Making "Today" Happen

Each weekday morning, thousands of Annapolitans start their day with NBC's "Today" show---but they may not know that an Annapolitan has a lot to do with what they see. Rich Minner, a 13-year resident of Annapolis and a writer/producer for the "Today" show says, "I'm just an ordinary guy." Oh sure, an ordinary guy who deals daily with the rich and famous, the infamous, and the about-to-be famous. A guy who was recently in the Middle East prepping for a Thanksgiving show. A guy with one of the more interesting jobs anyone could think of, where work is fun and fun can be work. A guy who could claim Willard Scott and Bryant Gumble taught him everything he ever wanted to know about being humble...but doesn't.

After graduation from Penn State, Rich came to a job in Washington with the Mutual Radio Network on Aug. 9, 1974, a date he remembers well because that was the day President Nixon resigned. As the "new guy," he was assured by his fellow writers and reporters that it was a pretty good story to start a career.

He resigned from Mutual in 1982 and came to NBC Radio News. Rich said he "dabbled" with TV news a few days a week, which was fortunate because in 1987, in a strange twist of fate, NBC Radio was sold to Mutual, and he ended up with NBC-TV News. Less than a year later, he joined the "Today" Washington, D.C., bureau of five writer/producers with the assignment of staying on top of what's happening in our nation's capital. According to Rich, "Our local news is everyone else's national news." Keeping track of the administration, the assortment of federal agencies, and the comings and goings of presidents, first ladies and officials from around the world means things are never dull for Rich and his colleagues.

Rich relishes his "behind the scenes" role. The TV viewer sees just a handful of people on screen, not the wild flurry of off-camera activity. A typical production of the "Today" show involves more than 100 writers, associate producers and researchers on the editorial side and another 50 camera, sound, lighting, and direction crew. "It continues to amaze me just how well things work, given that so many people play a part in bringing you this show," says Rich. He mentions one humorous incident when things didn't quite go as planned. One day, just minutes before an interview with the director of the Drug Enforcement Agency, Rich located a DEA seal and fastened it to the background with 2-inch tape. "You could disable an elephant with this stuff," Rich recalls, "but midway through a very serious interview, the tape let go and the seal went crashing to the floor, much to the consternation of the director and the amusement of his staff gathered nearby."

Recently, Rich was in the Middle East----Bahrain to be exact---aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln prepping for a Thanksgiving segment. He spent two days aboard what he describes as a "floating city" working with the officers and crew. "That four-acre ship showcases 19-year-olds bringing in $40 million aircraft on what must appear to be a postage stamp---and doing it very well. All Americans would be extremely proud if they could see what I observed aboard the Lincoln-t--he dedication and effectiveness of the entire ship's company is truly amazing."

This was not his first experience with aircraft carriers, however. In 1999, he spent two weeks aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt preparing for one of his "Where-in-the-World is Matt Lauer" shows. "We were in the Ionian Sea launching aircraft and missiles over Kosovo and I remember saying to myself, 'I'm glad I'm where they're being launched rather than where they're going.'"

Arranging a carrier segment takes lots of advance planning, according to Rich, but keeping up with breaking news doesn't always allow for it. Rich estimates about 10 percent of the "Today" show originates in Washington, but it's usually concentrated in the first half hour when the news is being updated. "We have the show side and the news side. The news side works 24 hours a day while the show side usually arrives between 4 and 5 a.m. and does the last minute updating and preparations. Most of the show is pretty tightly scripted, but we always allow for spontaneous comments from on-camera personalities."

No one is more spontaneous than Rich's old buddy, Willard Scott. "I've worked with Willard since 1988 and what you see is what you get. He's the same guy on and off-camera, one of the funniest and most delightful people I've ever met," says Rich. Willard is semi-retired now but still does a Tuesday and Thursday segment featuring his patented tributes to 100-year-olds.

Rich recalls arranging remote segments from Annapolis City Dock featuring Willard a few years ago. "Remotes can be fun but require lots of preparation when you consider the three to four minutes we're on camera," Rich says. "When we did our segments from Annapolis, we first had to contact local officials to make the appropriate arrangements. Thankfully, doing our shot early in the morning made parking a bit more manageable downtown, because our camera, sound and lighting crews arrive about two hours before what we call 'hit time' and they need to be close to the site." Rich always likes to come to Annapolis because it's home for him. But the rest of the crew enjoys it, too, because it is one of the prettiest places on earth in which to work.

Actually, that's what drew Rich to Annapolis in the first place. He was living in Springfield, Va., but visited Annapolis often because of his love of sailing. "I thought Annapolis would be a great place to raise a family, to be closer to the water, to sail whenever I had time and to have a manageable commute," says Rich. "My family and I really love living here." Rich and his wife Chris have two daughters. The 18-year-old is a freshman at the College of Charleston (South Carolina) and his sports-oriented 16-year-old attends Annapolis High School and plays lacrosse.

Rich is always surprised about how busy he is, traveling just enough to suit him but not to allow much time for golf. As a matter of fact, his golf clubs are the same ones he purchased when he was a sophomore in high school, "...which tells you all you need to know about what kind of golfer I am," he says.

"All in all, I guess I'm very lucky to have one of the best jobs around, full of variety and interesting people, and to call Annapolis home."


What event in the Annapolis area are you most looking forward to in 2006?

Powerboat Show
Sailboat Show
Renaissance Festival
Seafood Festival
County Fair

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