Friday, 15 July 2016

"What's on telly?" "MEEEE!"

Brexit has meant a sharp uptick in the number of my television and radio appearances. In a typical year, I can expect to make around 50-60 media appearances, commenting on various aspects of life in Britain, from international trade to politics to royal babies. One visit to the studios per week has been my average for the past six or seven years. Yet since the beginning of June I've appeared 30 times on Polish TV and radio to talk about Brexit and its aftermath. Five times more often than usual.

It's been my proud boast  that for the past few years, I've spent more time in front of TV cameras than I do watching TV in Poland.

Over the past six weeks, I've been invited to appear to the following TV studios - Polsat, TVN, TVP Info and SuperStacja.

What's it like, being on television?

Fear of public speaking? Not at all. Not nervous, confident - I know my stuff. My biggest worry is that my Polish will trip me up - missing bits of vocabulary or case endings. But I'm enough of a seasoned trooper to talk my way out of a jam.

And the experience itself?

Depends where you go.

The TVP building in ul. Woronicza is a spectacular shambles and a classic example of the ills of state broadcasting. Kilometres of narrow labyrinthine corridors wind through the building on several floors, linking studios, cubby-hole offices and editing suites. The corridors are lined with perforated hardboard, presumably for acoustic reasons. Broken furniture and empty boxes are left abandoned hither and yon. Outside nearly all the editing suites stand a couple of pot-bellied men of late middle age with ponytails and t-shirts bearing the name of some death-metal band or other, smoking cigarettes in blatant disregard of the law. The combination of narrow corridors, perforated hardboard walls and cigarettes makes for a potential death-trap; that and the various unmarked trip hazards would have the place closed down in minutes by any British health and safety inspector.

The corridors seem endless, the impression of people milling around aimlessly suggests massive over-employment - why so many studios? Why so many editing suites? Why so many offices? And yet, TVP needed even more studios, so a brand new building was opened in 2009 at huge cost next door to the existing one, both are in use. Who audits these people?

Since Jarosław Kaczyński put his people into TVP after last autumn's elections, viewership figures of TVP's main evening new programme have fallen by a fifth, with 750,000 regular viewers switching off. TVN and Polsat have overtaken TVP in viewership ratings of their main news programmes.

Transport to and from the studio

When I'm contacted by production staff to arrange an appearance, the logistics of getting me to and from the studio are worked out. Some stations (TVN, TVP Info) will send a marked car to collect me - which is kind of cool especially when it's waiting outside the gates of our estate. Superstacja uses an unmarked car, while Polsat picks me up in taxis, and gives me a card for my return journey. The taxi solution seems the best, as it means lower staff and capital expenditure costs, plus greater flexibility. All guarantee punctuality.

Security: front desk impressions 

TVP on Woronicza employs old geezers with few social graces to insult and belittle guests. "Kim Pan jest, Panie?" Name not on list. Ten phone calls later, someone comes down to fetch you.

TVP Info on Plac Powstańców: this is well organised. You give your name, they check the guest list, then direct you smartly to the make-up room. Security guards here are politer.

TVN: you announce yourself at the front desk, have your bag scanned and walk through an airport-style metal detector gate. A studio runner comes to pick you up and escort you to make-up, and then to the studio. [TVN's studio in the Warsaw Stock Exchange building - just stroll in. No make-up.]

Polsat: you give your name at the front desk (security guards after office hours, receptionists during office hours), they phone to the studio, a runner comes to lead you through the gates to the studio.

Superstacja: the security guards do not even look up as you walk in from the street and head to the studio.

Make-up: impressions

All TV appearances are preceded by a quick visit to the charakterizja - make-up. An application of cream and powder to my head ensures my bald head does not reflect light into the camera. As I learnt from observing my mother's reactions to current affairs programme on TV -  many viewers spot something unbecoming in a speaker's looks and cease listening to the message and start commenting on what they see, rather than what they hear. Hence the need to reduce glare off the face.

Now some make-up artists go to town with every available lotion and cream, others just apply a light touch of powder. Can't say anyone notices the difference; public or private, the time spent in the make-up studio is directly proportional to the time left before you're due to go on air. They can do it in 10 seconds just as effectively as in two minutes. Afterwards, the difference is in how many wet-wipes are needed to remove the make-up. It ranges from two to five.

Studio impressions:

Best equipped: TVN. Shabbiest: TVP Info.

As to the quality of the interviewers (forgive me, I have a bad memory for faces and names, and not watching TV, I don't know who's more and who's less recognisable), they are uniformly good - well-informed, intelligent, polite. Only once in recent months did I experience a dobra zmiana moment, when I was asked at TVP Info: "As of today, London has a Muslim mayor. Now what?"

Why do I keep being asked back? I know the subject very well, and my British-accented Polish gives an air of authenticity and hence authority.

This time last year:
Eating cheaply and well in Warsaw - bary mleczne

This time two years ago:
In which I warn of the MH17 tragedy a day before it happened

This time four years ago:
Who should pay for railways?
[A good question to pose would-be politicians]

This time six years ago:
Grunwald - the big picture

This time eight years ago:
"Take me right back to the track, Jack"

This time nine years ago:
The summer sublime

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