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Don Mischer on the Risks, Rewards of Live TV

Legendary producer and director Don Mischer, who has brought us some of television’s most memorable moments, shared personal stories and offered live-TV tips to students, alumni, and friends at Emerson College Los Angeles on January 28.

“I love talking television with people who are as passionate about it as I am,” said Mischer. “There’s no other feeling like being in the control room.”

Mischer said that live TV is not for everyone because it’s a high-risk business, but the adrenaline rush it provides can be highly rewarding. Some of Mischer’s vast credits include five Super Bowl halftime shows; the opening ceremonies of the 1996 and 2002 Olympic Games; the 83rd, 84th, and 85th Academy Awards, and specials with everyone from Beyoncé to Bono.  

Don Mischer speaks to a packed audience at ELA. 

For students or alumni in the audience hoping to make it in live TV, Mischer shared a list of 10 tips with advice such as: hire the best team possible, build a contributory environment, and anticipate what will go wrong.

“When things go wrong on live TV, it’s not always a bad thing,” said Mischer. “Sometimes when something unexpected happens, it makes a much better moment.”

Don Mischer takes questions from the audience at ELA. 

Mischer said that surprises always make shows better, citing two examples from his storied career: when Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic torch at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (only five people knew, he said) and this year’s Emmy Awards, when Tracy Morgan presented at the ceremony for the first time since he was injured in a car accident.

“Don is not only one of the most well-respected people in the industry, but also one of the nicest,” said Kirsten Judson ’13, Mischer’s assistant. “It’s amazing just even being a fly on the wall; you glean so much from being involved.”

As Mischer’s assistant, Judson has been able to participate in a variety of special and high-profile events, including this year’s Emmy Awards ceremony. Mischer said that anyone hoping to produce or direct a big ceremony such as the Emmys should expect to wait at least 8–10 years.

Don Mischer, Kirsten Judson '13, and Kevin Bright '76.

To break into the live television market, Mischer recommended to do your homework and learn what different companies do, try to connect with people, and put yourself in an environment where you have opportunities to learn. That’s advice that Sarah Weber ’16, a Studio TV Production major, took to heart.

“Live TV is something I’m incredibly passionate about,” said Weber, who was a production assistant for E! Live From the Red Carpet at this year’s Emmys. “It’s one of the few times where we can sit as a group and watch something together.”

Joey Mizutani ’16 said the advice Mischer shared on how to cope with stress—to stay positive, be open to compromise, and realize it’s just television—was something he would remember.

“I thought all the personal stories and tips he shared were really insightful and cool,” said Mizutani. 

Students in Boston listen to Don Mischer speak at ELA. Later, they asked Mischer questions.