Bob Garner: Nothing succeeds like failure
Sunday, March 11, 2018
Forty-some years ago, I had a bad nosebleed while anchoring a newscast at Greensboro’s WFMY-TV. Technical problems prevented going to a break, so I had to simply lower my head and continue reading the news.
The moment continued long enough for blood to begin dribbling off my lips and start spattering onto the large-print, typed scripts we used in those preteleprompter days. I experienced an intense longing for a magic trap door that could open beneath my anchor chair and allow me to disappear from broadcasting forever.
The bloodstained script — evidence of my complete humiliation — was still on file in the public library research section years later. I checked so I could show it to one of my children as an object lesson in plowing through momentary adversity.
That early-career incident forever ended live, on-camera nervousness, though. I knew nothing could ever be worse going forward. Or even as bad. Naturally I remember thinking at the time that even if terrorists had broken into the studio and shot me dead on the spot, it would have been quite an improvement over what actually happened.
Other TV misadventures, especially comical moments on tape, became valuable. Audiences can’t get enough of such gems, you see, and will rewatch them endlessly.
Case-in-point: one memorable UNC-TV review at a Sanford restaurant, The Steele Pig. At the time, the restaurant featured several house-smoked meats, including a huge beef rib served with a house-made, smoked tomato barbecue sauce.
Videographer Alan Brown was on a close-up during which I was to describe the beautifully browned, crusty rib and anoint it with sauce before tasting.
Unbeknownst to us, a bit of chopped bell pepper had clogged the tip of the plastic sauce dispenser. The harder I squeezed, the more pressure built up behind the blockage.
All of a sudden, the bottle erupted, blowing the pent-up, reddish-brown sauce all over the table, my face, my glasses and my light-colored shirt.
“Our sauce explodes with flavor!” instantly wisecracked someone off-camera. My snickering cameraman had already pulled back to a wider shot and alertly kept rolling as the room exploded too — with laughter.
After several minutes of hilarity and photo-taking, I accepted the offer of a Steele Pig T-shirt, made a quick wardrobe change and finished the segment.
Like most TV producers, I’ll do almost anything for an authentic, memorable moment. Especially if there’s a free T-shirt involved.
Naturally, I included the accident in the edited footage, figuring that viewers would probably remember the mishap far longer than the review itself.
But I had no idea how right I was. UNC-TV received more positive feedback on that particular piece than practically anything else I’ve ever produced. “North Carolina Weekend” producer David Hardy has included the saucy segment on several “best-of” anthology shows.
Failure, whether deadly serious or only comic, is a part of the human experience, of course. TV does exploit darker human failure for its own purposes, including ratings. But it also takes advantage of non-threatening failure for those same purposes. And at least that part is a good thing.
Bob Garner is a UNC-TV restaurant reviewer, freelance food writer, author of four cookbooks, barbecue pit master and public speaker. Contact him at email@example.com.