The time Friday coaxed a teacher to talk
I had the privilege to work on “North Carolina People with William Friday” on UNC-TV, for about 19 years. He was always friendly to the crew and guests, and made a point of remembering some personal detail for each person. He and I shared the experience of living at Notre Dame, and we always swapped stories with each other. His interviewing skills were gentle, with a sense of respect. He truly cared to listen to people, and he adjusted his questions to fit the conversation.
Around 1984-85, he had the state Teacher of the Year as one of his guests. When we started the show, the teacher had an instant case of stage fever. She just barely could talk at all, and just froze up every time we started to tape. We realized that we had a problem at hand.
President Friday and the show’s director, Dick Snavely, went backstage and came up with a plan. We cut off all the TV monitors and the audio speakers, and switched off the tally lights on the camera (the red light on camera that told talent which camera was on-the-air). Friday just started a conversation with the teacher while they waited on-set while we “fixed the problem.”
I was serving as floor manager for this show, and since Friday did not have a in-ear intercom, I was his contact with the control room. When he felt that the teacher had relaxed enough to do the show, he gave me a subtle signal to “roll tape.” I passed the cue to Dick, and he started the show. Since all the monitors were shut off, and the camera operators were just standing by their cameras, there was no sign that we were recording the show. Of course, all the camera operators were setting their shots that the director was calling for on the camera intercoms, while I was just wandering by, giving secret time cues to Friday.
About 30 minutes after our disastrous start, the Teacher of the Year decided that she was comfortable enough to try to start the show again. She was stunned to find out that we had just recorded a 28-minute, 30-second program with her never knowing! It was an amazing interview, and no viewer would have ever realized that the guest did not know the show was being recorded.
I dare say, I have never seen any television professional be able to pull off a 30-minute interview with the subject not aware of the taping of the show. Friday had interviewing skills that were just amazing, and he never lost the skills that he had learned over the 41 years of the series. Of all the series that I worked on for UNC-TV, “North Carolina People" was my favorite, and it was all due to the spirit of President William Friday. We have lost a very special person, but I will always remember his smile.
William S. Nichols
The length limit was waived.