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Enthusiasm the ticket to getting on tee vee

July 14, 1999

ATLANTA - Yes, (blush) that was me you saw on national television Friday at 3:12 in the afternoon. All of you do, I assume, watch that CNN afternoon "interactive town meeting" show called "Talkback Live," hosted by Bobbie Battista.

And there I was, standing at the fringe of the studio audience, trying to figure out where the camera was going to pan and who I'd have to slap out of the way in order to get in a crowd shot on the tee vee.

"Talkback Live" is shot in - honest - the basement food court of the CNN tower in Atlanta. The studio audience is assembled from Actual People who go from standing in line for pizza to potential celeb status in 4.2 seconds flat. And since I was in town to take in a couple of Braves games with my friends Mark and Amanda, I looked at myself in the monitor and asked, "Why not?"

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In preparation, I'd brought an assemblage of briefing papers on the plane with me so I could make intelligent comments or ask provocative questions on issues such as Kosovo, HMO cherry picking, Social Security solvency, the Asian financial situation and cataclysmic shifts in Antarctic plates.

Clutching my bag under one arm, I hustled to the set just a bit late, and strained to hear what Bobbie's producers had chosen for the show's issue. Food courts traditionally being as noisy as dog kennels, although not as well-mannered, I had trouble deciphering the topic. As near as I could gather, the issue of the day was "Floral Slacks."

I was crushed, because nothing in the position papers I'd brought along included a word about fashion. And frankly, I didn't see where this was such an important issue that it needed to be discussed on such an influential show as "Talkback Live" with Bobbie Battista.

I think the audience agreed with me, because they were all sitting grim-faced and uncomfortable and appeared to have nothing to say on the topic of floral slacks. A few women in the audience were wearing floral slacks, but even they seemed disinclined to participate.

In fact, about the only person who seemed inspired by the topic was some shrieking, hysterical she-expert in Washington they called "Doctor Judy."

She was blaming the craze (apparently there's a floral slacks craze, although I hadn't noticed it before) on President Clinton. She said he's popularized floral slacks and now even kids are openly talking about floral slacks to their classmates.

I guess she was alluding to the president's golfing wardrobe, and she may have a point that some of his pants are a little loud. But golfers have had floral slacks for years and nobody I've heard has ever made a big deal of it until now.

For some reason, Judy, who was so excited to talk about floral slacks, had this main point: Floral slacks are terrible and we shouldn't be talking about them.

It struck me that if maybe she'd go out and get some floral slacks herself she'd calm down a bit and see that while they may not be entirely attractive, they are basically pretty harmless. And then she would shut up and let us get back to talking about issues of more magnitude.

But in the end, I really wasn't there to talk about global warming or arms buildup or even floral slacks. I was there strictly to get on the tee vee. And the technicians knew this. One of them turned around and hissed, "If you give a big reaction, you have a better chance to get on television."

That's all I needed to hear. I can be bought. Coming back from the first commercial break I clapped and cheered enthusiastically over the prospect of floral slacks and sure enough, there I was big as life on the live feed.

Mission accomplished, I went out on Centennial Park for some shameless girl watching. In no time there were a couple of ladies flirting on the steps of the Olympic fountains. Now this is what life is all about, I thought - none of this preoccupation with floral slacks.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist

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