I Saw "Later Today" Live
By Kristin Johanson

Friday, January 14, 2000: It was a bitter cold morning and my friend, Wendy, and I were in the lobby of Rockefeller Center in New York City. We had received our tickets and we were waiting to be escorted to the third floor, where the "Later Today" studio is located. I kept looking at my watch, waiting for 8:00 to come. In my black tote bag were three computer-made cards and a box containing a cross-stitched rendition of the "Later Today" logo. These were to be gifts for Jodi Applegate, Asha Blake, and Florence Henderson, the three anchors of the show. I hoped to be able to present these gifts to them in person. It wouldn't have been as meaningful if I had to give them to someone else to give to them. I was also hoping to be able to say a few words to Florence Henderson, a woman I have admired for nearly half my lifetime. I had been a frequent contributor to her website and it was one of the site's creators, Natalie Muldaur, who arranged for us to have VIP seating for the show. Florence was the intended recipient of the cross-stitch gift.

When they finally let us go upstairs, we went up the elevator to the third floor, only to wait in another lobby until it was time to enter the studio. There, a couple of staff members were on hand to keep an eye on us and entertain us while we were waiting. I was getting really anxious to get into the studio at that point, so I didn't find them all that entertaining. When they started going through the rules with us, I knew it was almost time to go in. A few more stall tactics later, we were let in. Since we were the "VIPs" we were seated first. We were led to table right in the middle of the back row. As we were sitting and waiting for Jodi, Asha, and Florence to come greet the audience, I took a look around the studio. Looking at it from where we were sitting offered quite a different perspective than seeing it on TV.

Jodi came out first and worked her way through the audience, joking around and taking questions. She asked the typical "Where is everyone from?" question and everyone shouted out their city or state of origin. With my cards and gift sitting on my lap under the table (the tables were supposed to be kept clear except for the coffee mugs), I raised my hand and Jodi came over to me with the mike. I told her that I had something to give her, Asha, and Florence later on and she wittily replied "Does it tick?" Assuring her that I wasn't armed with any "suspicious packages" I laughed and said "no." As she moved on to the next raised hand, I anxiously awaited the arrival of Asha and …drumroll, please… Florence.

After Jodi had made her way through most of the audience, Asha and Florence came out, smiling and waving. Several people commented on how pretty Florence is. She looked slim and chic in black pants and blouse, and a bright red blazer. Her hair and makeup were perfect as usual. Jodi and Asha looked great too. As there were only 5 minutes left until showtime, the three women took their places behind the counter and stole a few glances at their notes.

At 9:00, the show began. Jodi did the very brief introduction and then the voice over came on and previewed some of the other topics of the day. Then the overhead monitors showed the outside of the building as the announcer said "From NBC Studios in Rockefeller Center, this is Later Today…" and the names of the anchors were announced. Back in the studio, the opening gabfest began with Jodi, Asha, and Florence chatting about a hot news topic. That day, the topic was putting people with overdue library books in jail. That was an interesting piece. Cut to commercial break. This first commercial break was very short, so everyone had to move quickly to set up the next segment, which was on minerals. Jodi did this segment, with the help of a nutritionist. My attention was divided between Jodi's segment and what the others, particularly Florence, were doing during that time. Florence was looking over her notes and I believe Asha was as well, as her segment came next. After Jodi's segment ended, another commercial break came. This break was also relatively short. Asha's segment was on chocolate obsessions. Just seeing all of that chocolate made me hungry. Lucky Asha, she got to eat some during the segment.

After Asha's yummy chocolate segment, Florence started heading in our direction. She had been told we would be there that day. She found us and told us that since she had to catch a plane right after the show, she would try to visit with us during the commercial breaks. She asked which one of us was Kristin and I, ecstatic that she remembered my name, introduced myself and shook her hand. She thanked me for my contributions to her website and I presented her with the gift. Since her birthday was only a month away at the time, I called it an early birthday present.

Before we knew it, the commercial break was over and Florence had to go back to do the next segment, which was another brief gab session with all 3 anchors. This time the topic was "Who would be your lifeline on 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire'" Asha admitted to never having seen the show. At that time, I hadn't either, at least not the American version with Regis. I had seen the British version in London. Florence listed her family members as her potential lifelines; Asha mentioned her dad for everything except pop culture and for questions of that nature, Rosie O'Donnell. After that brief discussion, Florence headed back over to us, as her segment was to be done in the audience area, right in front of us! Wendy showed Florence her very comprehensive Brady Bunch scrapbook and then I asked if Florence could pose for a quick picture with me, as she had to rush off after the show. She agreed and I handed my camera to one of the staff members. As we were getting into our pose, Florence pointed me out to everyone in the studio, mentioning that I had been a frequent contributor to her website. I was so thrilled that she publicly acknowledged my work! Unfortunately, my camera was rather temperamental that day and only took one picture. We wanted to take at least two just in case one didn't turn out. Looking back, I should have invited Wendy to join us in the picture, but as it turns out, she ended up in it anyway. This photo op caused a bit of commotion in the audience, as others started snapping pictures as well. Photography isn't generally allowed until after the show is over, but Florence kindly made an exception for me and I really appreciated that.

After Florence's segment on "must-see" movies, there were still two more segments, an interview with Donald Trump conducted earlier that day with Matt Lauer of the Today Show, and a segment on Feng Shui decorating. Asha and Jodi respectively did those segments. Then, it was time for the final segment, where Jodi, Asha, and Florence introduce the next day's topics and say goodbye. After filming that segment, Florence autographed her copy of the production worksheet and had Jodi and Asha autograph it as well. Another copy of the worksheet (either Jodi's or Asha's) was also autographed by all three. Florence verified the spelling of our names with us and had a crew member give the autographed sheets to Wendy and me. Florence had written on mine "Dear Kristin, Thanks. You're a Doll! God Bless & Love, Florence". Wow, wasn't that sweet of her!

Before Florence had to leave to catch her plane, they filmed the promos for the following Monday's show. They did several promos, to be aired during the weekend. After the promos, Florence prepared to make her exit. A few lucky people got autographs and Florence apologized for not being able to stay longer. I said my final goodbye and snapped a picture or two and then, as soon as Florence had left, I went over to talk to Jodi and Asha. I talked to Asha first and was very impressed with how nice she was. I gave her the card I had made for her, listing her best moments on the show since its debut in September. She seemed impressed that I had kept such close track of the show. I had a picture taken with Asha (courtesy of Wendy) and then went over to talk to Jodi. She was also in somewhat of a hurry, having to catch a train to DC (ironically enough, that is where I am from). I gave her a card similar to the ones I had made for Asha and Florence. She was also very appreciative and I posed for a picture with her. I snapped a few more pictures of the studio and one of Wendy showing Asha her Brady scrapbook and then we gathered our stuff and left the studio, excited and very, very happy. It was a wonderful morning and I hope to go back to New York in the spring to see another taping of "Later Today". My thanks to Wendy for accompanying me on this trip, Natalie Muldaur for helping with the arrangements, Cindy Dingwall for her wonderful travel advice, and to Jodi, Asha, and especially Florence, for making this an experience to remember and cherish.