Connie Doebele was a Producer, Executive Producer, and Executive Director at C-SPAN, where she worked with Booknotes since 1994
Today is Wednesday, July 30, 2014, and we are interviewing Constance, or Connie Doebele, who worked as an executive producer and producer at C-SPAN. So, Connie, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon.
What was your official title at C-SPAN, or your various titles, and what was your involvement with Booknotes?
Well, I spent almost my whole career at C-SPAN, and I was one of those people who was lucky enough to kind of be involved as C-SPAN was burgeoning and blossoming in the '80s and '90s and in 2000s. And so I did a lot of different things, including the Supreme Court producer, international producer, the Washington Journal originating producer, the morning show. But specifically, where I came into contact with Booknotes started in 1994. I had just come back from a two-year time that I had taken...that I had left C-SPAN to go overseas and be a spouse to a State Department employee. And so when I came back, I wanted to go back and work for C-SPAN again, and there really wasn't a position for me at the time. And one of the things that they wanted done at that time in 1994 was to do the first five-year look back at Booknotes. So I did produce that, then I did go back to the network, and I also produced the 10-year anniversary of Booknotes in 1999. Book TV was born in 1998, which was the weekend programming about nonfiction books, and for a while then Booknotes was produced within the Book TV unit that I was the executive producer for.
When you were doing the fifth-year retrospective and then the tenth-year retrospective, did you ever imagine there would be a need for a fifteenth-year retrospective?
Well, you know, I guess at the five-year retrospective I thought, "Really?" At the ten-year retrospective, by that time I had personally had an experience where I had left the network, and I had been living overseas for a couple years, and then came back and saw that C-SPAN itself had changed in the eyes of the viewership, and it had really grown. So by that time I was not surprised, not surprised at all. And why didn't we do a fifteen? I don't know, maybe they did, I don't think so.
I don't know either. So do you know how the authors were chosen for Booknotes?
Oh, you know, I think one of the things about the questions that we're probably going to be facing today is that there's not one answer, so I'm going to tell you what my experience was, and it may be different from what other people's experiences were. I think one of the jokes was that anybody who produced for Booknotes had part of their jobs trolling bookstores, and we used to call it trolling bookstores, where you would go in and you would kind of hang out and look around, you'd look at the bestseller list, you'd look down the nonfiction list, you'd look at the biographies, you'd look at the history, and there might be something that would jump out at you. And you might take that back to Brian, who was intricately involved in the choosing of the Booknotes authors, and these would be one-on-one conversations that I would have with Brian, saying, "Hey, have you seen this book? It's really different." Or that type of thing. The criteria for being on Booknotes, which really came from Brian's mind, I mean, this was his baby, basically, was kind of unusual for television. He wasn't always looking for the high-profile people. Obviously, if there was a major book coming out, he wanted Booknotes to be a part of it, because that's what Booknotes did, whether it be a president or a major historian or a major author or whatever. But I remember very clearly him saying that he wanted to find new faces. We'd say, "Hey, what about so-and-so, who would be like a regular household word to C-SPAN people?" And he'd go, "I want a new face, I want a new face."
So we were also kind of tasked to go out and see if we could find those new faces. Somebody who was not getting a lot of attention, who was a good writer, who was writing on something that was interesting. Now, it's also true that Brian had a lot of input on the books that were chosen for Booknotes. I don't think that's any secret. And if you would ask him, I think he would say, "Because I have to read the book!" I mean, it was nothing different than if he was only reading two paragraphs of the book and sit down to do the interview, that would be one thing. But he did read the book, and so he said, "It's got to be something that can sustain me. I'm the one who's going to be spending the hours and the hours and the hours in the book." So there was something to be said about the types of things that he was interested in, although, I must say that his interest was so diverse. One week it could be on the economy, the next week it could be on President or history, and the next week it could be on something completely different. So, he also was very, and we were, very keen on having a diverse group of people, which in the early days especially was tough. Because I've got to tell you, the average nonfiction author out there was a white male. And it was just not easy to find. And I think if you look at the arc of the BookNet sketch over the years, you will see an increasing amount of diversity. Whether that's because more minorities, women, different cultures were writing these books, or because we were getting better at finding them. I'm not sure what the answer to that is. But that certainly I think became true, and that was one of the things that was important. We also had to take into consideration the fact that the author was only going to be on Booknotes once in their lifetime, which may go down in history as the key thing that made Booknotes so special. Because when you've got authors out there like David Halberstam and Michelle B. Foote, and the types of people who were turning out these wonderful, best-selling books, you didn't want to try to get them when they wrote their best one, but how do you know? Exactly. There were several people such as Edmund Morris and Stephen Ambrose who come to mind, whose books that were featured on Booknotes. They were not their favorites nor their best. Oh, no, not at all. That was kind of the luck of the draw, partially because we didn't know what was going to come up, but it's also a fair assessment to say that that is one of the reasons that BookTV was born in 1988. The bottom line might be that it was born out of frustration that the Booknotes rules were the Booknotes rules, and we all agreed on them and we still agreed on them, but yet there were so many nonfiction books that were perfect for feet and viewers that weren't getting the attention that we wanted them to get. Right. Just the morning call-in show or whatever. So that's my thought on that.
Well, I'm curious, how long did it take for publishers to discover Booknotes and start lobbying?
Well, that is a question that I probably can't answer. It would probably be best answered by Sarah Traherne, who was one of the very first people who came through and worked on this show on a daily basis. By the time I came along, which would have been the Book TV time, to actually work with somebody who was booking guests, booking authors, we were pushing them away. I'm sure at the beginning it was, "What? You want them to sit how long?" That kind of thing, but that's a guess on my part.
Right. But I've done interviews with later authors who said that certain publishing houses actually set up mock Booknotes interviews.
I never heard that before. That is amazing. I did not know that.
Yeah, that was by, I think, 2003. Uh-huh. Anyway, so how did the selected authors react to your call asking them for an interview?
From all of my experience, the author themselves did not get the call from Seedban most of the time. Most of the time, during my experience, the conversation would happen between the Booknotes producer or the BookTV producer and the publicist for the book. Okay. So the initial, that would be where, I mean, we might call the author and they would say, "Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. I really want to do this. Call my publicist and schedule it." But, so it would really be the publicist who got the joy of making that call to their author, and I'm sure they loved that, to be able to tell them that they've been chosen for Booknotes.
Do you know if there were any authors who wanted to be interviewed but were not chosen, and the converse of that, did anyone refuse the invitation to be interviewed, as far as you know?
Well, were there authors who wanted to be interviewed but not chosen? Oh, yes, very much so. There was very much a lobbying to be on Booknotes, and that lobbying could come in many different forms, whether it be cold calls from the publicist to the Booknotes producer, cold calls from the author to the producer, seeing Brian Lamb at lunch at Union Station and walking up to him and saying, "I want you to do my book." So, yeah, I think that there were a lot of authors who wanted to be on but were not chosen for whatever reason. And, you know, that reason didn't really always mean a whole lot. I mean, it wasn't a reflection on the quality of the writing. It wasn't even a reflection on the subject that they'd chosen. It might just be where we were in that cycle of interviewing. You know, if there were six Abraham Lincoln books coming out that all were considered good, you can't do all of them.
Wait a minute. I thought writing an Abraham Lincoln book got you to the front of the line.
Well, there is that. He did do a lot of Lincoln books. It's true. Well, I think that was Brian's being a Hoosier. Well, and a presidential, you know, he loved presidential history. You're talking about the guy who visited every vice president's grave. Vice president's grave, he visited. So you're talking about a kind of a person who doesn't really come along very often. And so presidential politics really did get our attention. But, you know, as we continue to do more books, the topic of the book had to be something we hadn't heard already for a variety of reasons. And you don't want to keep repeating. And back to the Brian's. I've got to read this book. I want to learn something new. And the I want to learn something new was very seen as a kind of a sub. You know, to the book. Right. And from Brian's point of view, and he taught that to us as we were all young, just thinking we knew everything. But, you know, the the the ideas of that. You know, it's the book going to teach us something new, something that we haven't known. And that doesn't mean that may be just a good explanation. It might not mean something that's titillated, but something that we haven't seen before. So that would be my. Did anyone refuse the invitation to the interview? Boy, it was rare. It was rare. And the one thing that would sometimes give people pause if they weren't familiar with this note is the length. Right. So I think that's a good thing. You know, because they didn't have the opportunity to kind of do their own little two minute spiel that they had been taught by those public system publishers. Right. That's usually all the time they were given. They really had to know their stuff. And so I just personally remember the specific ones that I do remember over time that that would be something that would give pause to some authors. They really were going to be on for 15 minutes and there was no break in that 16 minutes and all 16 minutes was going to air. That sometimes was a little scary. Yeah, I imagine so.
Well, a Booknotes interview is quite simple in appearance. Black background and two people talking. Was there a reason for such a simple set and how were the interviews shot and directed?
Well, there was a reason for the simple set. And I don't think I think that that simple set design came pretty much from Brian himself, although I was not involved in those discussions as they were going on. The students were talking about that. But the key is the simplicity that you just mentioned. Not on the visual. Right. And the other key in terms of the technical side of it is that the guest face, head and shoulders, would be on the screen. I would imagine maybe some percent of the time. I mean, and that meant that they were cutaway reaction shots of Brian. Right. Brian was asking the question. There is not cutaway reaction shots of the author. And that was that was part of the plan again, because this would be as if you were sitting in the room and watching this happen. The one thing that I'm talking to them and you had a long ended author, they could stay on the screen a long time. And it didn't bother me. The long endedness may have bothered us, but the being on the screen didn't bother us because that's just the way that was our format. And the simplicity was so that the concentration was on the content and not on what was becoming even more prevalent in those days, which was, you know, every every shot had to swing and twirl. And graphics had to move up and down and sideways and all that. And so it was almost an implicit fact. Yeah, it's the television, the actual look of it was was so different than everything else that that was coming down the pike. I mean, you occasionally put up the CG of the publisher and the name of the author and Brian would hold up the book. I mean, how low tech can you get? I mean, I mean, there are there are small small town PBS stations that would not go that far. That's right. That's right. And, you know, for the most part, that's. That has continued. I mean, this book stopped. And then until I left, I was producing the kind of follow up program, which was C&A. And in my time as producing C&A, we started doing a little bit more graph, a little bit more visual to enhance. But I knew that there was a limit. Right. I was fine with that limit. But that's what in the early days of Booknotes, in fact, I would say all the days of Booknotes, you know, that's what you got. Right. And that was it.
Would you describe what goes into preparing a Booknotes interview? I mean, what types of preparations did the producers and Mr. Lamb undergo?
Well. I don't know if you've seen this yet, and you probably have, but the biggest preparation is what I've already told you is that Brian reads the book from reading the book. And this is clear for anybody who looks at George Mason's archives of Brian's book. You see all of the notes that he made, both in the marginalia and in the front and back covers of the book. And I used to love going into his office and looking at having seen even the Booknotes that I didn't work on and taking a look at what he had written down, his little notes and his little charts that he would make, because he would think something through and he'd want to walk through it. Right. And the questions he didn't get to. Oh, and the questions he didn't get to. Absolutely. Because, of course, you know, time runs out. It always ran out. In terms of the producer, when I was when I was working with Booknotes, I would I would also take a look at the book when he was going to be doing it. And many times I would just have three or four thoughts. And Brian's style of management was very, very much one on one. And so it wouldn't be I wouldn't like make an appointment and go in to see him to talk about that with Booknotes. It wasn't. It was just a hallway talk usually. Or he would step into my office and go, "Oh, you're doing so and so tomorrow." And he'd say, "Yeah." I might say something like, "I thought that section that he did on 'Sex and Sex' was interesting." Now, that may or may not move him to do, you know, questions on that section, but it might reinforce or give him a different thought. And I think that was the collaboration that most Booknotes people had, producers had with Brian in doing this. But did we ever say, "OK, your first question is..." OK, well, I have another question to follow up on that. Did either Brian or the producers ever look up the book in the New York Book of Reviews, the Los Angeles Times Review section, and see what other people had thought of the book? Yes, definitely. It was not unlikely that... Well, there were two ways of going this way. It would depend on the book, to be honest with you. Sometimes, you know, people would hand him the sheets of reviews, which he probably had already read anyway. Sometimes it was... I'm trying to remember if... You know, it's almost as if he stayed away from the reviews, because he didn't want to be... He wanted it to be fresh. Being fresh, the show being fresh was really important. And so, as much as possible, he tried to not be influenced by what other people were writing about the book. Unless he wanted to gather a theme around it. For instance, it's a conservative author writing about a conservative subject, and there's four conservatives who have lined up to write reviews against it. That would be interesting, you know, the fact that it's not the usual back and forth. So, you know, reviews were important, what other people were saying, but they weren't everything, because it was not unusual for him to have all those reviews and have read them and not go anywhere near what they talked about.
Well, would the idea that a book was controversial, would that draw Brian to it, or push him away from it?
You know, controversy never kept him away from a book. But I don't know whether it... I don't think it drew him to a book. Again, going back, I think if he wasn't going to learn anything by reading the book, and by having the book on book, being able to interview the author, just because it was controversial, it would not have made it to the finals. Again, it somewhat depends upon the timing, what the controversy was, etc. But just because it was controversial, and it was not unlikely that if he wanted to bring up a controversy, that he would wait 30, 40 minutes into the interview to even talk about it. That was not unusual. So how did the producers prepare the authors for the interview? You know, mostly it was the logistics. Okay. It was, "Here's what you gotta do. You gotta give us an hour. You gotta meet... You've seen..." Once somebody had seen Booknotes, they pretty much kind of knew that the questions were going to be a crapshoot. They might be asked, "When was the first day you sat down to write this book?" I mean, the real detail kind of stuff. Or they could be asked to comment on something about their life that was only tangentially related to the book. So it was probably the fact that the questions could go anywhere that made preparing for it by an author a little scary. Now, I'll tell you what I did experience, and that is that by the time that a book would be published, it might be six months, eight months, a year since the author laid down their pen from it, from writing it. And what would sometimes happen is that an author would be heavy into their next book. It's just like a period at the end of a sentence. They stop thinking about it after they wrote the book. And even if they'd been on book tour doing something specific, the question would be something like, "On page 92, you said that blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. What did you mean by that?" And I don't remember, if I would ask my question, how many revisions of the book did you go through? I don't remember. But what was the subject matter? "Oh, it's been so long, I don't remember." I mean, if you go back in the Booknotes Interviews, you probably find a dozen, at least, times in which authors just looked at him and said, "You know, I've lived on to my next book and I don't remember." The classic, "Did I write that?" "Did I write that?" That's right. Exactly. "Did I really say that?" Well, were there ever any Booknotes bloopers or unexplained or unplanned happenings during the tapings of the program? Yeah, there were bloopers. And my memories of them are mostly in the anniversary shows, I think. Because we went and looked for those bloopers in there because we wanted people to realize this is basically like television, folks. But yeah, the bloopers sometimes would happen behind the scenes. For instance, you might have a false start. It could be that Brian asks his first question, the author is halfway through the answer, and the director realizes that nobody pushed the record button back in the back room. Because it's not right there for him to do. He goes, "Okay, roll and record on Booknotes in studio." And then there's supposed to be a response that says, "Rolling and recording." Well, for some reason, in the fall they were all getting ready for it. The person in the back didn't hit the button. And so the director has to stop the interview. Right. Well, the director was also acting as the technical director, which in a larger situation, there would be two separate people. Right. So we hardly ever did that. Even into a much more complicated program, it wasn't until much later that we would even have anybody else switch him besides the director themselves. Yeah, so they did have a lot to do, even though it was a simple show. And it was a show that Brian felt passionate about. And so once he got started, we knew that if we had to stop the interview, it was not good. I mean, not that he would say, "Why did we have to do this later?" But you only stopped it if you absolutely had to. And that happened several times. And the interesting thing about it, and I learned almost all my interviewing techniques from Brian, is that he would never restart the interview with the same question that he had the first time. Right. Because they'd already heard the question. And so that was a big lesson for me. If you've got to start over, go in a completely different direction. Right. And start there. You can always come back to what you wanted to ask later on. And so the bloopers were the lady that cost the point where they had to stop the interview. That was way back. There was the guy who was really kind of funny, got up and crouched behind the chair. Yes. And so I wasn't around for that one, but I saw it when I was editing the anniversary tape. And I thought to myself, "As a producer, that's about the time I would have put my head into the wall or something, because that would be pretty scary." And then I'm pretty sure somebody's painted in recent years. You did have one author I interviewed had his driver couldn't get him all the way to the studio. He was stuck in traffic. And he said, "You're going to have to run for it." Oh, really? Oh, I love that. I didn't mean to do that. And he said he got to the studio and was dripping with sweat, and Brian gave him a towel and said, "Here, you can mop your face up when they cut to me when I'm asking the questions." Well, you know, this C-SPAN was not a highly technical television station. No. We were a very professional station and are a professional station. And when Brian said, you know, when we said, "Okay, the interview starts at two o'clock," Brian was on the set at 10 to 2. And if the author got there early, we started early. Wow. I mean, this was not one of those kinds of things that, "Oh, it's 15 minutes late. Oh, it's 20 minutes late." No. You know, it was a very professionally run kind of thing where you didn't play with the time much. And again, he didn't like people waiting in the green room very long. Brian never liked talking to the author before the interview, except just to say hi or introduce himself if he didn't know them. And again, this is another thing he kind of taught me in my interviewing stuff is don't spend a lot of time with the person you're going to interview before you do because it'll ruin the interview.
Let me ask about Brian. He did this for 16 years. How did he stay fresh as an interviewer?
I think he stayed fresh going back to that, "Am I learning something?" You know, by always choosing a book that kind of stirred his interest in things. And I know when you talk to him, he will talk about the fact that he didn't grow up that way. The fact that he kind of had this late metamorphosis into the importance of books and learning. And so, keeping it fresh, I think, was a lot about the subject matter for him and the subject matter. But there did come the day in which he just didn't feel that he could... The book of week was very challenging while running a network. Yeah. And I'll never forget the day he walked into my office and sat down and said, "I think we're going to end Booknotes." And I mean, my jaw just went to the floor. I said, "Really?" And he said, "Yeah, I think later this year." And it was sad but so understandable because of the amount of time that he put into reading these books. Mm-hmm. Well, one of our... Can I answer your question on that? I'm sorry? Did I answer your question? Yes, yes. I'm going to get off on to you. Yeah. No. One of our authors asked why didn't he keep it going with a different host? Well, that certainly came up as a possibility but the program would have been a different program. Yeah. Without Brian. I mean, even though many of us other people who interviewed on a regular basis for C-SPAN could have stepped in there and done those interviews, it would have been the same program. Mm. It would not have been the same program because his way of interviewing is camp. Right. You know, it comes from him and so we learned the rest of it was kind of the trick of his trade, you know, and the kinds of things he would do. We would try to emulate good interviews. Right. I just don't think that it would have been the same program. But it was interesting what the uproar that happened at the end. It was just -- I don't think he even realized what kind -- I know he didn't realize what kind of uproar there would be from viewers when the decision came and authors. Right. I mean, the authors -- At the time, Book TV was pretty established. Right. So there was another place to take your longer format interviews. Right. And I don't know if it was the raw Mark Sondheim, but there was -- but after Book TV had been around for a while, they started the program within the TV -- oh, my dear, I forgot the name of the program. I can't believe it. I was there. In which we would bring in somebody else to interview an author. So, you know, that was another opportunity for authors. But it wasn't the same, right. Was it -- did the show differ in quality or were the ratings not as good? I mean, was there a difference in ratings? Oh, no. The other programs could have gone on for another ten years. Okay. Oh, I guess that would make it bigger now, wouldn't it? But that would be -- yeah, I think that would be going on. It's the chemistry that came between the author and Brian. The fact that he would ask the questions and get out of the way. Right. You know, the author, I believe, an author would be able to be more comfortable sitting for an hour, even though they realized it was a long interview. There was a sense that they could relax a little bit because they didn't have to feel that they weren't going to be able to say something they wanted to say. Right. The idea being that you have an hour, you will have an opportunity to do everything you want, and I'll be asking questions and that kind of thing. Now, that doesn't mean that it was a -- that he rolled over and made good. I wouldn't stress to the imagination not. If you go back and look at some of the interviews and you follow the arc of his interviews, which sometimes wasn't an arc. It was more of a flat line. But, you know, he would sometimes do the circle. I would once -- he would end up at the same place he started at the beginning on the same kind of an area, and he would go back, he would revisit things. He thought he had finished the things, but then he would think of something and bring it back in later. And that's why it was really more of a conversation than an interview. Right. You know, because in conversations, you know, you talk about something and then you talk about something else, and you go back and talk about the first thing again. And that was really more what it was than it was this kind of linear interviewing technique. Well, did you as an interviewer -- I'm sorry, as a producer sitting in the control room, did you ever say, "Oh, come on, ask him about X"? Oh, sure. Okay. I said, "Yes, I would do that. I would do that." But, you know, after being with him over all those years, I knew he would get there in the same time. And it was always kind of interesting to watch that process because sometimes it would -- you know, the proper question would come earlier. Sometimes they would come later. Sometimes he would bring them in through a completely different topic. But because, you know, look, these questions are the questions that these people were being asked, the quote-unquote controversial questions. Those are the ones that were being asked on every other network. So are we going to talk about them yet? Are we going to talk about them in the same way? No, because that's what made us different. Yeah. That's what made it worse people giving up their hour of their time so that they could really get into a subject was because they weren't going to hear the same thing that they heard on the morning show and say an obvious other person. So I'd like to know what did the producer do after the interview had concluded to prepare it for the air, and was there any rules that you had to follow in terms of scheduling? Instead of scheduling, no. Brian was involved in the schedule. Usually the producer would say, "Okay, I'll do this for this day and this for this day." And these are the reasons why. Right. In my part, Brian likes scheduling the interviews in order that he did them. Okay. An interview would not be held back for six months or something like that. That never happened, to my knowledge. It didn't. He likes to do them just as we did them. Now, every once in a while, something would happen that would break that up. And that could mean that there was an anniversary of which this is the main topic. You want to give it to people at a time that they are most interested in it. Or it could be that we got the... It's a big book, and we got the interview very early in the book tour. So there wasn't a fight to be out there first. But if you had it, you didn't want to let all of the other shows be aired in their interviews and we wait two weeks before we arrive. But I've got to tell you, that happens sometimes. It did happen sometimes. And there would be times I would sit back and go, "I couldn't have you didn't air that earlier because our interview looked so much better." In retrospect, it was because it was so much more in depth or brought in different things than the other ones. So the rules for scheduling were to do it in order that it was done great. You know, if time was going to be gone, we would record programs in advance before he would leave so that he could be gone on a trip. Usually it was a business trip, but it would be gone. And we always did them for the most part in the studio. And the producer afterwards would be responsible for just a series of things. Working with an editor, I'm putting what we call "text and tail," which is just preparing it so that it's going to air okay. At one point in time, we made the decision to burn the graphics, meaning the person's name and the name of the book, onto the video versus it being added live as the video was going out. So that would have to be done in editing. You know, the typing of the graphics, giving the information out to all the people who are necessary within the company and outside the company, that that is the book that's been selected for that week and what the book is about, and who the author is that passed the claim. And when our time went on again, there would be some work probably when we became more responsible for actually putting the video up on the website, that kind of thing.
So not every Booknotes interview was conducted in the C-SPAN studio in Washington. Where else were interviews conducted, and what were those logistics like?
Well, if there was ever an opportunity, if we had our choice, we did it in the studio. Right. If it was the only way that we could get the author and we really wanted to do a book, we would consider going out for it. So I think if you would start, I'd be surprised if, I don't know, 85 percent, if I had to make a guess, or more, weren't done in the studio. The logistics of doing it outside the studio were twofold, really. One is to try to develop as simple a background, although not a black screen, as we did, so that, again, it did not interfere with the topic. Right. That would be one. And two, who's going to direct this program? Because you can't go, we couldn't go out, for the most part, and hire a production crew to shoot this. Right. They don't shoot the way we do. And the way it's shot was important to the show. So most of the time, if we did do something in the field, a Booknotes director would be out, or somebody who knew the Booknotes style, would be out directing it to keep the same feel for the program. Sometimes, and in fact, I would say that that is probably one of the reasons why, when we got a studio in New York, to be able to do more things with New York guests out of Pace University. I don't know if they still have it today. But we didn't hire a crew up there. We set it up so that we could direct it from Washington. Oh my. Yeah. So that's the importance of keeping our own people involved there, and having it directed from Washington through the modern technology, which we had at that point in time. Yeah. So if I could ask about the technical aspect, just very, very briefly. So you had, as normal, three cameras set up, and then you just took the feed from each camera live, and then switched it in your Washington facilities? Yep. Wow. That's what they would do. Sure. I don't, yeah, no, they didn't have any switchers up in New York. Right. I'm almost positive. That would be a great breath, breath, betzel question if you're talking to him during this series. Okay. Because he would have been, he was and still is, very involved in that kind of thing. But my understanding was that you would, that that's the way it would work. Okay. Very good. That takes a satellite feed or, you know, a very wide bandwidth telephone feed to do that. Right. Yeah. It's a lot easier now than it was 10 years ago. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, sometimes if, let's say, I don't think this was for Booknotes, to be honest with you, I think it was after Booknotes. But for more like Q&A. Right. Let's say we were going to England and he would, you know, we would talk about, we would do a series of shows and we would do everything over there. And then air them each Sunday night, you know, different aspects. But I can, to be honest with you, I don't think that was Booknotes. I think that was Q&A. Okay. Well, I'd like to know what you learned about authors and the book world while producing Booknotes. Um, a lot. Just a lot. You came from, did you come from a video background? It changed my life. And what happened was that even though I had done the anniversary programs, I was over as the executive producer of the morning show, Washington Journal. And this was early 1998, I think. Yeah, early 1998. And they asked me if I wanted to, if I would go over and get book TV on the air from scratch. And I said, yes, but I'll only go for a year and I want to come back to Washington Journal because I don't read nonfiction books. That was my answer. It was true. And a year later, I begged them to let me stay. That year of working on Booknotes and book TV, I just became a nonfiction reader, and I am to this day. It was this burst of information about how this book world worked in addition to the great stories that were being written about and the books themselves. Learned a lot. And it's become even more complicated since then in terms of how difficult it is for a book to get noticed. If you're not already an established author. How the many different venues, including web interviews and all these things are being used by the book publishing company. The fact that the tour that authors would traditionally go on is becoming shorter and shorter and shorter because everything can be done technically and not wear the authors out. But that's really the opposite of what Booknotes was, which was Booknotes was a very intimate one-on-one interview. You don't get that if you're not in the same room. What do you think the demise of the corner bookstore has done for this institution of the book tour? Well, I know that there are a lot of local bookstores that have closed. I don't know whether that's had anything to do with changing. I think that it's cheaper for publicists to do it the other way around. It's easier for authors, and so they do it. I'm not sure that the corner bookstore is necessarily on the demise because authors aren't going there anymore. That's just my take on it. I'd like to know what was your most memorable Booknotes experience or author's? Wow. You know, one of them, and I didn't produce this, but I was there when it happened and unused it and worked with it in the anniversary shows, was... I'm trying to remember his name. That's how memorable it was. It was the guy who wrote the book about Vietnam who lost his legs there, and he was the son of a general. No, it wasn't Frederick Downs. No, it wasn't Fred Downs. Fred Downs lost his left arm. Right. No, this is a guy who was in a wheelchair. I'm going to be able to find this. Unfortunately, I don't have my paperwork with me, so I couldn't look him up. There's 800 authors. Yeah, I know. It's never very easy. I can see him. He was the son of a general. He fought in Vietnam and lost both legs and, I think, an arm, and he wrote this memoir. One of the reasons why it became such a memorable experience was, well, first of all, was because of his really open honesty about the emotional side of dealing with being in the Vietnam War and the loss of everything and having the father who's the general. I thought that story myself was particularly engaging, but at my time at C-SPAN later, we found out that he had taken his life. There was this sense that that was an interview that was very revealing of the troubled life that he led and how sad that was. Another one I guess I really liked, and I didn't produce this one, but I was there when it happened, Bob Timberg. This was also a Vietnam story. The fact that his face had been so completely disfigured, and yet he was willing to sit on the book note set for an hour and talk about this book and his experiences. I was taken by that. I was really taken by that. So, you know, I have a tendency to like certain programs that are not necessarily favorites in terms of the ones that made any big splash, but the ones that just touched me, and those were two that really touched me. I'll tell you, I was actually also very touched, but not in the same way, by Iris Chang, who wrote The Rape of Man King. She talked about these years of research that she did in a really, really horrific story. And then, you know, she was so young and so beautiful, and then at age 36 she committed suicide. And so we're all looking and going, "Wow, you wonder what causes people to do things in their life. What impact did that book have on all of this?" Maybe nothing, but it sure makes you think. Yeah. Hmm. Well, in your estimation, what has been the lasting impact of Booknotes back when it was originally aired and in subsequent times? Well, I guess the subsequent times means more to me. When they were actually airing, I think that they were different. I think that it was very interesting to watch, but I'll tell you, the fact... I mean, one of the things that we definitely wanted to include in Book TV every weekend was one on core Booknotes, and there was a reason for that. And the reason is to be able to look back at what somebody was saying at a certain time and realize how either wrong they were or right they were or how what they said had come to pass, that kind of thing. I find that very intriguing. So for me, I love... I think that the lasting impact of Booknotes is really...is more of the looking back. It's the ability to get inside an author's head, an author whose name will stay in our history books, and that doesn't mean historian. I mean, Brokaw, Jennings, Cronkite, Brinkley, they were all on Booknotes. Right. They were? Yeah. And so you got this sense of these people who had a really large impact on how people saw the world. And then in the historian's area, you kind of go back to the Halberstam's and the Shelby Foote, these people... Shelby Foote lived a long life, but David Halberstam was taken too early, and Stephen Ambrose was also gone and had been so popular. Those things, I think, in retrospect, especially the part...well, especially two things. One, the way they told their story, because that's something that only television or audio is really...that's the only place you're going to get that. You can't read how they feel about the story. Right. And secondly, it was all the ancillary things that Brian would ask them about that were so important. You know, where did you write? When did you write? How did you write? The idea that George Will, for so many years, did not use a computer, but used a pen and a yellow pad. Right. He has since gone to a computer, in which he just talked to Brian about very recently on Q&A that he had gone to. But you think about that kind of thing. Those kinds of things, in retrospect, I think are things that people are not going to find anywhere else. Right. And then, the other thing that touches me is that there are authors who may still have made a national name for themselves without Booknotes. But Booknotes is where they got there to start, and the big one is Doug Brinkley. Yes. Yes, the Majic Bus. I'm sure that Doug Brinkley looks back today and wonders why Brian Lamb thought his Booknotes book on the Majic Bus of taking kids around the country would be a good Booknotes. I'm sure that there were some eyes across when that was chosen. But Doug went on from there and looked at him today. Oh, yeah. Nixon book is out. We have interviewed him in a lot of different places, and he's right up there. He's a big-time historian. Yeah, he's extraordinarily well-respected in our field. Yeah. Yeah. And if you look at his Booknotes, you see how young he was. It's probably the longest interview he had ever done with anybody. Oh. I'm sure you'll hear the story at some point in time, but that Booknotes interview was the cause of Brian starting the Defense School Bus. Yeah. Brian did the interview with Doug Brinkley about the Majic Bus, which was Doug Brinkley taking his students all around the country and visiting historical sites instead of talking about them in the classroom. Right. Afterwards, Brian says, "We've got to have a bus." Well, we do. And the Defense School Bus was started. And ever since then, we've had two buses out, either at the school bus visiting schools. They were Book TV buses for a while visiting libraries and bookstores. On presidential years, there were always presidential school buses going out. So the impact of Booknotes really went a long way there.
Well, I have come to the end of my scripted question, save for one. And that is, is there anything that you would like to add regarding Booknotes, C-SPAN or Brian Lamb?
Hope you have a lot of tape. No, I won't go into that. I mean, I think that Booknotes was popular because for a variety of reasons, but maybe one of the most important ones is that it took on the belief that Americans wouldn't watch television unless it was a short, splashy kind of thing. It took it on head to head and said, "It's not true. You can have an interesting interview that's one hour long that can keep your attention, and you're not going to like every book." But it really took on that idea at that time that TV was only for the two-minute sound bite. Right. And that meant a lot. I mean, I think that is something that I'm very proud of. What else? I guess I always appreciated when we went off onto some tangents outside of the book itself. The types of things that made that show different and unusual. I'm hoping that it did something to help people, keep people interested in nonfiction books. I believe it did, but I'm pretty close to it. It's a little hard to know.
Well, that's the end of our questions. I want to formally thank Connie Debly for her time and your insights into the Booknotes program. Thank you so much.
You're very welcome. Thank you. I love thinking about this stuff again.