Amid all the hectic craziness of last week, I got a random phone call from the assistant director of foreign studies at Nanjing University. She said that she had a friend, of a friend, of a co-worker (things often begin like this is China) who was looking for a foreigner with decent Chinese who would be willing to help host a TV show. I have never been on TV before and while I was hesitant to commit to anything I agreed to meet with the show’s project manager and see what it was all about.
After a short ‘get to know each other’ meeting I was told that the show was called “Good Mother” (当好妈) and would be about parenting in China. They were hoping that I would be a guest host as a masculine/westernized addition to the show. I was intrigued for certain and so the discussions continued. This would be the pilot episode to be show to the decision makers. If they liked it, it would become a weekly show, though I still don’t know if they want me to be there every week or just from time to time.
I was sent a sample script but was told that the hope was that the show itself would be more of a free dialog and that I could go off script as long as I stayed on topic. For this show we would be covering 3 major topics: Child safety seats, First-Aid kits on daily outings, and clothing (specifically the pop culture idea of families that have matching outfits). Car seats and First-Aid kits, no problem… but matching outfits…. Really? Yes, I see them from time to time in China. Yes, I see pictures of movie stars and their kids in identical outfits…. But I would never put my wife and son (or myself) through that. Surprisingly, that was exactly what the other two hosts wanted to hear and turned into a key discussion point for that part of the show.
So for the next few days, I put in some time to memorize some new key phrases and words, meet with the other two hosts on three different occasions to practice, and then on Thursday evening, we got invited to our set and started recording. They picked out a snazzy flannel shirt that made me feel like it was autumn back on the farm in Virginia (which they assured me would make me look like a young cultured Chinese… note my ironic overtone). I got my checks dusted with makeup so that if I started sweating under the stage lights, it wouldn’t show (though I was more worried about the glare off my bald head). The red light on top of the camera came on and the show began.
The whole process took about 4 hours (the show is only an hour long) and was a lot more fun than I would have imagined. I am very thankful that it was in a closed studio and only the crew as there to smirk at my attempts at sounding natural when speaking semi-scripted Chinese. If it had been in front of a live audience, I doubt I could have pulled it off.
I got good feedback from the director, project manager and the other two hosts, but of course there is always room for improvement. I am curious about what will happen if we get the go ahead to turn it into a weekly show. For now all that we can do is wait and see what the white collars say. Either way, it was a great experience and will certainly stay with me for a long while.