Fourth estate in the Third World

So often those of us who cover the Emmys, Grammys or Oscars for news outlets hear from the uninitiated: “Oh, that must be so cool/fun/glamorous!” Let’s clear the air right here and now about that.
Yes, we dress up, but not because we want to. It’s because the motion picture or television academy requires it. And we don’t bother with much jewelry because the sandwich-sign-sized credential hanging around our neck immediately violates the rule of “less is more.”
We are compelled by security measures and street closures to arrive ridiculously early, sometimes four or five hours ahead of showtime. And then there’s the aching back from schlepping the laptop and the feet that have ballooned up inside strappy sandals.
The ungodly heat of the red carpet is counter-balanced by the frigid air conditioning in the press tent, so those rivulets of perspiration can freeze within seconds of stepping inside.
Those are the customary hassles. Read on for the work conditions at last night’s Emmys, which in my 17 years of covering awards shows, hit a new low among major events.

Our press shuttle buses from a remote (no, really, really remote) USC parking garage to the Shrine each had an LAPD cop along for security. I didn’t know whether to be comforted by his presence or insulted because we were all suspected terrorists. But I must say I was happy for the officers who pulled that duty, by a long shot the cushiest assignment of the evening.
The press tent had electrical and phone line problems on our arrival, which served to distract us from the lack of food and drink. Box lunches were made available about the same time a number of us had to head out to the red carpet area. That’s OK, I thought, grabbing a bottle of water on the way outside. I can eat well when dinner’s served.
Dinner consisted of pasta, caesar salad, steamed dumplings and mini-cheeseburgers that were kept warm on a steam table. I’ve seen a lot of hamburger tips on the Food Network and none of them calls for keeping them warm in a steam table. Bobby Flay would be appalled, I tell you.
I ate a small portion of everything except the elephant-gray burgers, because a small portion was all the dessert-sized plates would hold. I’ll have room for dessert, I thought. If they were serving it. Nary a weeks-old chocolate chip cookie to be had.
Meanwhile, our fingers were locking up over our keyboards as we awaited the coffee urn. It apparently was wherever the dessert was.
At the end of the show, I finally was able to take a bathroom break, which led to the worst surprise of all: porta-johns that were barely more civilized than those found at rock festivals and construction sites. They could flush and there was a sink for washing hands in each stall — if they hadn’t run out of running water! My pin granting me access to the Governor’s Ball was a true blessing in giving me a place to wash my hands.
It wasn’t always like this, you know. Some of us fondly remember the great meals offered years ago with piles of delectable shrimp and a beef carving station in the deadline press room, and bottled beers to grab after the deadlines were met.
What does this mean about the Emmys? Was NBC avenging every bad-news story they’ve received the past two seasons? No. More likely it was part of the karma of having the No. 4 (no longer rolling in dough) network air the Emmys on a summer weekend because of NBC’s new Sunday Night Football gig starting soon. We were the victims of a budget cut.
Hey, NBC, times are tough. We hear you. But next time somebody should warn us about the desperate conditions in the press area. We could call in the Red Cross. I understand they provide good sanitation facilities and make a decent pot of coffee.

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