Full Circle: Today & Tomorrow
Just another typical morning on national TV

On an early Friday morning in 1986, I introduced America to the cell phone.

It started with a phone call from one of the producers of the “Today Show.” It was 3:30 in the afternoon.

“Listen,” she said, “I’ve read your work in the Playboy Guide to Electronic Entertainment and Video Review. I can use your help. Bryant Gumbel is doing a segment tomorrow on the latest in electronic gadgets. This isn’t something he knows a lot about, so if you could come on the show and guide him through it all, that would be great.”

“I can do that, but it sounds like you already picked everything. So there’s only one problem. I don’t know what you picked.”

“No problem. I’ll send all the info to you by 7 tonight. Thanks for doing this. You’ll be on between 7:30 and 8. I’ll send a limo to pick you up at 6.”

“Oh, I’m only a few blocks from 30 Rock. I can walk over.”

“Well, we prefer to send the car. That’s our insurance that you’ll be on time.”

“OK, but why so early?”

“You have to go through makeup.” Make up? But I’d never worn make up. Other than Clearasil when I was 14.

Doesn’t take long to order tuna on rye at the Second Avenue Deli. I was home by 6:30 – just to be sure. I waited. And waited. And I waited some more. Crickets.

At 10:45 my buzzer finally buzzed. The messenger brought up the biggest pack of paper I’ve ever seen. Press releases, backgrounders, specs on every item. Only one thing was missing – the items themselves. I would be flying blind the next morning in front of a national audience.

I read, and I studied, and I tried to memorize. Just in case, I put together index cards with the basic facts on each. It was 3:45 am. They were picking me up at 6, so I’d have to wake up by 5:15. That would give me an hour and a half to sleep. Hey, it’s show business.

The limo driver buzzed up at exactly 6. The limo was 46 feet long. It had a bar in the back. Tempting, even that early.

As soon as I arrived at NBC: “They’re waiting for you in makeup.” All I knew about TV makeup was of Milton Berle being slapped in the face by a giant powderpuff. The make-up guy looked at me and said, “We don’t have much to do, just those dark circles under your eyes. You should get more sleep.” He finished my eyes in 2 seconds. “Anything else?” he asked.

“Can you straighten my nose?”

I’d broken it a few times playing basketball in high school. And it tended to lean to the left.

“No problem,” he said. And 6 seconds later, my nose was straight. Amazing.

“Will you come to my place to do this every morning?” He just stared at me.

Out to the studio floor. The items were all on one of these long tables. When no one was looking, I changed the order. And I hid my index cards behind each item. So no one would know I was cheating. Bryant Gumbel came over before we went on air.

“You’ve done this a lot before?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said, crossing my fingers and toes. And then I blew right through each of them. The handheld copier, the stereo VCR, the video-assisted football game. I saved the best for last. A portable Motorola cell phone. About the size of my foot. I wear a 12. It came in a big leather shoulder bag.

“I don’t get this,” Gumbel said. “Why would anyone want to make a phone call when they’re walking down the street or driving in their car? What could be so important that you can’t wait until you get where you’re going?”

“This could be the next big thing,” I said.

“No,” he said, shaking his head, “this will never catch on.”

Read more “Full Circle” from Maury Z. Levy

February 2023
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