… my experience made a lot more sense.
At 1PM Sara called the video guy’s phone and her voice came over the little Sony speaker loud and clear. She explained that her questions wouldn’t be heard in the actual segment, so we should try to rephrase the question in whatever answer we gave. Which was actually pretty hard to do. We answered many of the questions multiple times until Sara thought we’d rephrased it clearly enough for the audience. We spoke with her for almost an hour, the guys recording the whole time. It was also challenging to interact with a little blue speaker like it was a real person, e.g. smiling, nodding, looking interested.
Within a couple of minutes of the end of questions from Sara, the guys had sent off all the raw footage to New York and were packing up their stuff. They cleared out in about 20 minutes.
Bill and I stared numbly at each other for a moment but agreed “that was fun!” But also exhausting! And I needed to get back to my apartment to pack because I was leaving on an early flight the next morning for a long weekend in Charleston, SC with my boyfriend.
June 18, Monday
Between the end of our taping on Friday and noon on Monday, someone had been hard at work editing all that footage and pulling it into the version of the story they wanted. But apparently it wasn’t quite there. During lunch in Charleston, I got a call from Sara saying she needed to talk ASAP. We finished lunch and I gave her a call around 2pm. She sounded stressed — air time was 8AM the very next morning, after all!
“Even though I cleared all my questions with Becky and the producers,” she explained, “they don’t have quite the answers they’re looking for.” She wanted more details about our divorce and repeated a few questions she’d asked already – we talked for over half an hour. At the end she added, “Oh, and can you email me some pictures from the early days of your marriage? Ten to twenty would be great.”
Well… I was in South Carolina and the boxes of old photos were in Indiana. But I needed to call Bill anyway to catch him up on the questions she’d asked me. It didn’t feel right that he wasn’t a part of the follow-up questions – but he was fine with what I described. And he kindly said he’d dig up a couple of old photos and email them to Sara. (Thank you, Bill.) Those went out to her about 6PM.
Somehow – miraculously to me – who’d worked on this thing all night? – the segment aired shortly after 8AM that morning. It looked great! The day before, I’d watched the first-part of the series (a young couple with money problems), so knew we’d likely get about the same amount of air time, which wasn’t much. And I was right. But I really liked the quotes they pulled from all the talking we’d done. And our living room looked great, and the photos looked awesome, AND our dog Chloe even got some air time!
I’d been hopeful that our nesting arrangement would at least come up. We’d spoken for 10 minutes or so about it with Sara during the interview. But I knew that wasn’t the point of the segment, so I wasn’t too surprised that it didn’t make the cut.
From Sara, “Thank you so much for participating and being patient with us regarding the booking. We really appreciate it! Here’s the link:”
To my mind, there were three particularly positive outcomes from this experience:
1) Millions of people saw a divorced couple who have put aside their differences and are now friends – it can happen!
2) Our points on communication and commitment to making things work were loud and clear – those are both at the heart of nesting!
3) As the audio guy from Indy packed up his stuff after the interview he said, “Great interview. I didn’t realize how you guys were living until you started talking about it. That’s really cool. My parents divorced when I was five years old and all I remember of Christmas for years was a hurried one at my mom’s and then getting on a plane to go to my dad’s. I hated it. What you are doing is really, really great for your boys.”
“Gosh, thanks,” I said, resisting the impulse to give him a big hug. Because it’s the comments like that that always confirm for me that what we’re doing is a really big deal. It’s worth all the effort.
Now here are my: Take-Aways for Other Writers
1) Put Your Work Out There
That behind-the-scenes “no glory” work is worth the investment. GMA found me because of the Googling efforts of an intern; but it was my investment of time, effort, and money into FamilyNesting.Org and its related social media that made that happen. I’d spent the previous nine months putting countless hours into learning about the different media, developing and maintaining a consistent presence on all of them, then refining my efforts to focus on the ones that bring me the greatest number of connections (currently, Instagram, Pinterest, and the FamilyNesting.Org mailing list). People won’t know what YOU know, unless you put it out there.
2) Value Yourself (But Stay Humble, You’re not that Great)
I recently read an interview with prolific freelance writer, Olga Mecking, who said, “Writers walk that fine line between self-adoration and self-loathing. While both can be crippling, I think they’re important – the first keeps us reaching out for the stars. The other one keeps us humble and willing to learn.”
My positive thoughts about myself (“I’m an expert on this topic with a unique and valuable opinion that will resonate with the audience, plus I’m pretty cute in front of a camera!”) were constantly competing with the negative ones (“There is absolutely no reason for them to put boring, un-famous me on this national show — there must be a hundred more glamorous divorced couples in New York they could get in a heartbeat”).
Giving both trains of thought equal weight is for the best. The positive thoughts give you the confidence to unabashedly promote yourself and to be tenacious in your pursuits. The negatives thoughts keep you flexible, low-key, and easy-to-work with. (At least on the surface – I was often freaking out inside!) Hopefully one of the countless people I interacted with at GMA will remember me fondly when it comes time to have another divorced mom on for a segment.
3) Be Grateful — No Matter the Outcome.
Even if it’s not exactly what you hoped it would be, any exposure is better than no exposure. Plus, every new experience teaches you something you didn’t know before; and every new connection could possibly lead to something you never imagined.
Would I have liked to promote nesting and told the audience that I’m working on a book on the topic? Sure! Would it have been nice to have a link from the show’s website to FamilyNesting.org? Of course.
Do I for one second regret that I can now add “interviewed on Good Morning America on the topic of divorce and marriage ” to my resume (and in my book proposal to publishers, and to query letters to write magazine articles, and on my social media profiles, and… wherever else I can think of!)?
No regrets! I simply could not be more grateful for this experience.