Catastrophe is always just around the corner in live television, and even closer when the broadcast comes from a remote location rather than a studio. So it was no surprise to Today show co-host Willie Geist when disaster struck within moments after the show hit the airwaves Friday on South Beach.
“Right away I got a text from a friend who said, ‘Love your Nixon-on-the-beach look,’ ” a chastened Geist said. “We wanted to try to give the show a more serious look for the first half-hour before we brought on all the bikinis and stuff. But in retrospect, not many people wear blue blazers on the beach.”
So it went during Today’s three-hour beachside telecast from the Loews hotel on Collins Avenue. The viewfinder on one of the show’s cameras shattered when its operator got too close to a speaker during a song by rapper Flo Rida. Co-host Savannah Guthrie suffered a catastrophic wardrobe failure. (Relax, FCC: All she flashed was some bare instep, when her high heels were swallowed alive by the treacherous sand.)
And the music to which the Dance South Florida salsa troupe was to perform went quiet, leaving them to prance their intricate steps in eerie silence — a scene that grew weirder still when 65-year-old celebrity chef Paula Deen boogied into their jamboree of tropical headdresses and bare skin.
Except for Geist’s egregious blazer, little of this was noticeable on air. Even the technical glitch that silenced Dance South Florida’s music on the set didn’t extend to the airwaves, where viewers could hear it perfectly.
“This is about as smooth as it gets,” said executive producer Don Nash happily, ticking off a list of calamities — rain, satellite failure, grim breaking news that would render the show’s sand-and-surf background frivolously inappropriate — that didn’t occur.
Friday’s telecast was nominally tied to the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, but it was really just an excuse to give the Today show some fresh scenery to boost its ratings death-struggle with ABC’s Good Morning America. (“I’m not even going to speak that name aloud,” one NBC publicist primly insisted.) “It’s just great to get our anchors out on the road in a new city seeing new faces and being with the fans,” said Nash.
So Today viewers were exposed to a relentless parade of typical South Florida flora and fauna: An elaborate medieval sand castle. Throngs of thongs. A pack of devil-may-care jet-skiers. Co-host Natalie Morales’ mom and dad, who live in Lake Worth. (“Every one of her questions was a softball,” sniffed Mario Morales, a retired Air Force navigator.) Sinister criminal-defense attorneys.
About the only absent local life forms were narcotraffickers and Kardashians. (At least, none of either that identified themselves.) By the end of the show, the show’s four hosts had gone into complete South Beach native mode, commuting the few hundred yards between the hotel pool and the beach on roaring all-terrain vehicles, though they didn’t run over any tourists.
And the hosts certainly got to see their fans. The crowd of onlookers already numbered 500 or so for the show’s 7 a.m. start and had swollen to double that or more by the time about two hours later. On the producers’ cue, they obediently cheered, stomped and whistled while waving signs promoting various towns, stores, labor unions, websites, books of the Bible and juvenile delinquencies.
Foremost among the latter was a sign reading MY MOM LET ME CUT SCHOOL TO SEE MR. AL ROKER THE GREATEST WEATHERMAN EVER!!! It was waved tirelessly by Jordan and Nicholas Pedro, ages 11 and 9, who indeed had ditched their classes in Pembroke Pines and were rewarded by getting their photo snapped with Roker. (Who probably didn’t suspect that they unfaithfully also posed with co-hosts Guthrie and Natalie Morales.) “I may never go back to school,” Jordan declared gravely as he looked at his new photos.