Career Advice from the Today Show’s Willie Geist

willie geist today show career advice working in tv

Today Show co-host Willie Geist provides insightful career advice for anyone who wants to pursue a career in broadcasting. (Photo Courtesy: NBC)

Willie Geist always had a hunch that he wanted to work on camera, but after graduating from Vanderbilt with a degree in Political Science and French it took a little time to get noticed.

“After years of writing and field producing for other people, it’s nice to finally tell a story in your own voice,” says the co-host of the third hour of NBC’s Today Show  “but mostly it’s good to get quick, preferential service at the dry cleaner. Who knew shirts could come back in an hour?”

Geist started out doing his own laundry while working late nights at CNN/Sports Illustrated, then made his way up the ranks as a writer and producer. But it wasn’t until he transitioned from Sports to News that he got his big break.

As Senior Producer of “The Situation with Tucker Carlson” executives started to notice Geists calm-but-provoking nature, dry wit and overall rapport with host Carlson. Soon thereafter Geist was added to the final segment of “The Situation” and his on camera career started gaining momentum.

He went on to co-host MSNBC’s Morning Joe and even had the Village Voice refer to him as the “Best TV Sidekick Who Deserves His Own Show (at a reasonable hour)”. The Voice saw what soon became obvious; Geist was a star in the making, a comforting face and tone that  effortlessly connects with the audience, laced with the intellect to handle all types of storytelling. After hosting duties at the London Olympics, Geist reached a pinnacle of sorts being named co-host of the third hour of the Today Show.

Here’s more with one of the brightest young stars on Television, Willie Geist:

When did you know that you wanted to pursue a career in Television?

Geist: During an internship the summer before my senior year in college at Vanderbilt. I worked in the Political Unit at CBS News during the 1996 presidential campaign. I caught the bug while running around the conventions dubbing tapes and getting lunch for people who actually were being paid for their work.

Vanderbilt is a prestigious school, did going there help your broadcasting career?

Geist: I didn’t study television or even communications in any way. I was a political science major with a minor in French. My best advice is not to spend four years learning the technical ins and outs of television. Just get smart in a wide range of areas. It’ll help you in your career more than any TV class.

So as a political science major with a French minor, how in the world did you land your first TV Job?

Geist: My first TV job was as a video editor at CNN/Sports Illustrated, a 24-hour sports network based in Atlanta. I moved to Atlanta with friends after college and sent resumes to every media outlet in town — television and print. I got an interview at CNN/SI and somehow tricked someone into hiring me. The network didn’t last long (1996-2002), but it’s still the most fun, and the most learning, I’ve ever had in TV. It was a group of smart, motivated, excited twenty-somethings programming and producing an entire network. There was opportunity around every corner.

Was it a hard transition to go from Sports to News?

Geist: It wasn’t too hard. I always was engaged in the news and followed politics, so it actually was exciting and refreshing. I’ve found, a few years later now, that I like working in news and keeping sports as a hobby. Grinding out highlights and digging deep into sports every day starts to feel less like fun and more like a job — which it was.

Did you know early on in that you wanted to end up on camera?

Willie Geist co-host of the Today Show

Geist always had a hunch that he wanted to work on camera, but never thought he’d make it to the Today Show. (Photo Courtesy: The Hollywood Reporter)

Geist: I always had a hunch. My dad is a correspondent at CBS News, so it was in the air growing up. After years of writing and field producing for other people, it’s nice finally to tell a story in your own voice.

What is the hardest thing to adjust to when you work in Television?

Geist: The hours were absurd, but I was 22 so I didn’t really notice. I worked every weekend, usually from 7pm-3am as we waited for the Mariners-A’s extra inning game to end mercifully. Generally, you have to be willing to work strange hours in TV (today, I’m on the other end of the spectrum — waking up at 3am for a morning show) and be prepared for change. TV shows come and go pretty quickly and that means your job often does too.

Have you ever said anything during a show that you wished you could take back?

Geist: I’m on live TV for four hours every day, so odds are you’re going to spit out a few words you’d like back. We had Lynda Carter on a while back and I asked her if she still could fit into the Wonder Woman suit. I didn’t get the sense that she liked that.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue an on camera job?

Geist: My advice is always to be yourself. It sounds trite, but the best thing you can do is to be genuine, to put out your signal, and then see if people get it. People see right through contrivance and phoniness. And if you’re young, don’t walk into your first job and let everyone know that your sole purpose for being there is to get on TV. Just work hard, shoot your demo reel during off hours, and listen to people who are doing what you want to be doing. Your time will come. Also, never — under any circumstances — use puns. They’re a red flag.

Who have you interviewed that made the most lasting impression?

Geist: We had George Clooney on and he was as cool as you’d hope he’d be — smart, funny, and, well, George Clooney. I had a great interview with Condoleeza Rice. Rising from segregated Birmingham to become the United States Secretary of State — a great personal story. On the athlete side, Mark Sanchez was very cool when we had him on. He even laughed when we reminded him of the pay cut he had to take from the Jets after playing in the well-paying program at USC.

Actionable Items from Willie Geist

  1. You don’t have to go to a top broadcasting or journalism school in order to make it… although it doesn’t hurt.
  2. If you want to work on camera be yourself, no news director is going to put you out there if you aren’t genuine.
  3. At any TV job, make friends with the control room staff so they can help you shoot you demo reel during off hours.
  4. Plan on working odd hours in Television, don’t get into this business expecting to work 9-5.

What other takeaways did you get from this interview?

email
About Brian Clapp

Brian Clapp has worked in the broadcast media for over 14 years as a writer, editor, producer & news director. After beginning his career in Atlanta at CNN/Sports Illustrated, he switched coasts to Seattle to work at Fox Sports Northwest. In 2010, Brian began pursuing a new found passion on the digital media side, launching a successful website and then taking on the role of Director of Content for WorkinSports.com & WorkinEntertainment.com.

Recently Brian has become addicted to Google+ and LinkedIn so add him to your circles and make him a contact. No seriously, you should.

Trackbacks

  1. […] or even communications in any way. I was a political science major with a minor in French,” says Today Show host Willie Geist. “My best advice is not to spend four years learning the technical ins and outs of television. […]

  2. […] in the television industry. It still to this day strikes me as funny, when I turn on the Today show and see Willie Geist, or turn on the NFL on Fox and see Laura Okmin, or the YES network and see Bob […]

  3. […] “I didn’t study television or even communications in any way,” recalls Today Show host Willie Geist. […]

Speak Your Mind

*