Green rooms Some are more equal than others

Since ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” began airing in 2003, the late-night chat show has gained as much of a reputation for its backstage parties as for what happens on camera. Complete with a full bar, a catered spread, plasma TVs and a billiard table, the green room at the L.A. soundstage turns away even A-listers who clamor to get on the guest list.

Which proves, once again, that Washington is but a poor man’s Hollywood. Despite the surplus of political chat shows based here, guests-in-waiting are often grateful for nothing more than a cup of water, a stale bagel and some quick small talk with the other guests.

When asked about his favorite green room, Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) was quick to bring up the now-defunct “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher” on ABC — another L.A.-based show. Kingston recalled seeing “genuine stars” such as Eric McCormack from “Will & Grace” along with “Hollywood has-beens” such as Marion Ross (Mrs. Cunningham from “Happy Days”) in the green room.

“They had good food, fresh fruit and little wraps that were cut in half, you know, Hollywoodish, California-type stuff,” he said.

On evening shows in D.C., however, it’s rare that political guests recall much of anything.

No matter where you go, “the one basic constant is that it ain’t green,” said Rep J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.).

“Two of the three [cable news networks] have these Star Trek coffee machines where you can get all these variations of coffee,” he said. “The other has a fairly well-stocked fridge.”

Some network spokespeople hesitated or outright refused to catalog the amenities of their green rooms. About half of the main broadcast and cable networks answered The Hill’s questions about the perks they offer their guests. All said they provided car service for guests upon request. All the green rooms have a live feed of the show and at least some beverages available. Beyond that, things differ quite a bit.

CNBC offers guests food from its cafeteria. CNN has an array of soft drinks, but “during times when there are a number of guests in the green room, we provide bagels, muffins and fruit,” said a spokeswoman. MSNBC, its guests said, has no food whatsoever, although the news network did not return calls seeking comment.

Unfortunately, no members of Congress could confirm the differences among the various green rooms. For them, the rooms, green or not, blend together from one show to the next. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.) could only recall a hot-chocolate machine at CNN and a “small coffee machine” at MSNBC. “There’s nothing to remember,” he said.

Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.) added, “There’s not much food in any of the green rooms, just soft drinks. Of course, I’m not a committee chair.”

Ahh, so an element of seniority is at work here. Hayworth helpfully pointed out that the green rooms he’s accustomed to are sparse because he’s “one of the cable guys, the not-ready-for-Sunday crowd.”

Indeed, on Sunday morning, it’s a different story, not just because the guests are more noteworthy but because of the ungodly hour that most do their taping — between 8 and 10 a.m. on a day when most people sleep in. “If you want people to come in at 8:15, you need to take care of them,” ABC spokeswoman Emily Lenzner said.

She said “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” provides coffee, tea, pastries and an on-site cook for “hot stuff.”

“We’re known for having the best green room,” she boasted. On “Meet the Press,” the reigning champ of the Sunday-morning sweeps, it’s pastry, coffee and juice, although shrimp and sandwiches aren’t unusual as added bonuses for guests who stick around after the taping (most don’t). As for hot food, “We prefer to have our grilling on the set,” producer Betsy Fischer said.

Fox News is sparse in the food department but offers hot and cold beverages as well as a makeup artist for guests before their appearances. “What we offer is a younger audience and a replay on cable with nearly a million viewers and an interview with Chris Wallace,” said Paul Schur, a spokesman for Fox News. “When the vice president comes in for an interview, he’s not interested in Spanish omelets. He’s interested in the interview.”

Alissa Rooney, a spokeswoman for CNN, said its green room remains constant from its normal daily programming to Sunday morning, although “if we have special, long-form programming, such as Inauguration Day coverage, we will offer warm food in the green room,” she added.

In fact, green rooms at special events are laden with the most perks — particularly if they’re run by your people. “The green room at the [Republican] convention was maybe the best,” Kingston said.

Situated right outside the stage, the GOP green room provided upcoming speakers with food, a speech coach, a practice teleprompter, even a wardrobe consultant.

But regardless of the quality, Kingston said, most guests pass up the food. “I don’t think many people eat food in green rooms,” he said. “You don’t want to endanger yourself with salsa on the tie.”

Besides, you’re too busy trying to keep your facts straight before you go on air to worry about eating.

The other pitfall of the green room, Kingston said, is the potential for awkwardness. After all, you’re often sitting next to a guy whose job it is in a matter of moments “to rip your throat out in a debate” — and your job to rip his out.
He said a couple of his opponents-in-waiting were able to soften him up through clever use of their parents. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) had both his parents in the green room with himself and Kingston once, while Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) once warned him, “My mom will be watching.”

Food or not, Feeney praised the production staffs of the shows on which he has appeared.

“They’re always really good to you,” Feeney said. “My collar was flipping up, they got me some tape under the collar.”

And when the second-term Floridian spends too long in the sun, they help him “polish [his] nose.”

All of the shows’ spokespeople who spoke to The Hill said pre-camera makeup was wholly optional, although most said it is “encouraged.”
That is advice that most pols, not just Feeney, apparently take to heart. “I was told I had a face for radio so many times in my [broadcast] days,” said Hayworth, a former radio host. “I get this industrial-strength makeup.”

As for Kingston, it sounds as if he’d ask for it regardless of how it made him look. “At the end of a day on a Wednesday or Thursday, that makeup is the best face massage,” he said. “You’re about to fall asleep.”