LOS ANGELES – Under normal circumstances, I might be fortunate enough to chase down just one of these stories in a year. Instead, it turns out all the stars lined up for an outrageous work trip in California.
My original intent was to fly to Los Angeles for a behind-the-scenes story with a friend of mine. Brendon Fehily used to work with me as a news reporter in Billings. Roughly 15 years later, he’s now a writer for NCIS, one of CBS’s most popular shows. They were shooting Brendan’s latest episode over the last week and a half outside L.A.
When the trip was approved on his end and mine, I started charging through homework on other local features in L.A. that might lend themselves to fun storytelling. Knock out a few birds with one stone.
As fate would have it, the Lakers were playing LeBron and the Cavs while I was in town. The Lakers, of course, took former Wyoming Cowboys star Larry Nance, Jr. three years ago in Round 1 of the NBA Draft. Then they traded him to the Cavs a month ago.
I contacted the Lakers (home team etiquette) requesting credentials. They referred me to the Cavs, who wanted to know my reason for the Nance feature. They liked it. They approved it.
I landed in LA last Sunday at 2:30 p.m. with tip-off slated for 6 p.m. Rocketing from LAX to Staples Center, I knocked out pre-game interviews with Lakers (and former Nance teammates) Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, recalling, among other things, their favorite Nance dunk (it had to do with Kevin Durant). L.A. wins the game by double digits. Afterward in Cleveland’s locker room media scrum, Nance wasn’t real talkative but seemed to appreciate being asked about his Cowboys. It was actually three years to the day after Nance and his Cowboys were invited to the NCAA Tournament — a rarity at UW — on Selection SundaY.
Meantime, approximately an hour away, the MSU-Billings basketball women were turning heads on one of their hottest postseason runs ever. The Yellowjackets had won their first two games at the NCAA II West Regional outside L.A. after winning the conference tournament in Alaska. That meant they’d play Monday night for a Sweet 16 title. I drove over Monday morning to meet them for shoot-around, take a few pictures and shoot a few interviews.
My intent was to hang around, but I had set up a shoot at the Late Late Show with James Corden. His sidekick Reggie Watts grew up in Great Falls. What are the odds??
Just to set up this shoot I engaged in more than 30 emails with Reggie’s agent, his publicist and a Late Late Show publicist. The plan was to squeeze in Reggie’s interview between MSUB’s workout and that night’s title game. But while I was at shoot-around at Azusa Pacific, CBS emailed again announcing on short notice that they had changed the recording time for that night’s show. That changed my window to interview Reggie.
Back in the rental car, I leave MSUB’s workout and drive a little over an hour away to Television City. The CBS publicist invited me to watch the Late Late Show in the green room just a few steps from the guest dressing rooms. Unexpectedly, Reggie sauntered out to greet me a few minutes before the show, clad in a black shirt with white Montana lettering across the chest. Represent! Then after the show he reappeared for our interview and sat down with me for a half hour in the green room.
But, out the window was my chance to cover MSUB’s regional title game.
On the on the bright side, Brendan’s wife Joy is a publicist. She managed last-minute tickets for us to the Hollywood premier of Tomb Raider (the latest Lara Croft movie). So there we were, on a whim, standing near the red carpet, which was actually black, of a $94 million production with the cast, agents, publicists, producers and directors. After entering through high security and metal detectors, the private IMAX screening lasted a couple hours inside the historic Mann’s Chinese Theater.
As we exit, I check on the Yellowjacket basketball update. It turns out they win an epic 71-70 thriller over rival Alaska Anchorage — a team they hadn’t beaten in years — for the regional championship. MSUB’s dance would continue with a rare trip to the Elite Eight (just the program’s second).
As they celebrate, Brendan, Joy and I have tickets to the Tomb Raider after party merely seven blocks away at the trendy restaurant Tao. We literally walk Hollywood’s Walk of Stars to get there. As with the premier, security is air tight. Inside, everything’s on the house, including excellent Chinese food.
Tuesday brought a bit of reprieve. Sort of a day the beach. Sort of. Truth is, I actually spent the day — albeit at the beach — starting to piece together these stories.
Wednesday I was on set with Brendan at NCIS. He’d spent the last two months writing and tweaking his script for what will be the show’s 350th episode. It’s one of his favorite titles, ‘Sight Unseen,’ featuring a blind woman witnessing a crime. In its infancy, Brendan’s script starts as a what he calls a ‘germ’ on a large whiteboard in his office, then evolves into a full-blown network TV production.
Three months worth of writing, shooting, tweaking and executive approval eventually culminate in a single, 42-minute episode set to air Tuesday, April 17, on CBS. But that’s still a month out.
Thursday morning I’m back on a plane to Billings sorting through the most outrageously entertaining work week of my career. And the TV stories to come.