Posted by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont, authors of Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops?
Kathie Lee Gifford's handshake was cold and clammy, and the "Today” show host knew it.
"It's hand sanitizer. I was petting a lemur!" she told us.
Of course. Of course you were. That is perhaps only the third weirdest thing that happened to us the day we discussed our book on NBC’s “Today” show.
Both of us are trained in journalism, so even when the national talk show booked us to discuss Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the 70s and 80s, we weren't sure it would actually happen. Things fall through all the time in the harried world of daily TV, and we didn't want to brag about it to our friends and family and then have to explain why we weren't on. It wasn't until our plane tickets from Minneapolis to New York were actually booked that we started to spread the word. Not everyone was impressed. Gael's mom asked "What's the Two Day Show?"
As the taping date approached, we worried about everything—from the colors of our outfits to defending against bedbugs in our Manhattan hotel room to whether it was possible to lose 30 pounds before stepping in front of cameras beaming our images to 5.5 million viewers. But our number one worry was how to get our cumbersome props, which included a 1972 Mystery Date board game and easily crushable retro Doritos, to the show. We were just planning on packing the largest suitcases we could find until the day before the trip. Standing in the parking lot on a 100-degree Midwestern day after just filming a local TV appearance, we received an email from the helpful "Today" producer who offered to let us FedEx two boxes of props to the studio overnight. First problem solved!
One prop that wasn't possible to ship was the very item in our title—frozen pudding pops. The prepackaged ones aren't easy to come by, so at the last minute, we sent the show a recipe and some plastic ice pop molds from Target.
And just to cover all our bases, we kept a few of the smaller props out of the shipment, figuring if FedEx failed us and lost both boxes, we'd still have a few things to discuss with Kathie Lee and her partner, Hoda Kotb.
We flew in on a Wednesday, and there was little time for exploring the city or a Broadway show—we were taping on Thursday for a show to air Friday. (In the summer, Kathie Lee and Hoda pretape their Friday shows so they can enjoy longer weekends.) Fortunately, each of us had a good friend in the city so we met for a group dinner and discussed the absolute weirdness that was about to occur.
Of course, there was some last-minute monkey business. Turned out we'd forgotten to pack one of the toys we'd promised, so on Thursday morning, Brian was the first customer at the Times Square Toys R Us, dashing in just as the opened the doors, buying a Barrel of Monkeys (and some extra Pop Rocks—you can never have too many), and heading back to meet Gael at 30 Rock, where the “Today” show tapes.
Friendly faces helped ease our nerves. First we met up with some of Gael's colleagues from MSNBC.com, who took a photo of us standing in front of Brian Williams' NBC Nightly News desk. And then outside the "Today” show" studios we met our fabulous and friendly editor, Meg Leder, and charming publicist, Jennifer Bernard, for the first time!
After being greeted by a page (sadly, not played by Jack McBrayer), the four of us were taken to the green room. On our way, we were serenaded by a group of teenagers singing Katy Perry’s “Fireworks” in a very Glee-like fashion. We would later meet them again in hair and makeup—yes, unlike the local TV shows we were used to, "Today" glammed us up professionally before sending us out on stage. (Gael noted that Kathie Lee's dressing room nametag read "Maestro Gifford.")
Those singing kids were there, too, and we finally figured out that they were Glee-like for a reason: they were from Oxygen network’s “Glee Project” reality show, one of whom would eventually win a recurring role on “Glee.”
Then, off to the studio. We stood backstage with crew members and also two women who had been plucked from the crowd and given Ambush Makeovers. They looked great—all the more so when their "before" photos were shown—and if you watch as one of them is brought on stage, you can sneak a peek of Brian hiding behind the door.
The props we'd so worried about had all arrived safely, and they were beautifully arranged across two wheeled tables. Most of it was stuck in place by invisible tape, so everything—even the little cars on the Game of Life board—stayed put. And at the last moment, someone pulled a crystal bowl of homemade pudding pops fresh from the freezer as a centerpiece.
And then, in swept the very friendly Hoda and Kathie Lee. They introduced themselves, made sure they could pronounce Gael’s often-tricky last name correctly, and then thanked Brian for having a relatively easier-to-pronounce one. “You’re trying to remember the ‘70s and ‘80s?” Kathie Lee deadpanned. “I’m trying to forget them.”
We joked around and chatted for a few seconds while they dealt with a camera issue (we didn’t break it, we swear), and then they launched into the segment. After we talked a bit about why we wrote the book, we led them from item to item, touching on everything from Connect Four to candy cigarettes to Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific shampoo. Hoda expressed her undying love for Quisp, so Kathie Lee scooped up a huge serving of it in a trowel-sized spoon, and jammed it into Hoda’s mouth—dry, no milk.
Then, it was over. The segment felt like it was about 30 seconds long, but we’d been talking for almost four minutes. Hoda and Kathie Lee thanked us, and we left—the Teamsters were going to pack up our props and ship them back to us. After meeting back up with Meg and Jen and hearing that we didn’t embarrass ourselves on national TV, we headed to the NBC Experience store, where Brian bought—what else?—a mug with Hoda and Kathie Lee on it.
In nearly 100-degree heat, we rushed back to the hotel, grabbed our things, and high-tailed it to the airport to catch our flight home. Due to stormy weather, we ended up sitting on the tarmac for five hours before we took off. As you’d probably expect, tensions and frustrations were running high on the plane. But two people were sitting there with goofy grins on their faces, recounting a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Can you guess who they might have been? Hint: Their hands smelled a bit like lemur.