-- Following is an account by Primetime producer Jacqueline Payson describing the day of Diane Sawyer's interview with Whitney Houston, Nov. 7, 2002.
An Early-Morning Surprise
05:30 a.m. — On the morning of our interview with Whitney Houston, I woke up bright and early in my Atlanta hotel room and turned on the TV. I was stunned to see the lead story on all the local news stations: Bobby Brown, Whitney's husband of 10 years, had been arrested around 2:30 a.m. just blocks away from my hotel, for allegedly speeding, driving without a license and having marijuana in his car.
I didn't know how this event would affect our interview. I contacted my camera crews and technicians and on-site production staff, and told them the news but to proceed as planned. We were all scheduled to link up at Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown's home at 8 a.m.
Big Homes and Manicured Lawns
8 a.m. — When we arrived at the entrance to the gated community where Whitney and Bobby live, we were all cleared by security to proceed through the gate to the house where the interview would take place.
Whitney's assistant and other friends and relatives who work with her immediately greeted us. They were very warm and inviting — especially since a dozen people were unloading lots of gear and audio and video equipment, running cables and moving furniture.
The Houston/Brown home is in a gated community but not secluded. There are neighbors all around, each with a unique home and beautifully manicured lawn. One of Whitney's neighbors was kind enough to allow us to use space on her driveway to park our generator — a very large truck needed for multi-camera interviews.
Inside, the home was large and airy but nearly bare. Whitney and her family were just moving in, so there wasn't much furniture. In fact, they admitted, they were practically living out of suitcases.
While it usually takes us three or four hours to set up for an interview such as this, the large home presented some challenges. Having the entire day for the interview was very helpful.
Oatmeal With the Crew
10 a.m. — I didn't think we were going to see Whitney until the scheduled start time of the interview, 6 p.m. Most interview subjects tend to arrive just the before the interview is set to begin. Surprisingly, Whitney came to the kitchen and living room area and greeted all of us.
We had all heard the rumors that Whitney was erratic, somewhat demanding and perhaps might not show up at all. Yet she couldn't have been more hospitable and warm. Wearing shorts and a T-shirt, she sat down with some of the crew members in the kitchen and had a bowl of oatmeal. It was refreshing to see a celebrity feel comfortable to sit down without all the makeup and styling. There would be time for that later.
Whitney told us she had just come back from Los Angeles — she and Bobby Brown travel a lot — and she had come down with laryngitis. We noticed she was drinking tea most of the day to soften her vocal chords for the interview.
Visit From a Friend
12 p.m. — Perri Nixon, an old friend of Whitney's who is now her pastor and prayer partner, dropped by the house. Whitney and Perri (Whitney calls her by her nickname, "Pebbles") went to another room for nearly two hours while the camera crews continued to set up their equipment.
Bobby Shows Up After Posting Bail
1 p.m. — Bobby Brown showed up at the house after posting bail for that morning's arrest and an earlier driving charge. He approached me, greeted me with a firm handshake and said he knew Whitney had been looking forward to the interview. He ate a sandwich in the kitchen, then said he was going to take a nap (he had been up all night) and disappeared for three hours.
Bobbi Kristina Gets Home From School
2:40 p.m. — Whitney and Bobby's daughter, Bobbi Kristina, came home from school, looking like a typical 9-year-old with a backpack and some arts and crafts she had made that day in school. In the early evening, her dad gave her a big hug and sat down on the staircase to talk about her day at school.
7 p.m. — The interview got under way — nearly on time. Celebrity publicists sometimes try to set limits on what questions might be asked. Whitney probably knew Diane Sawyer would touch on some important, even scandalous issues and events, but Whitney seemed ready to open up to Diane.
Whitney's Yorkshire terrier, named Doogie Howser, wasn't so sure though. He was lying on the couch next to Whitney throughout the interview — you can see him in the wide shots, looking like a throw pillow. But when Diane started asking about the pressure of being called the world's greatest voice, he jumped off the couch and growled at Diane, then at the camera — as if he didn't like where the questions were going.
The interview went on for more than 2 ½ half hours, with a few breaks to get drinks and use the restroom. At one point Whitney herself asked to stop the interview when she became emotional talking about her father and the $100 million lawsuit he had filed against her. We stopped the tape, but Whitney returned a few minutes later and we completed the interview.
9:40 p.m. — After the interview, Whitney and her assistants suggested that the family — Whitney, Bobby and their daughter — sing for us. The three of them sat down at their white grand piano in a room off the main entranceway and sang a few songs. Whitney was kind enough to then pose for a few still photographs with members of our crew.
It took us a couple more hours to pack up all the equipment. Whitney changed from the white pants suit she wore for the interview into jeans and a black top, with a black hat. It was casual, but she still looked great. She wasn't in any hurry to kick us out and even spoke with us a bit more about traveling and her upcoming trip to the MTV Europe Awards.
By midnight, all our gear was finally loaded back on the truck and we were ready to leave. It was time to take the interview back to the office in New York and prepare our hourlong special.