Thursday, February 21

The Empress' Clothes

I'm not going to mention the station. I won't identify the anchor involved. I won't name the General Manager.

Trust me that it was a big enough market that we had big-time consultants, talent coaches, hairdressers, even clothing consultants if necessary. There are some rules about what to wear and what to avoid if you're going to be on TV. For men, no herringbone sport coats (they tend to "run" on camera, to produce squiggly lines). For women, no white blouses (that much white "blooms," and when the camera adjusts to all that white, it darkens your face). Of course NO GREEN or bold shades thereof. It fouls up the chroma-key, the "green-screen."

Some stations provide a clothing allowance for their anchors to make sure they get it right. One I worked at had a rule: everything purchased with station money use had to be approved by the General Manager. The ”talent” would bring in their new outfits and sit on the set for a camera check. I guess you could say we were auditioning clothing! A tape would be made and the GM and the Chief Engineer would eyeball it to make sure the new outfit "worked" for TV. If it didn't, you could keep it—if you paid for it yourself! But you couldn't wear it on the set.

A sidebar. My favorite crotchety, cranky curmudgeon—WABC's Roger Grimsby—had a big clothing allowance to be spent at one of the great men's stores in town: Barney's of New York. Remember, the purpose of the clothing allowance is to guarantee that you look at least presentable at all times (left on their own, I'm convinced many male anchors would dress in K-Mart sport coats, snap-tab shirts and clip-on ties). But Grimsby found a loophole. And you should have seen the look on News Director Cliff Abromats' face when he found a bill for ten pairs of silk undershorts! When Cliff confronted Roger, explaining (as if Grimsby didn’t already know) that the clothing allowance was only for items that you’d see on the air, Grimsby said something like, “You never know, do you?”

But I digress.

I started here talking about a nameless station (in a galaxy far, far away). We hired a new anchor who had a thing for bright colors. Neon bright. Hell, I can't even name the colors she wore—magenta, fuchsia, orange, candy-apple red, electric blue, watermelon green (how'm I doin'?). And for jewelry she favored huge plastic hoop earrings the size of saucers, in colors like (I'm doin' my best here) turquoise and hot yellow. And scarves? Don’t even go there. Scarves like capes, in all colors of the rainbow. Add it all together and the woman looked like a freakin' parrot!

I tried to hint to her that perhaps she should dress in a more businesslike manner, maybe some grays and muted blues, some softer pastels, but she wasn't hearing me (truth is, I wouldn’t take my own advice on how to dress myself, why should she listen to me? ). The GM (he who shall remain nameless) didn't want to spend the big bucks to bring in the clothing consultant. That would involve flying her in from New York, putting her up in a fancy hotel for days, and several big-ticket shopping trips to pick out new outfits (at company expense, of course).

The GM was adamant until...

One weekend the woman went on the air looking like a Chiquita Banana commercial, minus the headdress.

Bright and early Monday morning I looked up to see the GM in my doorway."Alright, get the clothing people in," he said. "Every weekend she looks like the flag of a different emerging African nation."

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