Adjusting on a moment's notice is what this job has constantly demanded during the past seventeen years. Now we were facing the death of a beloved actress and we had to change the show. We did an about-face. There was no doubt that the show we originally planned was out. It was tough since we had to start from scratch again, but I didn't freak out. That would have taken up too much time and wasted too much valuable energy. We would replace show number one with show number two, which would be devoted to Farrah's death. We all got on the phone to reschedule our guests (we never cancel; we always reschedule) and round up the appropriate people for the tragic new show.
When a show suddenly turns on its head because something important supersedes our plans, each moment is crucial and we are ?lled with anxiety as we are required to book a whole new show in a very short period of time. It's not unusual for me to be ironing out the wrinkles of a show well into the late afternoon, which is edgy since we air at 6 p.m. on the West Coast. By the end of a day like the one I was presently facing, I have generally made hundreds of decisions, and the only way to do that is to remain calm. That would be the case today, I realized, reminding myself to breathe as we began drawing up lists of guests who knew Farrah, as well as checking their availability. Dreams of a simple day ?ew out the window as we began to prepare for show number two, but I had no idea how crazy the day would turn out.
Before I got back on the phone, I shot off an e-mail to my friend Lisa Ling, special correspondent for CNN, and The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her sister, Laura Ling, and a colleague, Euna Lee, had been detained in North Korea since March 17, 2009, for entering the country without a visa. They had been covering a controversial story on human traf?cking, and on June 8 the women had been sentenced to twelve years of hard labor, having been found guilty of the "grave crime" of illegal entry into North Korea, even though they were told by their guide that it was safe to do so.
Lisa had been working day and night to try to bring her sister home, and we had booked her, her parents, and the husbands of the two detained journalists on the show to make a public appeal. I recall being very careful to accentuate Lisa's needs rather than making the show what we wanted it to be during that hour she talked with Larry. This was all about getting the women back, which overrode our desire for good ratings. All of Lisa's pleas and maneuverings needed to be handled with great delicacy because of how political and disturbing the situation was. I couldn't imagine how she was getting up in the mornings, so I e-mailed her daily, asking about her progress and if there was anything I could do. This morning, I wrote:
Hi. Have you heard anything more? How are you holding up?
Lisa wrote back:
Hey, Mama. [That's what she calls me.] I'm about to lose my mind. This is so frustrating. I'll be ok, just venting about bureaucracy...
Back to Farrah. Time was ?ying by as we contacted various principals in her life and tried to book them. So far, we had gotten Dick and Pat Van Patten, Candy Spelling, Joan Danger? eld, and my dear friend Suzanne Somers. It was coming together, but I stopped for a moment when a provocative e-mail landed in my in-box. The popular TMZ Web site, a huge leader in entertainment news, had posted the following information: