Look Into My Eyes

Posted: Monday, March 3, 2008 at 12:00 am
By: Doug Lund
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“I don’t trust anybody who doesn’t look me square in the eye.”
We’ve all heard people say that because making eye contact with others as we speak or listen does show that we’re being truthful in what we’re saying and interested in what we’re hearing.
The trouble is, a lot of us Norwegians are naturally shy and have been brought up to believe that it’s not polite to stare. So that’s why we feel more comfortable in a conversation looking off to the side or down at your shoes rather than at your face.
I overcame most of that shyness shortly after getting the chance to be on television.
I was told that when reading the news, I was to look straight into that camera lens as much as possible and don’t be shifting my eyes around because it would creep out viewers and they wouldn’t  believe a thing I was saying.
In the early seventies, though, maintaining eye contact was a huge challenge because no local television stations had teleprompters yet.
Newscasters had to try memorizing huge chunks of the script to avoid looking down at the words all the time.
Some of those early Keloland anchors were really good at it. Doug Hill, Will Carlson and Leo Hartig would only need to glance at the script every orther sentence or so.
Viewers hardly noticed.Leo Hartig doing Keloland news, prompterless, in 1968
But the absolute master of delivering the news without a prompter was Hemmingsen.
Steve could see and remember a full paragraph ahead.
It used to tick me off because I couldn’t do that and sitting next to him on the 10 O’clock news, I looked like one of those bird toys whose head bobs up and down dipping into a glass of water.
One of our studio cameras actually did have a teleprompter of sorts…used primarily for recording commercials.
It was mounted just above the camera. The script was printed on a paper scroll which was advanced as the announcer read.
I thought, hey, this might work for the newscast and talked our 10 O’clock production assistant, Linda Hunter, into re-typing as much of the script as possible onto the prompter paper each night and then cranking it forward for us to read.
It actually worked pretty well except that poor Linda was often so busy she could only manage to get a few stories typed up by air time.A close-up of the earlier photo shows the old style teleprompter mounted on the studio camera to the right used so announcers wouldn’t have to memorize or ad-lib commercials they recorded or did live.
Later, KELO purchased a system in which pages of the news script would be placed on a conveyer belt which passed under a small closed circuit camera. That image could be seen by the anchor through a monitor on the studio camera and a one-way mirror.
The same basic system is still used today except that the script is all on computer.
The conveyor belt is long gone.A TV anchor’s eye view of the modern studio camera teleprompter
I think I can safely say that the teleprompter saved my TV career. It allowed me to master the art of deception.
I quickly aquired the knack of looking down at my script just often enough to make the viewers believe I really had committed the entire thing to memory. (Walter Cronkite was the king of this technique.)
But the teleprompter has also been responsible for some of my most embarrassing on-air moments..like when a new prompter operator would crank the words by too fast or too slow which left me lost and forced to look down and try find my place on the hard copy script which usually took several seconds but seemed like hours.
These days, performers and politicians also regularly use teleprompters.
It might be kind of fun to see how Obama or McCain would react if a greenhorn prompter operator messed up during their acceptance speeches.
I think I’d be inclined to vote for the one who continued to look me square in the eye and keep right on talking with out it.

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