Two years ago today, I appeared on live cable television. CNBC invited me to their studios for an early morning piece that, I later found out, repeated a few times throughout the day.
In honor of that time, and in the hopes of reminding CNBC that I still exist and am available for a return appearance anytime ::hint hint::, I’m reprinting the relevant portion of the Pipeline Commentary and Review column from August 19, 2014 here.
I’ll be back with an update at the end of the reprinted portion.
Pipeline Goes Television
Last Tuesday morning, CNBC sent me an email asking if I’d be available to make an appearance on their early morning show, “CNBC Worldwide Exchange,” to talk about the state of the comics business. The topic came up with the then-impending eBay auction of “Action Comics” #1 for what is expected to fetch over $2 million.
I thought it over for an hour before deciding that, if nothing else, it would be an interesting life experience. If I failed miserably, nobody would notice because it’s on at 5:20 a.m. If I did well, I have a video I can show off to friends and family.
The emails from the producers came out of London. Given the show’s early time slot, it makes sense to produce the show from a place four hours ahead of New York time. It also meant I wouldn’t be in studio with the host. I’d be alone with a camera, listening via an earpiece and hoping the delay wasn’t too bad.
A quick volley of emails later, they planned to send a car to pick me up at 4:15 a.m. You may think that’s bad, but it’s not too bad. I don’t require too much sleep, so I could go to bed early and — Wait. I had made plans to see “Guardians of the Galaxy” that night, and was not about to cancel on them.
So, yes, I got home from the movies at midnight, set my alarm for 3:30, and went straight to bed. I did live TV on just over three hours of sleep.
Pipeline Arrives at the Studio
Sure enough, the car arrived on time and I got to the studio just before 5:00. The studio is in Englewood Cliffs, NJ, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. It is the main CNBC studio you’d see on TV if you turned the station on at mid-day. When I was there, things were very quiet. The set was lit up, but all the desks in the bullpen were empty, save one or two.
I was led into a corner of the bullpen outside of where the main studio cameras would ever see me. They set me up at a desk about four or five feet in front of a camera. Two monitors to the right showed the live feed. Above that an LED panel of lights about two or three feet wide kept me bright. The cameraman adjusted the camera and the stool I was sitting on to the right heights, put an ear piece on me, and left me to wait for the spot to begin.
The camera guy, by the way, was wearing a Batman t-shirt. I knew I was amongst good people at that point.
The voice of the producer came in my ear piece first to double check the pronunciation of my name and then, after the commercial break ended, we were live on air.
“He Said What?”
I talked about the general state of publishing these days, what the digital market means for traditional paper comics, and how the prices of original art have gone up over the years. That last part you don’t get to see on the web. For whatever reason, it didn’t make the final cut for the online video. I imagine it’s due to time. In watching it back, the host asked for a quick answer. I gave her a slightly longer one. Whoops.
It’s a basic blimp-level view of the industry, the kind of stuff we talk about inside our bubble all the time, only with the kind of extreme time limit this format of television programming gives you. I enjoy a good challenge, though. Talking to people afterwards outside of the comics industry, it seems like they “got it,” so I think I did my job.
Once the appearance was over, they removed my earpiece and showed me the door. I was out of the building and back on the road home in two minutes. I spent maybe a half hour in the building, total, and then went back to my 40 minute trip home.
It was awesome. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Things I Learned
- I will never make fun of anyone doing live TV who accidentally chooses the wrong word. It happens. It’s very easy. In watching the video back, I noticed a couple of wrong words I used that I wished I could have edited. They weren’t anything bad, but they weren’t the words I was looking for. When the host referred to the “comics book market,” I didn’t even catch it. Someone who watched the video hours later had to point it out to me. There’s so much to keep track of when doing live TV, it’s easy for any one thing to distract you and make you miss something. It’s tough to continuously fire on all cylinders. I can’t imagine how difficult that is for a host who needs to change topics wildly every five or ten minutes.
- Peripheral vision is a must. Either that, or shut it down entirely. There is a delay between the audio and video feeds. I can’t even tell you which ones comes behind the other. I tried not to pay attention. If you watch the monitor screens to the right of the camera, it’ll throw you off when the audio coming in your ear isn’t in sync. Also, you look silly looking just off-camera. Look straight ahead at all times. Use your peripheral vision to know when you’re in a one-shot, two-shot, or three-shot. (I’m sure there’s a different technical term for that split screen, but I think you get what I mean here.)
- It’s easy to talk about something you know pretty well. I’ve been writing about comics for the last 17 years. If I can’t talk about a general subject like “The Business of Comics” off the top of my head by now, I’m not paying attention. This being an appearance on a show outside the world of comics, I knew the view I’d be presenting was pretty high level. I wouldn’t need to get caught up in the details of the history of the Direct Market or the breakdown of sales within the Direct Market or profit margin details.
- I did do one bit of research. I dug up Comichron and ICV2‘s guesstimate on the size of the comics publishing industry. Those stats stayed in my mind in case I needed them. I used one vague number in my first answer.
- People smile all the time on television for no apparent reason. It looks better, friendlier. I watched some YouTube videos before I went on the show to get a feel for what the show was like, how things worked, and what guests did and said. The guests who smiled while listening to the question seemed more welcoming. I gave it a try. I didn’t smile enough, but I didn’t give them the concerned serious face with the wrinkled brow. I’ll take that as a minor victory.
- I tilt to the right and I close my eyes way too often. I knew about the latter thing but never did anything about it. Now I feel the need to. If we have a conversation at any point in the next few months and I appear to be staring wide-eyed at you, I’m trying my best not to look down or away from you.
I want to do more. That part feels out of my control, but I know I’d answer even more quickly next time.
Back to 2016 now.
How cool would it be to see “PipelineComics.com” on the lower third of a television screen? I think I have a new mission in life. (Though they’d likely go with “ComicBook.com” for my credit because it’s a MUCH bigger site.) I’m not completely out of touch with the CNBC folks. The web writers contact me for quotes every now and then for website articles. I’ve talked about Marvel diversity and international movie success, amongst other things. The idea is still possible, though it gets tricky during the school year…
The best follow-up to the whole experience, though, was the auction, itself. Vincent Zurzolo won the Superman comic we had gathered to talk about. He’s the guy on the other side of the satellite feed from me in the above video. I did not bid. My hands are clean.