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The Live Billy Mays Photo-Bomb!

Tuesday,Oct 29,2013

Before I crossed over to the light side (from behind the camera to the front), I did a large number of jobs.  I was always a hungry tradesman, eager to learn whatever others would teach me.  I started as a backstage coordinator right out of college. My job was to test and set-up all the products before they were seen on air. Then I moved into the control room as an audio operator.  I quickly moved to stage management; handheld, jib and robotic cameras; graphics and directing.  I used to campaign for the toughest shows HSN had to offer. I loved prime-time with the high expectations, and the unforgiving demand for accuracy.  I then spent a year as a control room supervisor, leading a crew and shouldering responsibility for the daily execution of the online broadcast. I have even freelanced hanging studio lights and building sets as a carpenter for the live show….lots and lots of time, just out of the shot of live cameras

In the midst of all these jobs, I had my fair share of moments when I ended up on-camera by mistake!  Most people who work in a studio environment with set-traffic as high as retail television can tell you lots of stories. My first time was working with a former TV host who specialized in jewelry sales.  I walked right into his long shot and switched out the ring he was selling with the necklace he was going to.  He ended up calling me back on air to introduce me to America.  The producer told me the first one was free, but the next time, I would suffer badly (I’m pretty sure that was a joke…I think).

The second time, I was wiring an electronics item on a living room set.  I was crouched down behind the couch and didn’t know the entire living room could be seen in the long shot.  I started to stand up.  As my head crested the couch cushions, the whole crew started yelling at me in my headset!  I hit the floor like shots had been fired! I ended up behind that couch for about 5 minutes before they could get me out of there. Apparently, I was visible from a number of angles.

The third time, I stepped out from behind a set wall only to find the handheld camera look straight into my face.  I was about a foot behind Billy Mays looking over his shoulder!  Talk about the ultimate photo bomb!  My eyes were as big as saucers!  I was a deer in headlights!  As the crew ranted in my headset, my head slowly drifted back behind the wall. The crew broke into hysterical laughter. I don’t think Billy ever knew, although my face was almost as big as his in the shot!

I once had to carry a porcelain doll out to the prime-time network host.  It was the most expensive item we had in the show.  It stood 3 feet tall, we only had 1 sample and we had been promoting the upcoming airing for an hour. On my way into the studio, I tripped over a camera cable, the doll and me fell forward into the shot and the director cut away just in time to miss the doll smashing onto the floor.  Although the viewership didn’t see it, I have no doubt that one piece of porcelain becoming a million pieces of porcelain was plain to the viewer’s ear.  After the initial yell of “Nooooooooo” by the crew, there was absolute silence.  We were 3 seconds away from airing that doll and I had just demolished the only sample. The moments following that one are a blur.  I think I’ve blacked it out.  Maybe hypnotism could bring it out.

Once, as a control room supervisor, I decided the set floor needed to be swept.  I grabbed the push broom and started sweeping back and forth behind the host who was about to go to air in a few minutes.  I guess I lost track of time, because I ended up pushing my broom behind the host after the studio went live! She called me up to the camera to introduce America to the supervisor who wasn’t afraid to push a broom!  I was wearing my “I love soccer Moms” t-shirt (my daughter was playing soccer at the time).  Not what I would call an on-brand moment for the network.

There are soooooo many such stories.  I knew a guy who got stuck in the host long-shot standing behind a rack of women’s clothing.  He hid himself well behind the shirts, but when you looked down toward the floor, the rack had 2 legs!

The stories could go on and on.  I’ll post some of them as this blog continues. Aaaah, the world of live TV!  It is full of so much excitement and character!


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