BY: EVE BRITTON
STAMFORD — After just half a day of job-shadowing the production staff of the “Maury” show, Cheshire High School students Benji Saccoccio and Paul LePere looked as if they had aged a month.
“It’s a lot to take in. There are so many aspects of doing a TV show,” Saccoccio said Thursday while resting on the side of a stairwell.
“The one thing I got out of this was how much dedication, passion and communication goes into the whole thing, how complex it is,” LePere said as he worked a plastic slinky from his show gift bag back and forth in his hands. “I just didn’t know it was that much, that it would be so busy.”
“We want them to come away with the knowledge about how a show is produced from start to finish and post-production,” said Tracie Wilson, senior vice president for programming and development at the Stamford Media Center. “There’s not a whole lot of opportunities for high schoolers to get this kind of opportunity in this field, so we’re very excited to have them here.”
The media center and the Connecticut Film Office worked in collaboration with executives at NBC Universal, which produces the “Maury” show, and Cheshire High School to get the two aspiring media workers in to see how the show was produced.
The boys, juniors at the high school, said before watching the “Maury” taping that they were just interested in film, primarily directing, but afterward said they would definitely give television a closer look, as it was more interesting than they had anticipated.
“I can’t believe all they do,” LePere said. “This is a pretty big thing.”
The boys started the day at 9 a.m. with a tour of the former theater turned TV studio in the heart of Stamford. The show’s taping began about 10:30 a.m. and it was, as the boys’ described, very busy.
Backstage, the day’s guests, about 40 or 50 wild animals, flapped and slammed about in their crates. Dozens of producers, writers, directors, camera workers, interns, security and other assorted crew members ran back and forth with headsets on, trying to avoid crashing into the animals, their handlers and guests.
To an outsider, it could have looked like chaos, but crew members said the perceived pandemonium was actually fairly well choreographed, since everyone knew what their job was and how best to do it.
Meanwhile, the two boys from Cheshire stood quietly to the side of it all, taking the whole scene in and doing their best not to get trampled.
“It’s better than what I anticipated,” Saccoccio said as he sidestepped a worker carrying a penguin.
The show, which will air March 29, featured Jack Hanna, a wildlife expert and director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo in Ohio. The show’s audience was filled with children who oohed, aahed, clapped and squirmed to get out of their seats and closer to the animals that were brought onto the stage.
Onstage, with the cameras rolling, the show’s host, 75-year-old Maury Povich, and Hanna calmly explained each animal’s role in the world, from the tiny baby African servals and a baby bear to the larger animals, like the powerful king vulture and binturong, or “bear cat,” who was as large as a man’s torso.
After watching the backstage movements for a while, the two boys were taken to other areas to see how the show was run, then pieced together.
In the control room, which was soundproofed and nearly as quiet as an old-school library, the boys watched the show from different angles on about 50 small monitors and listened as the show’s senior director, Adam Sorota, quietly fed camera directions into the headsets of the three stationary and two mobile camera operators working the set.
They talked with the show’s attorney, who sits in the booth for every show to make sure “things are done legally,” said a show spokeswoman.
They were taken to editing bays to see how the show is actually pieced together, and listened as “Maury” senior editor Andy Timm told them that if they wanted to get into the business, they had to be willing to go to any lengths to do it.
“You take any job you can get when you get out of school. You have to be willing to do anything,” he directed the duo. “You are going to make mistakes. Anyone who doesn’t, doesn’t learn anything. You learn from them and you get better.”
Povich — who has been in TV for 60 years, since he was 15 years old and a “gofer” for a TV news show’s sports reporters — said starting in the business means the same thing today that it meant when he began his career.
“It’s very different today than when I started, but I don’t care if it’s sweeping floors, just get in there. Hang out where you want to be, find a way in,” he said, leaning forward in his desk chair. “Kids are much more savvy today about what it takes to get into the workforce. They don’t have that naiveté we had.”
Povich recommended internships to young people who are interested in any career; it’s a great way to “get in the door,” he said. “The biggest thing in your corner is showing your interest, paid for or not. Some of the work is tedious, but you learn.”
Povich, who has had the “Maury” show for the last 15 years, said he feels fortunate to be in the one career he knows he’s wanted all of his life.
“I’ve only done what I’ve wanted to do,” he said. “It’s the only career I know. I’ve been very lucky.”
And both boys, though they admitted they were exhausted less than four hours after the day began, said they felt very lucky to have gotten this job-shadowing gig.
“Other people at school are just going on cop rides,” Saccoccio said. “This is just a lot more than what I expected.”
“I’m pretty much convinced this would be a good fit for me,” LePere said. “I was always geared toward film, but I want to keep my eye on television now.”