Alumni Spotlight: Kat McCullough (CMN, '05)

A Week in the Life of an MSNBC Producer

Many people dream of a career in television, but for Kat McCullough (CMN ’05), that dream is a reality. Below is a snapshot of a week in her life as a segment and booking producer for “Melissa Harris-Perry”, a panel-discussion show filmed in New York that explores current issues in politics, culture, race and more. The MSNBC program airs Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.-Noon EST.

Wednesday, 10 a.m.
My week begins on Wednesday with our pitch meeting, during which the entire staff brainstorms topics to cover. Among this week’s segments is “Fear and Voting,” which will take a look at how negative campaigns can lead to lower voter turnout, as well as a discussion about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Wednesday, 1 p.m.
After the meeting, we plan our two hours of TV on “The Board,” which is kind of the master plan for each show and has all the tasks we need to complete before airing. Of course, we have to be really flexible as stories break throughout the week. For example, we were supposed have a segment called “G.O.A.T.,” or “Greatest of All Time,” about Serena Williams because we were positive she would win the U.S. Open. When she didn’t, we literally had to go back to “The Board.” Hope we didn’t jinx her! To us, she’s still the greatest.
Thursday/Friday, 2:30 p.m.
Lunchtime! I always eat at my desk. I’m not sure which we have more of, toys or books! After lunch, it’s time to start putting together my segment for the week. The executive producer assigns the segments, but if we are especially interested in a certain topic, he’s usually amenable. For the next few days, I’ll be researching, writing and putting together “elements”—graphics, video and other media that will help illustrate the segment. When I’m writing, I have to have music to get in the focus zone.
Saturday/Sunday, 6:30 a.m.
Saturday and Sunday are show days, and we arrive extremely early to get everything ready. The home base for NBC Studios and NBCUniversal is 30 Rockefeller Center, or “30 Rock.” It’s an incredible place to work. I especially love it during the holidays when the Christmas tree is up on Rockefeller Plaza.
Saturday/Sunday, 9 a.m.
It’s almost show time! Before we air, we print out lists of elements for our host, Melissa Harris-Perry, to review. We also go over the segment details, and I help greet the guests, get them into hair and makeup, and make sure they’re mic’d and on set at the right time. We’ve had a ton of notable guests over the years, including, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), film director Ava DuVernay and attorneys general Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder.
Saturday/Sunday, 9 a.m.
After everyone is in place and ready to go, I head to the big newsroom to wait for my segment. It’s always freezing in there, so I keep a Snuggie on hand!
Saturday/Sunday, 10 a.m.-Noon
When my segment is up, I head into the control room. This week, it was about teens who were arrested for sending nude selfies. Last week, I produced a segment on how Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump continually references China and the fluctuating Chinese currency. I now know more random trivia on the yuan/renminbi currency than I ever thought I’d need!
Saturday/Sunday, 10 a.m.-Noon
While in the control room, I help the line producer and director find the elements to put in the rundown, which is basically a schedule for the show. Each video, sound clip, picture or full-screen graphic is supposed to air according to cues in the script. Also, depending on the direction of the discussion Melissa is having with our guests, we might need elements we hadn’t planned on, so we try to brainstorm what those could be. For example, if Melissa is discussing Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, the conversation might turn to Donald Trump, so we would want video of him in the rundown.
As soon as one show ends, we start preparing for the next. It’s tiring work and a continuous cycle, but I absolutely love it.
Originally published in DePaul Magazine.