Students get behind-the-scene look at PBS show

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

About 100 UNC Charlotte students, faculty and staffers were given a unique opportunity -- a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the acclaimed Public Broadcasting System's political staple, "Washington Week with Gwen Ifill."

The event was held in Robinson Hall on the UNC Charlotte campus on Aug. 30, one day before Ifill and four political reporters appeared on the stage of the Belk Theater to discuss the events of last week's Republican National Convention in Tampa and their thoughts on this week's Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.

Two of the show's top executives -- senior producer Chris Guarino and producer Alla Lora -- discussed the making of the show with the audience. As they talked, their colleagues were busy with final touches on the stage and lighting.

"Gwen is actually still working in Tampa tonight on the PBS News Hour's coverage of the RNC," Guarino said. "Tomorrow morning she will jump on a plane and she'll have about two hours of preparation before we tape the show."

The producers told the students and others that working on a program such as "Washington Week with Gwen Ifill" is never boring.  It's also not for the weak of heart. She recalled the program also went on the road for the 2008 presidential nominating conventions. They had only a few hours notice that Republican nominee John McCain had selected Sarah Palin to be his running mate.

"It was quite a challenge for us, to make sure Gwen was filled in on everything we knew about Palin and let our panelists do their jobs," Guarino said. 

"It's our job to keep up with breaking news and stay ahead of it so we are ready when we do the show," Lora said.

The producers took the audience on a quick tour of the venue, which was transformed with red and blue lighting to ensure that who were there knew the topics to be discussed were political in nature. 

They concluded with a question-and-answer session. One student asked about how the producers broke into the business. Another asked about what it took to prevent the show from appeared biased in favor of one candidate or party.

"You never see pundits or strategists on this show," said Lora. "We only feature working journalists."

Guarino said the show serves an important service to everyone in the audience, young or old, liberal or conservative, male or female.

"It's nice to get out on the road to see what people are thinking," he said. "It's vital to heal what is important to the voters."

Photo: Gwen Ifill seems to endorse history professor David Goldfield’s book following the Washington Week taping on campus.