Monday, October 30, 2006

More On DC, NPR, And "Helpers"

My friend Gemma sent me this Broadcasting & Cable article on Tim Russert last week. I printed it out, and read it on my flight to Florida for my father's sixtieth birthday celebration.

    Meet the Press moderator and NBC Washington Bureau Chief Tim Russert does his homework, which is one of the reasons he is at the head of his class among Sunday-morning political talk shows and is recognized as one of the best—if not the best—interviewers in TV.

Initially, I wasn't entirely sure what Gemma's subtext was in sending the piece to me. Was she providing background? Reminding me to do my homework? Trying to throw a scare into me by reminding me that I am interviewing a great interviewer? It wasn't until the following passage that I got it:

    Says Russert, a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan, “When I am watching a football game and John Madden is explaining things in layman’s language—'There they are on the line … watch out for that linebacker’—that’s what I try to do with Washington: explain it to people in an understandable and meaningful way. And I think that is important work.”

Russert, it would appear, is a fellow traveller. In addition to his friendship with The Rogers (or, perhaps in part, because of it), he understands the value of deep and simple. He is, as Fred would say (and Tim would remind me), a "helper."

So, I've come to discover, is Gemma.

I met Gemma, like so many of my friends, online. She found my site via my pals, The Nadas, and has been a steady correspondent since. Gemma works for NPR, one of the best sources of deep and simple around. Not surprisingly, then, we tend to gravitate towards conversations on Big Media, music, and the documentary. So her email on Tim Russert made sense. Funny thing happened, though, as we discussed Tim, and my impending travel to Washington, DC.

"If you do end up having an epic day in D.C.," she write, "And want to cap it by watching All Things Considered go out live from NPR, let me know."

As background, you have to know how much I love public radio. Since college, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, in specific, have been my primary sources of information. NPR was my sole companion in the summer of 1991 when I drove 8553 miles from Philadelphia to San Diego and back. I've woken up to Morning Edition every morning since. I learned of Mister Roger's death from Robert Siegel. Which promted this exchange:

    Thanks, Gemma! I'd LOVE to come by. Anyone there that might have sage commentary for the doc? Come to think of it -- DUH! I'm SURE Susan Stamberg -- who moderated three Mister Rogers specials -- would have valuable insight. Fred touched so many lives, and his world overlapped so thoroughly with yours. How would you suggest I go about speaking with one of them?

Gemma shared my "duh," then hooked me up with the head of NPR Press Relations. And so it is that on Monday afternoon, Chris and I will stroll into the headquarters of what I consider to be one of the nation's finest news organizations to interview one of the nations finest broadcasters, Susan Stamberg.

Everyone that knew Fred says the same thing: he loved to bring people together. While this project -- which, by the way, I consider barely begun -- has been the largest, most challenging undertaking in my life, I know that it is unfolding as it should, or, more succinctly, just as Fred had intended it to. And the best part is the people we're meeting, and the inspiration they provide.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Meeting The Man Behind "Meet The Press"

Weeks go by when I feel like I'm no making progress at all on "Mister Rogers & Me." Sometimes it feels like some sort of fantasy, or delusion, as I try and find time to write letters and make calls on behalf of the film. Today, though, we take one major step forward.

I just emailed Tim Russert's assistant, Lisa, the following:

    Great news! Thanks so much, Lisa. Monday, November 13th at 10am is perfect. While the crew is small (my cameraman/brother, Christofer), we will need a few minutes to set up (DV on tripod, small light) prior to speaking with Tim. Please let me know when and where you'd like us.

    Looking forward, Benjamin

So it's on! In less than a month, Chris and I will be strolling into NBC News' Washington, DC, bureau and interviewing one of television's best, most-substantive and spin-free interviewers. From Mr. Russert's bio:

    Tim Russert is the Managing Editor and Moderator of Meet the Press and political analyst for NBC Nightly News and the Today Program. He anchors The Tim Russert Show, a weekly interview program on CNBC and is a contributing anchor for MSNBC. Russert also serves as senior vice president and Washington bureau chief of NBC News.

    His two books -- "Big Russ and Me" (2004) and "Wisdom of Our Fathers" (2006) -- were both New York Times #1 bestsellers.

    He has received forty-three honorary doctorate degrees from American colleges and universities and has lectured at the Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan Presidential Libraries.

Yikes, right? The guy's interviewed every major head of state for the last twenty years. More importantly, he done so with a sense of fairness, balance and integrity reserved for only a few major news figures: Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather. He's one of the best, one of the good guys, one -- as Fred would say -- of the "helpers."

Now we have to confirm Senator Tom Harkin, and we have ourselves a major, major day in DC.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


I've been multi-tasking like crazy. As I write to you from my office (on my MacBook Pro), I am also typing a letter (on my Dell) to my Uncle Bill who I am hoping is our gateway to Tim Russert. The only news I have to report is that I received an email from Marc Brown yesterday. We're on, and working out an interview date. Likewise Senator Tom Harkin.

My day job is undergoing terrific upheavel (just Google "MTV" and read all the bad press). Meanwhile, my health is in shambles (I've been to four doctors in the last week), I'm training for the NYC Marathon, preparing for three rock shows, writing songs for my next album, and, of course, working on "Mister Rogers & Me." Plus, you know, things like eating, sleeping, laundry, going to the drug store...

I call FCI CEO Bill Isler roughly three times a week: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesdays. He is out of the office (at The Fred Rogers Center) on Thursdays and Fridays. I email him weekly as well. In six months of calls, emails, and letters, we've spoken twice for a total of three minutes. I would say it's dicouraging if I didn't know that he is a busy, busy man, and that Mister Rogers is with me 110%.