Great on-air interviewing is an art.
You don’t often realize such at the time, because the best of the best are so seamless, so smooth, so prepared that it doesn’t appear to be work or craftsmanship. Yet it is. And if you don’t believe me, take a second and watch clunkers like this and this. Bad interviews are like gravel beneath the skin. They’re awkward and clumsy and make one feel as if he/she is watching a flaming cat.
For my money, Andrea Kremer is America’s best TV interviewer. She knows her subjects, she responds to what is said, she doesn’t check off a list of ideas as she’s speaking. Whether it’s sitting down with Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan in a studio or Michael Phelps by the side of a pool. Kremer is—no exaggeration—as good as it gets.
This week in Quaz history, the Real Sports and NFL Network correspondent explains the whys and hows, dos and don’ts of the business. She recalls coming up through the dance ranks, preferring Larry Csonka to Barbie and knowing this was the career for her.
One can follow Andrea on Twitter here, and see her on TV, well, pretty much everywhere.
Andrea Kremer, you are the 265th Quaz …
JEFF PEARLMAN: So Andrea, I’m a huge Real Sports fan. Love it, love it and have loved it for years. But here’s my question, and it’s something I’ve long wondered: How much do the folks we see on air, like yourself, do? What I mean is, off camera, do you report the story, research the story—or is there a staff that does most of the work? Also, how much input do you have in ideas, execution, reporting devices, etc?
ANDREA KREMER: Thanks Jeff, glad you like Real Sports. We’ll get you a Nielsen box! I am biased but I do think it’s the best show on television. To answer your question, it varies by correspondent, producer and story. The production staff is the finest I’ve ever worked with and some producers are more collaborative than others. Some correspondents are fully prepped by their producer and show up and conduct an interview with great aplomb but do little extra research, along the lines of a 60 Minutes on air personality. Then there’s the incomparable David Scott, a former producer who has seamlessly transitioned on air and does both—produces and reports some of the best, most impactful stories the show has ever aired, such as human rights abuses in Qatar, poaching in Africa and most recently, sexual assault accusations against Kevin Johnson.
As for myself, I do many of my own profile bookings such as Bill Parcells, Phil Jackson, Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer, Bill O’Brien, Rex Ryan, Kobe Bryant, as well as for issue oriented stories like Toradol abuse in the NFL. I always do additional reporting and research (I tend toward the OCD side of that!) but ultimately, the beauty of Real Sports is how team oriented it is. They do a “peer review” of stories in progress in which the entire production staff watches a version of the piece and offers feedback and constructive criticism. Believe me, we all want to do the memorable, great stories but I find it to be so collaborative and cooperative not competitive. And I must add one thing because it’s the most stressful (for most of us) part of the job—the in studio cross talk with Bryant Gumbel after the story airs. We never have any idea what he’s going to ask us and if we try to offer suggestions he wants no part of it. He is a child of live television and he watches the stories like any viewer and asks questions based on his own curiosity and he can go anywhere with them. And of course he is never bereft of opinions!
J.P.: So as I write this, the NFL is facing a shit storm, RE: concussions and how concerned officials genuinely were. I hear more and more people compare the league to big tobacco—an enormous, all-powerful monolith that cares little for the players. Andrea, you work for the NFL Network and, therefore, work for the NFL. Plus, your title is “chief correspondent, health and safety.” Hence, I ask whether you have reservations working for the network; if there a journalistic complications. And, are people off in their takes of the league as Satan’s spawn?
A.K.: When I joined the network in 2012 as chief correspondent, player health and safety I was told unequivocally that I would have the freedom to tell stories that might raise some eyebrows at 345 Park Avenue but my bosses would have my back as long as we were fair and captured both sides of the issue, a no brainer for me since that is the root of journalism, right? We did some significant stories such as detailing a Pop Warner football team where five young children suffered concussions in one game and ultimately the league was shelved; we told the story of Laurent Robinson, the former Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver who sustained four concussions in four months before he was placed on injured reserve for the season and ultimately released by the team. We also delved inside the “Culture of the Lockerroom” examining issues such as homophobia and racism and were widely quoted from the New York Times to CNN.
I feel I’ve never been asked to compromise my journalistic ethics working at NFL Media. In recent years the scope of what I cover for them has broadened (and in fact my “title” is now chief correspondent!!) so I have hosted coaches’ roundtables, news shows at the Super Bowl plus a once-in-a-career opportunity—chronicling Darrelle Revis’ year long comeback from his torn ACL. This was a first, which I’m proud to say turned into A Football Life documentary. Let’s be real, NFL Network is not Real Sports and I feel lucky that I get to work for NFLN as well as HBO in addition to co-hosting the first all female talk show, We Need to Talk on CBSSN, a troika of jobs that provides the creative and journalistic challenges and outlets that I crave.
J.P.: Until 2011 you were a sideline reporter for NBC’s Sunday Night Football. A huge complaint I’ve always had with network sports TV is, with rare exception, women are on the sideline, not in the booth. That it’s almost this forbidden land, reserved for testosterone-stuffed men. Am I right? Wrong? Do you find the roles women are offered in sports TV frustrating, and have things changed? And would you want a booth gig? Did you ever seek that?
A.K.: The role of women in sports television has certainly evolved but the sine wave is on the upswing albeit with tons of room to grown. The fact that we’re seeing Jessica Mendoza as a lead analyst on Sunday Night Baseball is thrilling for me (I did a story for Real Sports some years ago on women’s softball being eliminating from the Olympic program and worked with Jessica and Jennie Finch amongst others and found them to be as smart as they are athletically gifted … Even more reason I’m rooting for Jessica!) Doris Burke can seamlessly slide from the sidelines of the court to center court to call a basketball game and is another true role model for women.
When I was growing up I didn’t have any of these women I could look to and say, “I want to do what she does” (something I hear all the time from young women about myself now!). But I’ll share with you a little-known fact: in 1989 I was completing my fifth year as a producer at NFL Films and my second year in the dual role as on air reporter when I received three job offers: join HBO’s Inside the NFL as a correspondent (I had been producing segments for them at Films); opening ESPN’s Chicago bureau and being their first female reporter or doing play by play for NBC for their “Q game.” That’s right—the visionary then-executive producer Mike Weisman had me working with the legendary broadcast coach, the late Marty Glickman, learning the art of play by play. It was riveting and exciting and when a finally did a demo game I thought to myself, wow I think I can do this … But it was 1989 and my gut told me that the audience would view this as a gimmick and my network career would have a very short shelf life. So I accepted the ESPN job and breathed a sigh of relief when Marty told me, “Kid, you did the right thing,”—especially since Weisman got fired, Terry O’Neil replaced him and he would definitely not have been as supportive of the idea as his predecessor was. An opportunity lost? Who knows? I’m not one to look back or live with regrets plus I think my career is turning out pretty good nonetheless!
J.P.: Um, I just learned you were a dancer before a scribe; performed with the Philadelphia Civic Ballet Company. So, well, how did this happen? Why journalism? When did you realize, “Ah! This is the career for me!”
A.K.: Nice to see you doing your homework! In high school I played three sports as well as danced ballet through college with companies in Philadelphia and New York. I would sit in rehearsals and listen to events on my Walkman (how’s that for dating myself??!!) because I was crazy about sports. I loved ballet and it instilled in me the tremendous discipline that permeates my life to this day. But one must be brutally honest in self scouting as a dancer. I knew how good I was … or not so good. And I always felt that I would give it up when I found something that replaced that passion for me. My first job as a writer did that trick. Plus I must admit that I always felt, Ivy League graduates don’t become ballet dancers … but they certainly become journalists!
J.P.: The Los Angeles Times once called you “the best TV interviewer in the business of covering the NFL.” So, I ask, what’s the key to a strong interview? What are people missing?
A.K.: Well to fully answer your question I guess you’ll have to take my class, “The Art of the Interview” at Boston University’s College of Communication! It’s one of the only courses of its kind in the country that solely teaches interviewing for journalism and I love sharing my experience and knowledge with “the next generation” in an institutionalized way. I primarily teach graduate students and in the four spring semesters that I’ve taught I’ve had amazing students and I’m so proud that many of them have gone on to great jobs to launch their own careers. I also try to impart what being a professional means and the guest speakers I’ve brought in have emphasized that with their actions as well. Last year I also brought in two of my strongest producers, Real Sports’ Jordan Kronick and my former producer at NFLN, Hilary Guy (now a coordinating producer at ESPN!) for a special class I called, “Producing Prowess” to emphasize the myriad jobs that are available in the business, well beyond the on air position that people see and relate to. Bottom line though is that interviewing is communication at its highest level—listen, don’t be afraid of silence, don’t make it about you, be naturally curious, don’t back down and please … ASK a question!
J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?
A.K.: I truly have been blessed with so many career highlights (with more to come I hope!!) but it would be tough to top a six month period during which I worked two of the most memorable events of our generation: poolside in Beijing as Michael Phelps won eight gold medals and six months later, working the sidelines of the Pittsburgh-Arizona Super Bowl when Santonio Holmes’ tiptoe reception in the end zone sent Steeler Nation into a frenzy. I was also proud to have broken news right before kickoff on Hines Ward having undergone a then-little known procedure called PRP (platelet rich plasma) that allowed him to play despite a serious knee injury he sustained in the AFC championship game two weeks prior.
As for lowest, probably too many gaffes to mention (!!)—but one common denominator is that they were all major learning experiences and as I like to tell my students, we all make plenty of mistakes … just try not to make the same one twice!
J.P.: I read a quote from you, about your childhood, that I just love—”Some girls had Barbie dolls. I had Larry Csonka.” Maybe this is a weird question, but why do you think so few young girls seem to gravitate toward football? I mean, I know there are young girls who do so. But I can count on no hands the number of my daughter’s friends who loves NFL Sundays.
A.K.: Well maybe in California where you live young girls are busy doing other thing on NFL Sundays but I know plenty of my son’s friends back east who love sports, football included. I was crazy about sports, notably football, at a young age and the best thing I had going for me was that my parents didn’t think that was weird but supported my interests … bought me books on football and we went to virtually every Philadelphia Eagles home game, rain, shine, sleet or snow. And no … it wasn’t because I had brothers who liked it. My parents used to joke that I turned them onto football! What I wouldn’t doubt is that many more young girls today probably play sports than watch on TV but there are tremendous benefits to that as well!
J.P.: When Michael Jordan announced his return to basketball, he chose you as the first interviewer. Why? How? And how did you cultivate a relationship with Jordan? And what’s he like, from your dealings?
A.K.: I was based in Chicago for ESPN and covered all six of Jordan’s championships (plus Pistons and more). I spent a lot of time around the Bulls including learning from and watching film with the great, late defensive mastermind, assistant coach Johnny Bach, as well as building relationships with Phil Jackson and many players. But I covered all aspects of Jordan’s journey—from the gambling allegations to him testifying in the Slim Bouler trial in North Carolina to his father’s untimely passing to his baseball sabbatical. He always treated me with respect and yes, that first interview with him upon his return to basketball (as well as breaking the news on SportsCenter that he was coming back!) was a tremendous highlight of my career. On a personal note, in the summer of 1992 I was scheduled to sit down with him for a big pre-Olympic Dream Team interview when my mother died. He was caring and thoughtful when he first saw me upon hearing my news and re scheduled at my convenience, for which I was always appreciative.
J.P.: Totally random question, but I’m at a loss to explain Donald Trump’s political rise. You attended Penn, I attended Delaware. So how to explain it? What am I missing?
A.K.: Hey—Trump went to Wharton. That’s a tough pill to swallow in itself …
J.P.: I was watching local news a few days ago, and there was a report about a traffic death involving a young person, and the reporter went to the house to interview the mother. And I started wondering, “Why is this news?” I mean, it doesn’t affect tons of lives, doesn’t change the world. I don’t mean to sound callous. I mean, it just struck me as really intrusive for this family, and for what? Ratings? Nielsen points? Tell me why I’m wrong, or right.
A.K.: I’d have to see the report and how it was handled … sensationalized or with empathy and concern. Was there a teachable moment to be gleaned from the death … was there a vehicular homicide? Was it just a ratings boost (that’s macabre and terrible, if so). But telling and sharing a story can be cathartic for those who’ve suffered a loss as well as a reminder about the fragility of life.
QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ANDREA KREMER:
• Five greatest 5-foot-5-and-under TV personalities of your lifetime: Exclusively sports? Women? And of course I don’t run around with a tape measure and as I’ve experienced most people don’t know how tall we are…. For me, TV doesn’t add 10 pounds it adds height! First thing I often hear from fan is, I didn’t know you were so, ahem, petite (they usually say short but c’mon, can’t we at least say vertically challenged?). So of the women I know I’d have to say Tracy Wolfson, Suzy Kolber (who probably teeters on 5-5), Lisa Salters. Can I throw Jay Glazer in or would he wrap me in an MMA chokehold if I say he’s around 5-5? And layup … I have to say myself, right?
• Rank in order (favorite to least): Bart Simpson, Main Line Chronicle, Purim, Dr. Ben Carson, Joe Walsh, turtlenecks, Yinka Dare, Wile E. Coyote, San Antonio, the USFL, women named Laura: If I assess with career chronology in mind…. Have to start of with the Main Line Chronicle where I was sports editor in my first ever job. The USFL since the Philadelphia Stars were the first team I covered (and the first road game I worked—their championship game against the Arizona Wranglers!). Joe Walsh because I love the Eagles, musical not just sports variety. Turtlenecks because while not always fashion forward they are quite utilitarian especially on a frigid sideline. I know several Lauras and they’re all quite nice. San Antonio, as long as I don’t have to interview Gregg Popovich on camera. The late Yinka Dare. Wile E. Coyote. Bart Simpson. Purim (huh?). Dr. Ben (he should stick to patients not politics).
• Three memories from your first-ever date: With my husband: We met at a wedding … Table No. 13 and we would’ve been voted least likely couple to end up married but it was quite a lucky and fortuitous night. One of the only times he’s ever slow danced with me. He has many amazing qualities but channeling Fred Astaire isn’t one of them. Walking me to my room, putting his jacket around my shoulders and pointing out the stars and constellations.
• Fox News calls, will pay $5 million annually for you to co-host a show with Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and a screaming monkey called, “Andrea Kremer, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann and a Screaming Monkey.” You in?: Cardinal rule—never do it for the money … blood money isn’t worth it however, the screaming monkey would make more sense than either of my other two co-hosts and we could get cancelled after one show but since that salary is guaranteed I’d be making an investment in my son’s college education so sure, I’ll give it a whirl. I told you I love challenges …
• What’s your ballet scouting report?: Are we talking self scouting? Well at my height I certainly wouldn’t be a candidate for the Balanchine style but my forte was more allegro than adagio. I loved jumps and leaps more so than slower, more methodical movements and steps.
• There’s a homeless man sitting near me as I write this, and he’s screaming to no one, “I met Jimi Hendrix twice!” What are the odds he actually met Jimi Hendrix twice?: Better odds that he was doing or taking was Hendrix was as well.
• This is my all-time favorite song. What do you think?: Well, I know you like Blind Melon and you are entitled to your taste. Nothing tops Springsteen in my book and my favorite is “The Fever.”
• Who are the five most intelligent athletes you’ve ever dealt with?: Yeah, this is loaded because that intimates that others aren’t intelligent. Not going there, sorry. This is the type of thing that comes back to bite you in the Twitterverse.
• On a scale of 1 to 100, how much do you fear/worry about death? Why?: Much more so for my loved ones, particularly my son, than myself. Pretty self explanatory isn’t it? I try not to expend energy on things I cannot control. I love to take professional risks but am smart and try not to put myself in stupid, dangerous personal situations.
• Would you rather permanently change your TV name to Sandy Drawley III or spend the next two years living in Guam working at Guam’s finest Taco Bell?: Name change if necessary … don’t do fast food!!