We met in the summer of 2001. It was, as the media dubbed it, The Summer of the Shark. For us, the shark was a five-hour clip show – a beast of a job with a tight deadline. We had hundreds of hours of footage and photos to go through and many celebrities to book and interview – and it all had to be finished before Christmas.
We were working out of the MTV Networks building – it was pretty much what you imagined working at MTV would be like in those days – overrun by youth – responsible, hard working youth, but youth none-the-less. And while we were young enough to enjoy the atmosphere, we were too square to understand fully what the youth in the building were actually up to (and by the way, we still have no idea).
Natalie had spent the last three years at MTV, working on Behind the Music. Marla was a recent hire, she’d just finished up working as a researcher for a feature film writer/director. We shared an office with three other girls. Natalie knew them from Behind the Music and Marla was the new kid, but we all clicked, thankfully.
We, in particular, discovered just how much we had in common: we traded our favorite books like “Mr. Maybe” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” we compared our similar and extensive collection of VHS tapes (“You love Buffy? I love Buffy more!”) and when Marla introduced Natalie to Nutella – it became a forever kind of love.
Since Natalie was the first to start on the show, she snagged the best desk – the power spot – all the way in the back. Marla was stationed right in front of her, so Natalie could always see when she was dicking around. In turn, Marla sat behind Angela – an AP on the show – and could see when Angela was screwing around as well. Which due to the schedule, wasn’t very often, unfortunately.
The three of us, along with our line-producer, (who had her own office) became work-besties. We loved the other two girls in the room, but they were working on other shows so we didn’t share the same bond. And in retrospect, our, er, enthusiastic natures probably got on their nerves.
As it happens on many shows, the early days of production felt like a normal job. We logged footage, made calls and waited to hear back from talent. We were in a bit of a denial bubble – we knew the bad time was coming, but it felt far far away.
So our happy foursome was able to take an occasional lunch – just like you would at a normal job. It gave us time to bond – and that bond cemented the Three Musketeers mentality that would keep us working nights and weekends together without (much) complaint.
After about two weeks of this semi-leisurely pace, the reality of the show came crashing down – we had to produce five hours of television in just a few short months. By this time, the full staff was working – they had hired two producers to conduct the interviews and two researchers to help us out – and thus began one of the best and worst work experiences of both of our careers.
In a flash, our lives were all about the job. Leaving before 9:30 p.m. became a treat. Working on a Saturday wasn’t just expected – it was actually necessary. The only thing that made it all bearable was being together – if one of us had to work late, we all stayed late. So our work misery was tempered with this odd feeling of togetherness – we didn’t blame the job, or even the schedule – we just knew we had to get the work done.
And that tight bond carried us through 9/11 as well. That day we cancelled an interview with a major celebrity and all stayed in our homes to watch the coverage, calling each other in disbelief as the situation unfolded.
The next day, we wheeled a TV into our office. We watched CNN coverage non-stop for about a week. When we needed a break between news stories, Natalie brought in “Once More with Feeling,” the legendary musical episode from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We were thrilled to have the musical distraction, singing along with Buffy and her friends as we organized photos. Did our three office mates enjoy it? Maybe the first three times we played it. Did we care? Not so much. Don’t worry – they had their revenge – there were Disney musicals played aplenty.
Over the next couple of months we discovered that:
- Because of the Anthrax scare, the mailroom guys went from slackers who listened to music all day to terrified Hazmat suit wearing bomb-detectors who had to search every piece of mail that entered the building.
- It was almost impossible to hide large cartons of Baskin-Robbins ice cream in a communal freezer.
- Our line-producer had a very sensitive stomach and was prone to stress-puking. We can’t get into it – it’s really gross.
- Even though we all knew Marla was leaving for two weeks to get married we still punished her when she returned.
- In person, Blair Underwood was really as nice (and handsome) as he seemed on camera.
- When sorting through thousands of photos and slides, it’s best to create an organizational system early on. The “throw them in a box” technique was surprisingly ineffective.
- It’s always good to have a supporter at the production company. Our biggest ally and sympathizer was the Head of Production. While the owner of the company was off on vacation, we were forced to work until 11:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve in order to make the air-date. The only highlight was when our beloved Head of Production brought us chocolate, a few hugs, and much-needed laughter at the absurdity of it all. That was our only gift from Santa that year!
After it was all said and done, we felt (and looked) like zombies, like years had been taken off our lives. But it definitely had a positive outcome – the two of us became more than just work-besties and eventually decided to write a book together. We still miss our little foursome but we keep in touch with the girls (and the Head of Production). We’d probably do it all over again just so we could hang out together like old times (but only if we were threatened with death).