|Khun Panprapha Intrawityanunt is used to being interviewed in Thai, but Morning Talk gave her a chance to show off her considerable skills in English.|
Welcome to the weekly taping session of Channel 11’s popular 8:30am Morning Talk, the only English language talk show on "free" television here in Thailand. It has developed a loyal following among viewers determined to improve their understanding of English. And given its impressive guest list, a veritable "who’s who" of Thailand, the programme also has a wide audience among those who already have a good command of the language.
The pace during the taping session is brisk but well under control, the product of years of experience. Dr Valerie J McKenzie, the programme head and chief presenter, has herself been associated with Morning Talk for nine years and has been fully in charge for two.
"Normally I do about ten (eight-minute) interviews in a day, she says. So we start about ten and we finish about three-thirty, four. If we’re lucky we get about an hour for lunch.
"We look at what’s current," Dr McKenzie says of the programme’s content. "We look at what’s topical and then we try to mix what we think the audience wants with what we think they need to know."
With a hugely varied line-up of guests and topics – everything from hair styling to the policies of the new Bangkok Metropolitan Council the day the Learning Post paid its visit – preparation is the key.
"In total I probably do about sixteen hours," Dr McKenzie explains. "And then every Tuesday night before the programme, I actually just sit down from six o’clock at night and right through to midnight or whatever it is, just to make sure I’ve got all the fine points."
With a PhD in psychology, an MBA in international business, and many years experience in current affairs television programming, Dr McKenzie is clearly comfortable juggling disparate content. About the only subject that can sometimes trip her up, she says, is information technology.
"If I get somebody heavy into IT, it takes me about three interviews to get over it. You can get your mind around most, but if it’s something very technical, it can be quite difficult."
The language of Morning Talk has a distinctly international flavour. In fact, non-native speakers are the norm, not the exception. "I would say that about 85 percent of our guests are Thai or other foreigners who don’t have English as their first language," Dr MacKenzie estimates.
This she says is a plus since international English, not American, British or Australian, is probably the predominant "dialect" heard in Thailand.
"For people in the hotel industry," Dr McKenzie explains by way of illustration, "all the guests aren’t going to be English. There are Koreans, there are Japanese – they don’t speak Thai, but they’re going to speak English. So I think it’s a positive rather than a negative."
Admittedly, she says, an interview can be hard to follow at times if the guest doesn’t speak good English, "but if everyone spoke perfect English, then we probably should have a different sort of programme.
"As we interview many people with varying levels of English skills it helps the viewers in understanding that it doesn't really matter how well or badly you speak the language initially, the important factor is that the more you try to speak the language the quicker your skills will improve."
Khun Yuva Lertsirimit was a little nervous at the outset, but ended up enjoying her televised "conversation".
It takes some courage for a non-native speaker to go on camera and many guests are understandably apprehensive when they arrive on the set. Such was the case with Yuva Lertsirimit, Export Sales Manager, Precious Memory Co Ltd. It was her first television appearance of any kind, Thai or English.
Dr McKenzie has a routine designed to put any guest at ease. It begins with an informal chat away from the cameras. Then, as the production crew sets up, she spends about five minutes with the guest on the set. She covers what will likely come up in the interview, clarifies details and often considers suggestions from the guest.
Dr McKenzie always goes into an interview with a great deal of background information on the subject at hand. "For a lot of people you don’t actually need all that information," she says, "but if they go cold on you when you’re doing the interview, what do you do? So you have to have a lot more knowledge than you would under normal circumstances."
Going cold was not a problem with Yuva. Her interview went off without a hitch. "She’s very good," said Yuva of Dr McKenzie’s interview style. "She made me feel relaxed and comfortable. It was like talking, like conversation. I enjoyed it very much."
Piyawat Kempetch (PK) always has an eye for the camera.
Neither of Dr McKenzie’s two regular co-presenters are native speakers of English, but they are not far off. Piyawat Kempetch (PK), in fact, could easily pass for a New Yorker, having lived in the Big Apple from the age of nine until his return to Thailand three years ago.
"I went to just a regular high school," PK says about his US stay, "and then I graduated with a BBA from Hofstra University in international business.
"But that’s not what my love is," he adds quickly. "My love is for music. I came back to pursue my singing career"
For now, at least, that singing career is still a future dream. Instead, PK, is working non-stop as a radio dee jay (88.0 Radio No Problem) an ITV television personality, a soap opera performer, and, of course, the presenter for Morning Talk’s daily In Touch section.
PK, who is just about to complete his first year with the show, goes on location to conduct four-minute interviews on current issues.
"I didn’t think I could actually pull it off," he readily admits. "I’m not a serious type of guy. I’m not a serious journalist.
"The job has actually built me up a little, built my character with a whole different dimension. I get to meet a lot of interesting people. I’ve met the Prime Minister all the way through to a beggar on the street. It’s expanded my world," PK says.
Sansanee Moller gets some instant feedback on her performance.
Sansanee Moller, who presents the daily What’s On in Entertainment and Tourism segment of the show, is a familiar face to Thai viewers from her many years on the popular Taam Pai Doo show. Morning Talk is her first English-language show, however, and she finds it a bit of challenge – a challenge she clearly relishes.
"I’ve been in front of the television camera for almost twenty years, but not with English. It’s not my own language, so it’s quite hard. It’s a good opportunity for me to learn English for myself – to practice English. I’m still learning," she says modestly.
Sansanee, who is actually a fluent English speaker, is delighted to be working with Dr McKenzie. "It’s a marvellous chance you know. She’s so professional."
Programme manager Nattawan Iamsittipol and producer Phongpan Parpasirilak
Behind the scenes
One of the key skills Nattawan Iamsittipol has had to develop during her five years as Morning Talk programme manager is her power of persuasion. With ten interviews to arrange each week for a single day of taping, short-notice cancellations can be extremely disruptive. Her job: induce the guest to reconsider.
"When we get a cancellation, I am the one who has to speak with the guest and explain that it is very difficult to change our schedule.
"‘We contacted you about two weeks ago,’" she explains to the guest politely but firmly. "‘We have sent everything to Channel 11 already and we have the programme set already, so it’s not very ‘nice’ if we have to change.’"
That often does the trick, but if it doesn’t, "we have to find someone else immediately," she says. "So every week, we have to think about what we are going to do if we get a cancellation."
Despite the pressure, Nattawan says she enjoys her work. "Everything changes every day. I have to keep thinking and trying to develop the programme all the time."
Perhaps the busiest member of the production staff is producer Phongpan Parpasirilak. "Everything starts on Monday with PK’s section when we go out for filming on location," he explains. "On Tuesday, we have a meeting to discuss what we should do (for future programmes).
"On Wednesday it’s filming. Thursday and Friday is editing. Editing should be finished by Friday night. Sunday is my day off, but if we go upcountry I have to work on Sunday," Phongpan says.
The monthly upcountry assignments are especially hectic. Sansanee’s upcountry segments are all on location which means that Phongpan must take the weekend to liase with guests, check out the locations and shoot any necessary stock footage. The actual shooting normally takes all day Monday and Tuesday.
"I work very hard," he says. "It’s like double work. It’s quite challenging, but I enjoy being busy."
A big reason why Pongphan’s editing work is so rushed, is that the final cuts must reach the Channel 11 censors well before airtime. What are the censors looking for? It’s not what you might expect.
"When you get your contract with 11," explains Dr McKenzie, "there are a whole lot of rules of what you can say and what you can’t say. For example, we can’t talk price on television. If it’s a charity, then yes you can. But I couldn’t say this mobile phone is so much on the market and this mobile phone is something else. The other thing is that we can’t say anything is the best. We can’t be an authority.
"If we have a problem the Channel will ring us on a Friday or over the weekend and they will indicate there is an issue of concern in a particular interview. We'll do our best to talk them out of making changes but if we are not successful then we have to pick up the tape from the Channel, re-edit and return it in a short period of time. Fortunately it doesn't happen very often, maybe three to four times a year."
Programme coordinator Garagade Oonkhanond and Treepon Kirdnark
Much of Morning Talk’s nitty-gritty arrangement and detail work falls to the two programmer coordinators Garagade Oonkhanond and Treepon Kirdnark, both of whom double as researchers. They are constantly scouring the media for interview ideas. They contact the guests, discuss the topics to be covered and even help them with English if the need arises. The two are also responsible for gathering background information for the presenters.
Garagade, a graduate of Thammasat in marketing management, gets much of this background information from the guests themselves, but she also finds the Internet to be an invaluable resource.
Treepon is the programme coordinator for PK’s segment which means he is constantly on the go. He coordinates with guests, selects locations and sets the shooting schedule and then hopes that everything goes as planned.
His worst moment came after just two weeks on the job. "We had to wait for one guest past lunchtime," he recalls. "The cameraman got so hungry that he refused to continue working. I had to ask an experienced team member to get him to change his mind."
Open Your World
One of the problems for non-native speaking viewers of Morning Talk is that conversation is a fleeting phenomenon. Words and ideas come and go quickly and it is easy to miss the gist of what is said.
For this reason, Morning Talk has opened up a new section on its website to assist those who need it (http://www.morningtalk.com/yourworld.html). Registration is free and painless and once you get your user id and password, you are ready to go.
At the moment, the section consists of four active parts, produced with the help from a team from Webster University. The first is "challenge", a five-question quiz on the programmes of the week before. Then there is "English tips" which explains vocabulary and expressions from each day’s interviews.
Probably the most useful section is "Programme clips" which contains detailed summaries of the day’s interviews. These are posted in advance, so you read the summaries before you watch the programme.
The final section "More about guests" contains links to additional information on the guests that have appeared on the show and their organisations.
Coming next week
Starting next week, the Learning Post is pleased to feature a regular column from the Morning Talk television show. The column will prepare readers for the next day’s (Wednesday’s) Morning Talk programme. It will give you background on the interviews, a detailed summary of what was said, vocabulary explanations, and useful tips of what to watch for during the interview as well as some points to ponder.
The column will be an example of how well the print and visual/audio media can complement each other. A televised interview features language in action, two real people actively engaged in the exchange of information. But the experience is a fleeting one and it is easy to miss key points. The print media, on the other hand, lacks the intensity of television but has the advantage of giving you a permanent record of what was said – something which, in this case, you can refer to both before and after the actual interview.Here are some tips for watching tomorrow's Morning Talk programme.