CBS3 chief meteorologist Kate Bilo recently found herself putting a pair of “Cinderella princess heels” on her 2-year-old while delivering a weather forecast.
At Fox29, Good Day Philadelphia anchors Alex Holley and Mike Jerrick have been fighting to preserve their easy back-and-forth rapport while working farther and farther apart.
Morning anchor Lucy Bustamante is performing her duties for both NBC10 and Telemundo62 from a corner of her 5-year-old daughter’s bedroom, while over at CBS3, anchor Jim Donovan is fielding questions from viewers who want to know exactly what color his home office is painted.
Just as it has for many viewers, the coronavirus pandemic has transformed the work lives of TV newspeople in Philadelphia. As news operations continue to evolve their approach to social distancing in an effort to keep their workers safe, jobs that once seemed impossible to do outside a studio are getting done from home.
Viewers are getting a glimpse into the private lives of people they’re used to seeing only at their most polished. (Sometimes more than a glimpse — Good Day Philadelphia traffic reporter Bob Kelly’s son Austin is becoming a bit of a star.) But for local newscasts that like to project the camaraderie of their on-air work families, the separation adds challenges.
‘I miss her’
“We rely on chemistry," said Good Day Philadelphia’s Jerrick on Tuesday, noting that “probably 70%” of his and Holley’s four hours on the air together every day is ad-libbed. “So when you work close together, I could touch her elbow or something when I’m going to stop talking and she’ll touch my arm or whatever.”
“Thankfully, it doesn’t feel as drastic because it has been a slow separation. I mean, we went from sitting next to each other, like right beside each other, to space it out a little bit, then it was a couple feet apart, then it was across the studio," said Holley, who on Tuesday began coanchoring from her apartment.
“As the pandemic gets worse and worse and worse, it just seemed like a better idea,” said Jerrick, who didn’t rule out the possibility that he, too, would eventually begin working from home. As of Thursday, he was still in the show’s Fox29 studio.
“I think that people take it more seriously when they see that the people who are talking about it are actually doing it,” Holley said.
“It’s going to take getting used to, I guess, like a married couple if one of them had go live in another house or something. I mean, that’s how close we are,” said Jerrick. “I miss her.”
‘They want to see my kitchen’
At CBS3, morning and noon anchors Donovan and Janelle Burrell have been taking turns working from home after the station moved to having one anchor working in the studio at a time.
The first week of the arrangement, which began March 23, “I did Monday and Tuesday on the set and then Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I worked at the house and did some Zoom interviews, which actually worked pretty well, because I’m not exactly the most technologically savvy person. The fact that anything got on TV was pretty good,” Donovan said.
Good enough that he’s concerned about how the present emergency might change TV news permanently.
“When I first started, you needed a photographer, a sound person, an editor, and a $40,000 camera to go on television. Now you need an iPhone," Donovan said.
“I think the only problem, though, with having the one anchor [in the studio alone] is if anything goes wrong, you don’t have another person there for like weird stuff. Like the other day I had a frog in my throat and I could not clear [it] and normally, if I wasn’t on camera, I would just tap Janelle and Janelle could pick up on the story, but I’m pretty much out there on my own," Donovan said.
Plus, "it’s, you know, 2:30 in the morning, when I’m driving in. I thought, I need to be even extra careful because if I hit a deer, there’s no one going to be on television.”
He misses the give-and-take he had sitting beside Burrell.
"There’s banter in between now, me and the traffic reporter and me and the meteorologist. But other than that, a lot of times, it’s just let’s get in and let’s get out and try to get a clean shot here,” he said.
During his turns at home, he heard from people “asking what the color of paint I had in my office, where I got the drapes from ... . I thought, boy, maybe I have a have a future in HGTV,” Donovan said. “I had to go look downstairs at the cans to figure out what color [the walls] were because everyone wanted to know.”
The office paint colors, he said, are Benjamin Moore’s Santorini Blue and Cabot Trail. The paint itself is Behr Premium Plus in eggshell.
Now, he said, “they want to see my kitchen.”
Donovan said he chose his home office because the lighting there was good. “I mean, it’s one heck of an operation. I’ve got like shoeboxes piled up and my iPad on top of that, because I was very conscious of eye level, because a lot of people ... you look up their nostrils.”
A set evolves
His CBS3 colleague Bilo had limited options.
“Basically, I took the only finished corner of my downstairs,” said the meteorologist, who began doing her weather reports from home on March 23. The first floor of the home where she lives with her husband and their three children was undergoing renovations when all this began. "The rest of the place, the paint is half scraped off the walls and everything is all torn up. And of course everything’s kind of on hold right now.”
Like Donovan, she’s using her own equipment. “I’m really lucky in that my husband is a software engineer, and he’s also like a big audiovisual guy," Bilo said. "We’ve been kind of refining each day … I started out using my phone on Skype and a laptop to VPN into our weather system.”
Since then, she’s added a digital camera as her webcam, “which is a much better picture quality than the phone,” ditched the TV monitor behind her (too much glare), and replaced it with plants for a “botanical” look.
What she can’t replace is the fun of a newsroom, or the back-and-forth of the on-air team. People are keeping in touch by text, she said, and there’s talk of a Zoom group chat they could record and post online.
"We’ve all been kind of missing that human adult interaction a little bit,” Bilo said. “I think the anchors are probably feeling it most, because it’s one of them, sitting on a set all by themselves with no one to talk to in an empty room. And I have my kids running around.”
And once in a while, climbing into her lap, as her 2-year-old daughter, recently did while Bilo was on the air.
“Fortunately we were in full-screen graphics,” she said. “She wanted her Cinderella princess heels on. So I picked her up on my lap, never stopped talking, buckled her princess heels on, put her down, off she ran."
NBC10′s Bustamante can probably relate.
The station’s first “anchor-from-home guinea pig,” Bustamante, who shares a four-bedroom apartment in Center City with her husband and their four children, got a house call on March 26 from one of its photographers, who helped set up her studio in a corner of her 5-year-old’s room. (Her daughter Carolina is sleeping elsewhere during her mother’s early-morning broadcasts.)
The Comcast-owned station provided an “anchor-from-home” kit consisting of a camera, light, two computers, and the “live view,” a device used for live remote broadcasting.
“It’s been good. The kids have kind of learned to live with the camera there,” she said.
“Actually, Carolina had a quick little cameo during one of the cut-ins to the Today show [on Wednesday], and I was like, ‘OK, honey, I get one of those, and that was cute, but not again,’” Bustamante said, laughing.