Photo courtesy University of Richmond
Hurricane Sandy didn't deter a crowd of people from coming out for a taping of the weekend edition of Today on Sunday morning at the University of Richmond. Folks started showing up as early as 6 a.m. for the 8 a.m. live broadcast. Weekend co-host Lester Holt was a crowd pleaser, talking to fans and posing with anyone who asked for a photo. Holt, who was in Virginia as part of the show's "Battleground States" series leading up to the presidential election, talked with us for a few minutes after the broadcast.
RM: You originally planned on focusing on the election during your broadcast, but Hurricane Sandy threw a wrench into your plans.
LH: It's what it is. We had planned the last three Sundays before the election to do shows from key battleground states. Then we saw the radar and weather, which made the story more interesting. Power outages and damage could affect turnout. It adds a new wrinkle to the political story. The storm is the storm. I had enough warning to pack my hurricane gear and prep for high water.
RM: I understand that you were going to do NBC Nightly News from Richmond as well, and now you're heading to Virginia Beach, where you'll be in the thick of things.
LH: We originally planned to do Today and NBC Nightly News from the UR campus, but we are moving closer to the coast for the Nightly News . The team surveyed the area and found a location in Virginia Beach. It has more visual impact.
RM: Does going into the storm make you nervous, or does it invigorate you?
LH: All reporters have a certain bit of adrenaline junkie in them, and I am one of them. I always take my safety seriously, though. My mom thinks we are crazy, but we don't just stand anywhere. We survey the location. We take as many precautions as we can. There is always a certain amount of anxiety because we are subject to the elements. The story is never as important as my safety and the safety of the crew I work with. But you do want to be where the story is.
RM: Is this your first trip to Richmond?
LH: I was here Thursday for the first time. I had no time to get around. I travel all over the world, but my time is tightly budgeted.
RM: What's your take on the election? Any insight on which way it's going to go?
LH: It's always funny. People think you know who is going to win. If I knew that, I would make more money than I now do. My feeling is that people who have made their decision are firmly planted in their decisions. At the end of the day, it's about a small amount of people. It is interesting to hear some of the undecided voters and that is a lot of what we have done — talk to those voters.
RM: You wear a lot of different hats for NBC — hosting the weekend edition of Today, filling in for Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News and anchoring Dateline — do you have a favorite?
LH: I consider my job like the buffet line. It's stressful, it's demanding and the hours are long, but I love to do it. I go and report major stories around the world, and I love it. I've been doing that for 30 years. Sometimes I think what I really want is Monday through Friday, but sometimes when I think of that I cringe. I don't want to be tied to the anchor desk.
RM: How does it feel that your oldest son, Stefan, is now on-air in Chicago, following in his dad's footsteps? [ Holt worked in the Windy City for 14 years. ]
LH: I love it. He's a news junkie, so it's not a big surprise.
RM: If you could play your electric bass and jam with anyone, who would you choose?
LH: I would like to play with some big band. I played with some in high school and college. I've played with Earth, Wind & Fire, the Steve Miller Band, and Jefferson Starship.
RM: What's the craziest thing you've done with your Sunday Today co-host Jenna Wolfe?
LH: Jenna and I have done workout sessions. She is a very good trainer but very demanding. We did one in the hot sun in Jamaica, and she took me to the brink.
RM: You've guest-starred on 30 Rock. How much fun was that?
LH: When I get asked to do cameos, I get a note asking, "Can you do a quick part?" They only send you the script that is relevant to what you are doing. My line was "Tracy, the Black Crusaders are coming for you." When I turned on the TV and watched it on playback, it's pretty funny. We do those types of cameos on our own set. You are not associated with 30 Rock. You are totally in a vacuum.