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Tough looks and fake work

Jan 25, 2013 - By Steven R. Peck

My national television debut via a show called "Nightmare Next Door" on the Discovery Investigation cable channel has come and gone.

I'm told that the installment in which I was interviewed on camera has now run its course after about a half-dozen showings that started Dec. 11 and aired a few more times after than. It's not scheduled to run again except as a very occasional re-run, and perhaps not at all.

The show was a re-examination of one of Riverton's most-notorious crimes, the killing of Wyoming Honor Farm nurse Tammy Watts in 2004. This particular installment was titled "Prescription for Murder."

About a half-dozen people have mentioned seeing me on the show, which gave a surprisingly flippant treatment to the crime, with lots of puns and double-entendre narration along with continuous references to cowboys, cattle, rodeo and other assorted Westernisms always popular when visitors from either of the coasts try to portray Wyoming after the fact.

As the few of you who saw the show noticed, I was on camera for about 45 seconds, which included a couple of spoken clips and a few scenes of me walking down the street and pretending to work in my office here.

You might say my appearance was "boiled down." The 45 seconds I was on the screen is the final outcome of about six hours of interviews and other taping.

The crew visited one morning in September to get the lay of the land around the office and the street outside. There was an executive producer, an associate producer, a director, a lighting guy, a sound guy, and a couple of others to load the equipment in and out the door.

Their job got a little harder when the executive producer decided that the best place to interview me would be in the Ranger's basement, where we keep our newspaper archive. Down the 21 steps they went, lugging the camera, the lights, and the sound equipment. It took an hour.

My "call" was for 2:30 p.m. The very nice associate producer situated me in my chair and applied a bit of makeup powder to my nose, my cheeks and, yes, my head. She clipped a microphone to my shirt, and the interview began.

The room was almost pitch black, with two lights on me. The interviewer was no more than 4 feet from me, sitting beside the camera. "Look at me," he said, "not the camera." He must have been familiar with my family's home movies of me as a kid, when I would turn to the camera and make faces, no matter what the situation.

The questions ran a wide gamut, beginning with my personal biography, by family history the newspaper's history, the city's history, the Wyoming Honor Farm and much more -- none of it used in the final show.

There were lots of questions about the day of the homicide, how we first heard about it, how we covered it, what the reaction of our readers was, and, especially, how the community greeted the news.

The producer seemed most interested in getting me to describe a climate of paralyzing grief and emotion gripping the town. I told him that I wasn't necessarily the right person to talk to about that, because we were busy getting the paper out that day, and in subsequent days were occupied with trying to find out information about the crime and investigation. It was a big story that would get even bigger, but it was not my recollection that the city had come to a numbed standstill the day after the murder.

After the interview came the incidental footage known as the "B roll," a term I recognized from my days as a film school student at the University of Southern California more than 30 years ago.

After the crew set up a rail-mounted dolly for the camera outside the office, I was asked to walk up the street again and again, at least a dozen times in all.

"Go faster," the director would shout. "Not so fast" the next time. "Hands in your pockets." "Swing your arms a little more."

Then it was time to stop in front of the office for a series of close-ups. I was told to put my hands on my hips and turn slowly toward the camera. Take two: fold my arms. Take three: one hand in my pocket. Take four: Stare at the horizon. Take five: Give a stern look to the camera. Take six: Smile a little, then "go serious."

My son, home from college for Christmas break, laughed aloud when he saw the clip they used, showing "Dad giving a tough look" to the camera.

Back inside, then, for some shots of me working at a computer, walking through the newsroom, typing a story. Some of this was real; they had taken up so much of the day that I had to try to get some work done even as they were shooting.

The show ended up showing several seconds of my right hand on the computer mouse. My wife noted that my fingernails didn't look too bad. (I had given myself a quick manicure-by-tooth earlier in the day).

Then, tighter shots of me looking at my computer screen.

"Look puzzled," said the director. Later: "Contemplate, contemplate and comprehend."

Finally we went into the composing room, where the advertisements are created. There was a small photocopy of an old front page sitting there. "Pick up the phone and check that proof," said the director.

This is something I never do in my actual job, which I told them.

"But it's good for picture," he said, meaning it would look authentic on camera for the audience.

So there I am on the show, unplugged telephone to my ear, photocopy in my hand, "checking the proof."

If the program ever is aired again, and if you happen to be watching, read my lips during that five-second clip, and you'll see that I'm saying: "I am pretending to do something that is completely fakey."

A star is born. Not.

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