The power of Skype and the peril of using it for live interviews from home were memorialized in March 2017 by political analyst Robert Kelly. Mr. Kelly appeared on BBC News from his home office to talk about South Korean politics. But during the interview his 4-year-old daughter and 9-month-old son sneaked up behind him, in full view of the camera. Mr. Kelly tried to push his daughter aside, turning pale as his wife finally yanked the kids out and then crawled back to close the office door. The video has been viewed more than 35 million times. Mr. Kelly is now known best as “BBC Dad.”
Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, Skype, Zoom and other services are providing glimpses into the homes of celebrities and newsmakers.
So far nothing surpasses Mr. Kelly’s experience, though former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger drew attention with a recent video in which he sits at his dining table feeding a donkey and miniature pony. He has a nifty collection of German beer steins on a shelf in the background.
John Legend sings and plays piano from home, streaming over Instagram. He’s won 10 Grammy Awards, and in case you didn’t know, they’re prominently displayed on a shelf behind him. Another Grammy winner, Melissa Etheridge, has been live-streaming concerts over Facebook from her den, its walls decked with posters from her concerts and albums.
Some journalists Skyping in front of a bookcase slyly turn one book—their own—so the cover faces the camera, as Peter Baker of the New York Times did on MSNBC. Others want to convey basic literacy: “I surveyed the entire house for books to make sure the bookshelf was full enough for TV,” CNN media reporter Brian Stelter tells me via email.
Mr. Stelter and his wife, Jamie, a host on local news station NY1, have converted a corner of a bedroom into a home studio, allowing their daughter, Sunny, to select a family photo that appears in the background. “My first live shot on CNN was a bit of a mess,” Mr. Stelter notes, with Sunny heard crying as she pounded on the locked door.
Journalist and historian Walter Isaacson Skypes from what appears to be a front hall lit by a massive chandelier. Katie Couric calls from her living room, where we see at least three area rugs. CNN political reporter Gloria Borger positions herself in front of a painting of a barn in winter.
The communications director for President Trump’s 2020 campaign, Tim Murtaugh, does Skype interviews from a dark nook in his house, surrounded by sports photographs. The one over his left shoulder is a beaut, showing his dad, Danny, a two-time World Series winner as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Jimmy Fallon is getting millions of YouTube views with a “Home Edition” featuring a private wonderland complete with a full-size carnival popcorn machine and an indoor slide from the second floor to the first. Conan O’Brien plans to return to the airwaves March 30, via iPhone and Skype. “The quality of my work will not go down because technically that’s not possible,” he quipped.
Mr. Stelter’s advice to Skyping newsmakers: “An adjustable-height desk is valuable for a home studio setup, because it allows you to get the camera at the right level.”
To that I’d add: Even seated behind your adjustable desk, when Skyping on national TV it’s probably best to keep your pants on.
Mr. Funt is a writer and host of “Candid Camera.”
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