#27: DAVE HERMAN - “An NBC page.”
When I arrive at 30 Rockefeller Center, Dave Herman is waiting for me downstairs. He’s a tall guy with a neat, buzzed haircut and a friendly but serious expression.
Immediately, he wants to give me a tour, so we walk around the picturesque ice-skating rink outside and past the NBC Experience store. I tell him the last time I visited 30 Rock was as a high school senior with my parents. I remember looking up at the buildings and knowing that integral shows to my young life were being written in there - namely, ‘Saturday Night Live’ which had fascinated me ever since I first started watching during the Will Ferrell/Cheri Oteri era. (I’m a young’en.)
I watch a lot of TV shows yet I don’t necessarily love television, but Dave does. The big reason, truthfully, why I put an NBC page on the 100 Interviews list is probably based on the whimsical portrayal of one by Jack McBrayer as “Kenneth the Page” on NBC’s Tina Fey-helmed ‘30 Rock.’ Kenneth is rarely shown out of his page uniform, a gray jacket adorned with NBC buttons and flair. A good example is the quote: “There are only two things I love in this world: Everybody and television,” which Dave actually says to me during the interview.
Before ‘30 Rock’ premiered in 2006, I had no idea the NBC page program existed. Created in 1933, the page program is a prestigious paid work opportunity where young people are given assignments at NBC over the course of a year. Dave tells me that out of the 7,000 applications NBC receives each year, the network only takes 60 new pages. That’s less than 1 percent of applications. Pages are paid a “livable wage” and when I ask for specifics Dave says, “I shouldn’t tell you” because he feels people who want to be pages shouldn’t take pay into account and also, he’s worried about making NBC look less than favorable.
Pages are given their assignments twelve weeks in. Dave works right now as the Saturday tour coordinator and hands out stand-by tickets for ‘SNL.’
Other pages lead tours, handle ‘SNL’ on show days, answer phones and book tickets for ‘Late Night with Jimmy Fallon’ or ‘Dr. Oz.’ Both show’s tickets are easy to get (my parents secured some for ‘Fallon’ for next month) but Dave admits he’s used them to show off before.
“I wanted to get a girl tickets so I told her to call and say my name,” he laughs, “but anyone can do that.”
Dave works during the week but his specific assignment is just on Saturdays. Still, he’s traded shifts to be able to work on ‘SNL’ for two episodes — the one’s hosted by Jim Carrey and Dana Carvey. “The two best!” he says before cheering, “Wooo!”
Dave is very enthusiastic. One thing that stands out is that he remembers exact dates, constantly referring to the day something happened with unusual precision. He shows me photos of the page office on his iPhone and his page ID and his jacket, which he asks a few times if I want him to wear during the interview. He seems more concerned than I’ve ever been about making the conditions of this interview perfect - for example, he’s been on hold for this project for months because he didn’t want to be interviewed until he knew if his assignment was cool. Dave’s at 30 Rock on this Saturday, after work, because he often stays from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. so he can watch the ‘SNL’ dress rehearsal monitor.
Dave is 25 years old and from Tom’s River, NJ (the same hometown of abortion protester Sarina, a high school friend who Dave actually got me in touch with). Dave went to the College of New Jersey, majored in film and television and aspires to be a digital video producer, though he wouldn’t say ‘no’ to becoming a performer.
It’s easy to see why the NBC page program accepted him. He’s delightfully energetic, leaning forward and slapping his hands on the table in front of us to make a point. He tells me he believes he has “a good personality,” which is a funny and honest thing to say about yourself. Despite what seems like boundless confidence, Dave is also pretty worried about what I’ll write about him. He mentions five or six times that he knows I tend to psychoanalyze my subjects and jokes that I’m going to make him seem crazy.
When I ask, he tells me he always knew he wanted to be involved in television in some way.
“But NBC had a special draw,” Dave says. As a teenager, he remembers his dad loved ‘Seinfeld,’ but Dave’s two favorite shows were ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway?’
Dave started watching ‘SNL’ in 1998 after seeing the kid’s movie ‘Small Soldiers’ with legendary cast member Phil Hartman. Dave loved his performance and his friend told him Hartman had just been killed. Wanting to know more, Dave started watching the show. His first episode was a “Best of Steve Martin,” which Dave thought was amazing.
When he was 13 years old, Dave created a show for local cable access that he wanted to call ‘Friday Evening Live’ and he started unsuccessfully pitching sketches to NBC. Eventually he cleverly, and knowingly, titled his show, “Nothing Good.” His goal was to shoot it as a local show and audition his friends.
“I was more passionate about it than my friends,” he laughs sheepishly, but the show got as far as a plywood set built in friend’s garage.
As a college student in 2005, Dave heard about a ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’ spin-off starring beloved correspondent Stephen Colbert. At the time, it wasn’t a given that ‘The Colbert Report’ would succeed; people were unsure if ‘The Daily Show’ really needed a spin-off.
“I saw the ‘Colbert Report’ ads and I thought, ‘This show is going to be huge,’” Dave says. “I got tickets to the ninth taping of the show ever,” he says, pausing, “It was on October 31. That’s how I spent Halloween.”
At the show, Dave talked to the ‘Colbert’ interns about how he, too, could become an intern for the show. They said ‘Colbert’ had a six-week run and if it got renewed, he could send a resume to the studio.
Dave leaps forward, looking incredulous, “I was like, ‘IF?!’ Come on!”
In 2006, Dave mailed in a physical resume to ‘Colbert’ because he figured not many people do so through physical mail when the studio must get hundreds of electronic resumes. (“It shows extra effort,” he says.) He was studying abroad in Sydney, Australia and so he did a phone interview with a woman named Kate Sunbury, who kept asking if she’d met him before. Dave said she hadn’t, when most interns had done in-person interviews, but he says excitement was “bursting out of [his] voice.”
That interview took place on November 8 and Dave started at ‘Colbert’ as a college intern that spring. As he sat at his desk on his first day, Kate walked in and stared at him. “Have I met you before?” she asked. Dave said she hadn’t but that he was the intern she’d hired.
“Did she confuse me with someone she meant to hire?” Dave laughs, really selling the his own reaction to the confusing story, “I still don’t know!”
Three years later, in 2009, I’d start working as a summer intern for ‘The Daily Show.’ While there, I got to see a taping of the show only once and met Jon Stewart briefly. Dave says comparatively, during his time at ‘Colbert,’ the show’s title man would frequently hang around the office. It’s a bit unnerving to hear considering Stephen Colbert is #25 on the 100 Interviews list.
I wistfully imagine a scenario where I’d see Mr. Colbert every day in the office kitchen or be able to knock on his door to do the interview. For some reason, this week has been a clusterfuck of Colbert near-misses. My friend Ilana saw him in the Chicago Second City box office for ten minutes. My friend Julia texted me that her vocal coach also teaches Colbert and she’d just missed him at the studio. My friends Keith and Mary and another random fan of the blog named Kara all know friends of Colbert’s or former interns who might be able to get me in touch. Might.
Another weird, but less important coincidence is that Dave’s last name is Herman. My “someone who has saved a life” interview was called Dave Berman. They don’t know each other, but earlier that day, my friend Melissa told me Berman had had surgery the day after our interview and had told her seeing the finished piece had boosted his spirits. That’s on my mind too, during Dave Herman’s interview.
In 2007, Dave applied to be a page with NBC Unique Careers but he didn’t hear back. He was discouraged, believing in order to become a page you had to get it straight out of college. He thought his time at ‘Colbert’ would help him get noticed, but Dave knew that beyond that he didn’t have any inside connections at NBC.
When it came to wanting to be a page, Dave knew the pay was low. (Later, when he shows me a photo of their office on his iPhone, I see their wage, $10 an hour, written on a white board. Sorry, Dave!)
From October 2007 to May 2008, Dave worked as a page at the ‘Late Show with David Letterman.’ He was also a production assistant on ‘Iron Chef America,’ ‘Warrior Poets with Morgan Spurlock’ and TLC’s most fascinatingly grating reality show ‘Toddlers and Tiaras.’
None of those jobs paid well either so Dave also worked as a waiter at the Applebee’s in Tom’s River and at the Bubba Gump Shrimp in Times Square. He’s delighted when he asks where I thought he worked and I guessed Applebee’s, as a silly example of a shitty job.
Two years later, in 2009, Dave had almost completely forgotten about the page program when he randomly got an e-mail from NBC saying his resume was in their system. The email asked if he’d come in for an internship fair. From that initial internship, Dave now had his “in” to apply to the page program.
“Isn’t that crazy?” Dave says, sounding nearly reverent. “I still don’t know how this happened. Fate? I don’t want to say ‘fate,’ but I can say maybe, ‘God,’” he pauses, “I believe in God.”
Dave also felt a bit too old to be in the page program. Though Kenneth on ‘30 Rock’ is part of a running joke about being way older than he looks, actual pages are around 21 years old.
“I have to,” Dave says was his first thought after getting the email. “In my head, I thought that if I don’t do this I’ll die.”
Meanwhile, his friends were getting real jobs and their parents were giving Dave unsolicited advice on how to have a normal career path. Countless people told him to give up on working in television.
“I am so glad I didn’t listen to other people’s advice,” he says. “It’s NBC, you know? What am I doing now? Serving spinach dip to teenagers.”
His fears about being too old for the program were assuaged when another page told him he’d driven the Oscar Meyer wiener mobile for a year after college.
“I actually thought, ‘This is a possibility. This is amazing,’” he says, again leaning forward excitedly. He then sits back and smiles.
“What?” I ask.
“It just gets me remembering how happy I am to be a page,” he says, not in the least bit embarrassed about his enthusiasm.
But becoming a page wasn’t as easy as getting that e-mail. Potential pages are put through a three-step process. First, you must send a resume in to the NBC page program at 30 Rockefeller Center. Then, you’ll get a call from an intern or internship coordinator with basic interview questions about why you want to be a page and what you know about NBC.
Then, there’s a second phone interview or a one-on-one in-person interview with a different person before your third interview, which happens in three parts. (Still following?)
In the last part, twelve potential pages are brought in at once to a conference room in 30 Rock to sit before a four-person panel. All twelve are asked to answer a general question in front of everyone. Then, everyone goes out of the room and the interviewees are called in individually.
“Ooooh, it’s like you’re on ‘The Apprentice’ or something,” Dave says. “Or ‘American Idol’,” he pauses. “Actually say that I said, ‘The Apprentice,’ since that’s on NBC.”
The panel then gauges the potential pages excitement and knowledge. Are you ambitious and outgoing? Do you have the desire and experience to work in the TV business?
“In front of four people, they make sure you can hold your own,” Dave says. “Especially because of ‘30 Rock,’ people fly from Australia, California, all over just to apply.”
Everyone is called back in and asked to give a two minute presentation or interactive speech about why they want to be a page. You can do anything from sing a made-up song to a visual presentation.
“It’s pretty intense,” Dave says. “I memorized a speech.”
“How did you feel it went?” I ask.
“I was a little nervous,” Dave says and it’s the first time he’s indicated anything of the sort, “but I felt good about it.”
“What’d you say?”
“I said, ‘Look, I’ve taken my heart out of my chest and I’ve thrown it ahead of me at my goals and now, I’m chasing it. It’s an honor to be here and I still believe that. I’ve done my best.’ They called me the following Monday, May 24, and said, you’re in the page program.”
“How did you react?”
Dave laughs, “I’ll reenact it. It’ll be like a dramatization,” he says, miming picking up his phone and stuttering. “I was shaking like Chevy Chase, you know? Just like, ‘Thank you so much!’”
Dave tells me that means his panel was on May 21 and asks slyly if I know what happened that day. I don’t.
“It was the last episode of ‘30 Rock’ for the season. It aired the day before and remember what happened?” he asks.
It takes me a minute before I laugh. “Kenneth got fired,” I smile.
Dave nods, “So the day before I became a page, the most famous page got fired. I took it as a sign.”
“Do you think you’re like Kenneth?” I ask. “I don’t mean to…I’m sure you’re not all like this and some things are obviously different about you two. You’re not naive like he is, but I mean, you’re both so enthusiastic. Is that a thing about all pages?”
Dave laughs, “I’m one of the more animated people, sure,” he says, “but we’re all honored to be here. Just this building and the program has so much history, it’s definitely an honor to be here.”
The next day, I’ll talk to Frank 2 Far, the former bouncer at CBGB. I schedule the interviews at random and for convenience, and rarely with any thought to how the two will relate. Often they don’t. My brain will spark though, when Frank talks about being honored to work at the legendary punk club, CBGB. He and Dave actually almost say the same exact quote about being part of an iconic New York tradition — Dave’s being television at 30 Rock and Frank’s being music at CBGB.
Proudly, Dave rattles off a list of former pages including Regis Philbin, ‘On the Waterfront’s’ Eva Marie Saint and ‘Parks and Recreation’ cutie Aubrey Plaza, who recently told a story on ‘The Tonight Show’ about sassing Katie Couric in an elevator.
“We’re young and we’re new to NBC but pages are respected,” Dave says. “A lot of former pages now work at NBC and they’ll see the uniform and go, ‘Ah, I was a page!’”
“You guys are like the little brothers of NBC,” I say and Dave nods. He tells me pages are given many opportunities to be ambitious within the program, as evidenced by Dave’s taking extra shifts and staying after work to hang around ‘SNL.’
“I try to take advantage of every stinkin’ opportunity,” he says very seriously. “I think about how many people want to succeed and how few successful people there actually are.”
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