Adventures In TV, With Peter Sagal : Wait Wait ... Don't Tell Me! Peter Sagal shares a look backstage at the taping of our BBC America "Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!" special.
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Adventures In TV, With Peter Sagal

Needs more eyeliner. BBC America hide caption

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BBC America

Needs more eyeliner.

BBC America

[Ed. note: Our big TV special airs Friday December 23rd at 8/7c on BBC America. This is Peter's account of turning our radio show into TV.]

"When you're done tonight, find me," said Rebecca. "Otherwise you'll never get this stuff off."

Makeup artists are almost always attractive women; I'm not sure why this is, except the subliminal advertising it offers: "if you let me do my magic upon you, you can be as hot as I am." Rebecca, is, indeed, a very attractive and professional make-up artist, but I took in her vast array of creams, unguents, and tools spread across her work table, and thought that for her, I might be a face too far. Maybe she agreed. She took another look at me, and squeezed something like looked like liquid cement onto a cream base.

"It's a mixture I came up with myself," she said. "For circumstances like this."

"This" was the taping of the BBC America/WWDTM year end special. The Chase Bank Auditorium, our bland but comfortable home beneath a skyscraper in downtown Chicago, had been taken over by Set Builders and Camera Operators and Grips and Best Boys, television elves of every species, who had replaced our small cloth backdrop with an actual set, brought us new furniture, cut-outs that shined our logo onto the theater walls, brand new suits for Carl and myself, and of course Rebecca, in the fantastic hope that I could be made presentable to cable TV viewers.

I have done some TV in the past few years, and I find it uncomfortable at best. In addition to having a face (and hairline) made for radio, I'm a fidgeter, a face-maker, a nervous rambler around rooms. When I get involved in something, say, hosting a fast-paced radio quiz show, I tend to lose all awareness of how I'm behaving physically. I'll gesture wildly, scratch my nose, rock back and forth (what fellow Jews might call "davening"), tug on my eyebrows (yes), giggle girlishly. For the five hundred or so people who come see us every week at the Chase Bank Auditorium, it's, I hope, a humanizing look at the quirks of somebody they know. As for the three million radio listeners – well, what they don't know won't distress them.

But on TV, I am told by highly paid technicians, people can see you. And all the ways that people express themselves physically come into play – how you stand, how you smile, where you look as you think. For someone as self-conscious as I am to begin with, TV takes potential humiliation from 2D to 3D, with digital effects. But at the same time, the BBC executives and producers swore quite sincerely that they loved our radio show, and just wanted to televise it to their audience, with no effects, bells or whistles. In fact, Bob, the director said to me, "You can even daven... we don't care. We love it." The refusal to concede almost anything to the camera began to worry me... for example, when we tape the radio show, I wear bulky headphones, to isolate my high quality mic from the sound coming back to my ears. And so on the TV show, I'd be wearing the same headphones... no change, no reason to feel uncomfortable. "Great," I said to myself. "Now I'll look like a bald Princess Leia."

Carl Kasell, on the other hand, was the soul of calm. The man is 77 and he still has the sang-froid of an international jewel thief. You could throw Carl into the jungles of Guatemala with nothing but a knife and a mosquito net and he'd still give you a sly smile and intone the opening credits to our show exactly on cue. I realized I could do a lot worse than live up to his example. Then again, I've been trying to do that for fourteen years, and haven't quite gotten it yet.

I stood backstage, imagining that the makeup that poor Rebecca had caked onto my skull had started to crack, so I felt like [SPOILER ALERT!] Voldemort at the end of Harry Potter. The plan was to do the show, just like normal, and try to ignore the millions of people staring at us through their eerie robotic glass eyes.

You'll find out how we did on December 23rd, when BBC America broadcasts our end of the year special. Let me know if you can see the cracks.

[Another Ed. Note, because the Ed. really thinks you should watch it:

our special airs Friday December 23rd at 8/7c on BBC America.]