Like most kids their age, my children love to watch TV. But they’ve always dreaded the thought of ever appearing on it. Until one late Wednesday evening at a restaurant, when Larry Henares came to our table to talk me and my 3 daughters into guesting in his talk show for 10 easy minutes.
Those 10 minutes turned out to be the longest in my life as a TV person. I’ve been on television for nearly 9 years now, but I swear I have never myself been comfortable as a guest in other shows. It is different when you’re the host in your own show: you ask all the questions, and you’re in total control of the situation. But to be a guest in a live TV show is to place yourself in a situation of high vulnerability.
I know what television can do to some people, and what great transformations it can produce in others. You have to look and sound good. Your body movement must be coordinated with your speech. If you move your hands too much, you might appear like a magician doing a card trick.
You must conduct yourself confidently without appearing cocky. You must speak clearly but not ponderously. Your voice must be just right: neither modulated nor shrill. You should never speak too long. You must be witty but not trivial. Intelligent but not pedantic. Attractive but not loud. TV is the ultimate test of demeanor in public. Yet interestingly, its best survivors are not its professional practitioners, but its most unsuspecting guests.
I could not say no to Larry Henares, but I was hoping he would not be able to convince my kids to be last minute replacements for his no-show guests that evening. His topic, he said, was “Parenting: Its Joys and Pains”. My wife and son were abroad at that time, and Larry decided, upon seeing me dining with my 3 girls, that I should be a TV parent for that night, and my 3 daughters my joys and pains.
He had also previously invited the big Laurel brood, and they were to be the main guests that evening. But, in addition, he needed a smaller family to serve as the front act. He told me that he had called practically every celebrity couple he knew, but no one seemed available. He next tried inviting his own relatives, but not even kinship would make them come. Larry was plainly desperate.
I was familiar with that feeling. Here you are, with an entire show all carefully laid out in your mind. But it cannot unfold the way you imagine it simply because you don’t have the whole cast.
He had my full sympathy. The 2 or 3 times in the past that I had asked him to appear on my show, Larry never hesitated. As a friend and as a fellow pilgrim on television, I was willing to appear on his show, despite the lateness of the invitation, but the one thing I could not do was order my children to sit there with me.
The eldest of the girls is Kara, 22. She, a broadcast communications graduate, was willing to do it. She didn’t mind the 10-minute exposure. There are 365 days in a year, she told her sisters, and it is not every day that you get a chance to do something different. She is fascinated by television although she would rather write scripts than appear on it.
The youngest is Jika, who turned 18 yesterday, July 29. She is the actress in the family, the great mimic of fancy accents, and the most confident of the 3 girls. She knew that if she wanted to, she could always charm any crowd with her wit and ready smile, but she made it clear to Uncle Larry that she would follow what her older sisters would decide.
Larry’s problem was the middle child, Nadya or Dezh, as we call her. She is the artist, intensely private and subtle. She hated public displays and any kind of pretense. She was good at deploying no-nonsense one-liners. She told Larry she was sorry but that she needed to finish an essay that was due the following morning. TV appearances were not for her or her sisters, she firmly declared.
To Nadya’s utter discomfort, the irrepressible Henares held her hand and pleaded with her to make just one exception, and he would be eternally grateful. He volunteered to come home with us that evening to ghost-write her essay. In his signature hyperbolic Henarism, Larry warned her what a great loss it would be for the public if she decided not to appear on TV that night. As he left the restaurant, not knowing if he had made a deal, he offered one final assurance. With such pretty faces as you have, he said, you don’t even have to say anything. Let the cameras speak for you. You can sit there and just giggle.
As it turned out, the girls did well, judging from the rave reviews of their relatives. I had expected them to play safe by not saying much. But they didn’t even have time to giggle. As I squirmed and watched anxiously, trying to look as professionally indifferent as I could, my daughters took on Larry Henares. They decided they were going to have a good time — at their father’s expense.
They were an interviewer’s delight: candid, concrete, and concise. They were not going to allow this cruel medium intimidate them. They knew this was virtual reality, and they committed themselves to play its rules. For 10 minutes, they allowed an anonymous audience to get a glimpse of what had been, until then, their private experience of a public father. I was myself surprised by what my daughters remembered — their father’s adult tantrums, silly fixations, and awkward greetings to their boyfriends.
If your children could talk like that about you in your presence, said a friend, you must have done something right as a parent. Well, I wish it had been my own show, but I was happy that Larry Henares could draw the best from my children and show it to the public. In the final analysis, such is the simple joy of every parent.
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