My interview at CBS 60 minutes
Some of you have watched my story on CBS 60 minutes on May 15, 2016
but do you know how a story like this was produced at CBS 60 minutes? I am going to share some of my experience at 60 minutes with you.
I met the producers, Michael and Marc, four times, the correspondent Bill Whitaker twice before it aired on TV, at my lawyer’s office in Washington DC, at the forum by C-100 and APAPA in Palo Alto, CA, at CBS work studio in New York and my place in Ohio. Due to space and time limitation, I will only talk about my trip to CBS 60 minutes Studio in New York for an official interview.
What I’d like to tell you first is that the crew at CBS 60 minutes are very professional. I had a great experience with them from the beginning to the end of the whole production. My lawyer felt the same way as this is also the first time he had the opportunity to work with 60 minutes.
It did take a few rounds to get the final date to set up for the official interview due to breaking news and the correspondent’s schedule conflict. They finally booked my airline ticket a few days before the interview date, February 29, 2016. The airfare was not cheap, $790. I arrived at New York City in the evening, the day before the interview. I didn’t know where I was going to stay. Upon arriving at the LaGuardia Airport, someone was waiting at the gate already with my name on a big iPad screen, a contractor for CBS 60 minutes. He took me directly to a hotel, a very cute hotel, not too far from the studio. After I had a quick dinner and processed all the emails and messages, I planned to go to sleep early so I won’t be late for the next day business. Not sure if it was because of the noise from the air conditioner or the next day interview, I woke up around 4 am and couldn’t go back to sleep. There are not much I could prepare for the interview as they didn’t tell me what questions they would be asking me. Thinking about my case and what I had been through, I became emotional with tears running. I got up and saw I had puffy eyes and felt headache. This’s not good, I told myself, I’ll have work to do.
I arrived at the Studio a little after 10 am. Michael was waiting for me outside the studio. My lawyer was there already. He said that he should have come here the night before from Washington DC to get better sleep as he woke up at 1:30 in the morning. He said “it is CBS 60 minutes, are you kidding? Of course I am nervous.”
It is a big studio with big windows. There was a table full of foods. About seven or eight crew members were there. Each of them greeted me and introduced themselves. They were all interesting guys. The last person arrived to the studio was the correspondent, Bill Whitaker. He walked to me directly and introduced himself. He is such a nice person, so humble and respectable. I liked him a lot and so did my lawyer. The two producers are young, very professional and effective. I felt as if I had known all the crew members for a long time. The lighting men and camera men were making jokes when quickly setting up the equipment. The group was like a big happy family. They worked so well together and so professionally. It was really amazing.
60 minutes does make-up for everyone on TV before interview. One of the reasons is that your face won't look too shiny on camera. I told the lady who was doing my make-ups not to put too much around my eyes as I didn’t know how well I would control myself. She listened to me. She was very nice too. She did make-up for me, Bill Whitaker and my lawyer’s. Michael came in the make-up room and said they were ready for filming. Both Bill and I sat on chairs face to face with lights from different directions. I was surprised that the light seemed very soft and didn’t feel uncomfortable as I was in other stations for interviews. Of course, it is CBS 60 minutes! A table had been set up not far from us with laptops. The producers and my lawyer could see Bill and me though the laptop screens to see how we were doing and called the shots when to stop and when to go.
Bill was great about interview as he could make you relax before the interview formally started. Once we sat down, he said softly: “I flew to Beijing on June 4th, 1989. I could see smoke from the sky before the airplane landed.” He knew I was from Beijing and said that Beijing is now like Manhattan, very different from the time when he was there. I started engaging in conversation with him and it soon transitioned to formal interview. I was not nervous at all. I am really a big fan of him.
The interview was stopped several times to have the make-up lady put touch up on our faces where they seemed shinny due to sweating, my emotions etc. Then the producers needed several footages for Bill and l walking on the street outside the studio. We all took the same elevator down. One of the camera men told us that he had worked with CBS for 25 years and one time he worked with two presidents of the United States for interviews within three weeks. Bill and I had to walk along the street twice as a big truck was passing through in the middle of the filming. Bill asked some questions very casually. I forgot what the questions were but remembered that we kept talking all the way. I even forgot the camera men were there filming in some distance.
After we went back to studio, we continue talking about my case for some time off camera and had some photos taken with them. Then, it was about time for the interview of my lawyer while I needed to go to the airport. Everyone thanked me. The intern walked me to a taxi and told me that I did a great job by telling a sad story in an elegant way among others.
By the way, I tried to make an arrangement to meet Peter Liang’s mom that day when I was in New York several weeks before my trip. I had tried to work with someone who had almost daily contact with his mom. The reason I wanted to see her was that the jury verdict was just out for Peter Liang’s case and I heard that his mom was worried about his son and depressed. I offered to talk to his mom about how I got through the toughest time in my life and wanted to share with her my experience and comfort her. However, she had a fundraising event at 7:00 pm that evening and was very busy while my flight time was 4:30 pm in the afternoon. It didn’t work out that day.
I flew back to Ohio with all amazing memories at CBS 60 minutes.