I had the opportunity Thursday to watch the behind-the-scenes production of MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.” I shadowed producer Michelle Perry in the hours leading up to and during the show and realized how hectic and exhilarating the world of 24-hour cable news can be. From the time I arrived two hours before the show aired, up until the last hit, the structure of the program changed over and over to keep up with the pace of constantly breaking news. I realized that in today’s media landscape, where viewers expect news updates on the spot, reporters and producers must always expect the unexpected.
11:00 a.m. (two hours to air): When I first arrived, the show was slated to start with an update on the investigation of the suspected Times Square bomber from NBC Justice Correspondent Pete Williams. A taped interview with General David Petraeus would then run followed by a live interview with Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif.
11:30 a.m. (an hour and a half before air): Sen. Joe Lieberman’s office called saying he was available for a live interview to discuss his plan for a new bill designed to strip any suspected terrorist of their American citizenship. New plan: A quick intro from Mitchell about the investigation of the suspected Times Square bomber followed by a live interview with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., scrapping the report from Pete Williams.
12:15 p.m. (45 minutes before air): Wire reports flood Perry’s inbox about an Emirates flight grounded at JFK airport because a passenger on-board is suspected to be on the no-fly list. Perry starts reorganizing the show to lead with this breaking news story.
12:45 p.m. (15 minutes to air): More messages flood Perry’s inbox – reports now say it’s a false alarm, the passenger on-board is not actually on the no-fly list, although the name matches. At the same time, Perry gets word that someone on a Greyhound bus headed from Maine to New York City calls 911 to report an explosive device on-board. Mitchell, Perry and other producers scramble to change the script to reflect these new developments.
1:00 p.m. (air-time): Mitchell begins the show with breaking news about the grounded plane at JFK and introduces NBC Correspondent Tom Costello who reports that, indeed, the passenger aboard the Emirates flight was not actually on the no-fly list and that the plane is now scheduled for take-off. Mitchell also mentions the breaking news update of a suspected bomb threat on the Greyhound bus headed for New York City.
1:40 p.m. (forty minutes into show): The show is running smoothly, including live interviews with Lieberman and Harman. Now it’s time for an update on the day’s headlines. The headlines were originally supposed to be about the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico followed by an update on the fatal flooding in Tennessee. Yet, the producers decide to scrap the update on Tennessee and replace it with an update on the Greyhound bus bomb threat. All 17 passengers aboard are now seen walking out of the bus with their hands above their heads.
2:00 p.m. (show finishes): Despite several unexpected breaking news developments, the show wraps up without a hitch. Mitchell says goodbye and tosses to MSNBC Correspondent Tamron Hall who has another update on the Greyhound bus bomb threat.
Throughout the three-hour experience, my heart was racing as I watched Mitchell and Perry reorganize the show over and over. I was so surprised by how calm they remained as more unexpected changes came their way. And then I realized that in the 24-hour world of cable news you must always be prepared, because the news never stops. Not even for Andrea Mitchell.