After more than a decade on this job, I have learned that live television cannot be scripted.
Over the years, I’ve had numerous incidents when I’ve been on the air. I was almost run over by a Zamboni in Philadelphia in the playoffs. I was hit with a baseball on the field during the World Series last year. And I once had a fan grab my butt outside Scotiabank Place. (In my recollection, it was an attractive female who grabbed me — but the video tape seems to indicate it was a stalky man who did the deed).
Whatever the case, nothing prepared me for what happened on Friday night on the streets of New York while going live into our 6 p.m. ET edition of Connected.
I was doing yet another live hit in front of the NHL offices with Michael Grange, asking him for the 59th time during this lockout, "So where do we go from here in this process?"
Michael always does a nice job of responding to my inane lockout questions and has somehow managed to restrain himself from beating me with the microphone. But I do believe that day is coming.
As we were wrapping up the segment and preparing to throw back to Jeff Marek in the studio, the producer shouted in our ears, "Look behind you! Look behind you!"
As I started to turn around, my initial instinct was that I was going to see some breaking news unfolding behind us. Perhaps Donald Fehr was walking into the NHL offices. Or maybe Gary Bettman had stormed out of the building and was giving an impromptu press conference.
Whatever the case, I expected to see something significant given the urgency in the producer’s voice.
In my wildest dreams, I never expected to see Big Bird.
I was pretty flummoxed to see the mascot directly behind us. Apparently, Big Bird had been standing there for a while and neither of us had noticed him. I often get lost in Michael’s eyes when he’s answering my questions, so I wasn’t paying attention to anything on the periphery.
When you’re on live television, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to make a witty comment in these situations. But despite being a frequent contributor to Today’s Parent, I didn’t have any hilarious Sesame Street references at the ready.
I thought about making an Elmo joke, but he’s been in the news for all the wrong reasons these days. And I wanted to steer clear of any references to The Count while standing outside of the NHL offices — for obvious reasons.
I also thought about making a joke about my height. For starters, I look short enough when I’m standing next to Michael Grange on television. Do we really need to add a six-foot-three bird in the background to hammer home the point?
But that seemed pretty lame.
If I was more quick-witted I would have made a Mitt Romney joke about Big Bird. But sadly, the great one-liners about Big Bird and the presidential campaign escaped me at the time.
So I stammered for a moment and made some sort of pathetic joke saying, "Well, that’s the only non-Larry Robinson Big Bird reference you’ll get on this show."
And I’m sure our viewers who are under 25 were saying to themselves, "What the hell does Big Bird have to do with Larry Robinson?" Trust me kids, that joke would have killed in 1985.
Less than two minutes after our live hit, my phone blew up. I had texts and e-mails from people who thought the hit was hilarious. Christine Simpson took a snapshot of the moment and posted it on Twitter. I now have that picture on my Twitter profile, because from a journalistic standpoint, I hope this was a defining moment in my career.
The only thing more fitting would have been if we were photo-bombed by Mickey Mouse — because he really sums up how ridiculous this NHL lockout has been.