Going Viral: Our family's true story of stepping into a media vortexBy Joseph Ashby
"ESPN AssignmentDesk" read the YouTube message subject line. The email came Monday night, 24 hours after we posted a three-minute video of our two-year-old son making basketball shots. Tuesday morning on my Wichita-based radio program, I proudly announced that none other than ESPN was going to use our footage and thanked the listeners who shared the video link on their Facebook and Twitter pages. I left the broadcast house at 8am Tuesday to my aerospace job, just like every other work week. It turned out to be a week unlike any we had ever experienced.
Media requests began to surge throughout the morning. Local news stations in Nevada, Arizona and Kansas called our home. My father-in-law was invited to join a mid-day news program in their native Reno, NV to talk about his young grandson's hoops prowess.
By 11am, when my wife called me to explain what was happening, I had 75 new emails in my inbox. Another 75 by noon.
Then calls rolled in from national shows. Good Morning America wanted a Skype interview. Anderson Cooper Live wanted to talk. Dr. Oz planned a segment for us. The media crush became so intense that we decided I better leave work early to help deal with it.
The difference from day one and day two wasn't confined to media requests. On day one, the video grabbed 8,900 views -- a respectable number as those who have posted videos know. During the second 24 hours the video received 854,000 hits.
Tuesday would be the last day of the week with less than 1,000,000 views.
At about 3pm The Today Show called and offered to fly the whole family to New York. They asked us to go that afternoon to do the show the next morning. We said no, that plan would give us just one hour to prepare, but offered to call back about flying out the next day for the Thursday morning show. We then called the other national programs we had heard from to let them know that Today offered to fly us out. No one else matched or improved on the deal, so we gave Today the go ahead.
About two hours later, a senior producer at Good Morning America called. She wanted us. A lot. We said it was too late, that we gave GMA the chance and they balked at the trip to NYC. She blamed the decision on a lower level producer and offered us more days in the city and a longer on-air time than Today. We responded that Today had already booked our flights. She countered by suggesting we could fly out on our Today-purchased tickets, skip The Today Show, do GMA and then GMA would take care of us from there. We were taken aback by her brazenness, but not persuaded by her offer. We stayed with Today.
We wondered a little why Fox News hadn't called. Everything being equal, we would rather help FNC with ratings than a network morning show. But Today was fast enough to be first and gracious enough to fly us to NYC, so off we went.
The media request continued at a dizzying pace during our travel day. The Steve Harvey Show, Ellen, CNN, all wanted interviews. Wednesday afternoon, we finally got a message from both The Five who wanted permission to use the footage and Fox and Friends who wanted an interview. After unsuccessfully trying to trade a Greg Gutfeld interview on my radio show for permission to use our video (still sad about that), we told Fox and Friends we would visit on Friday.
Once we committed to Fox and Friends we found that being the first show to have a guest like Titus is important, being second is acceptable and being third is akin to inviting the plague to your studio. No one was interested. So we believed Fox and Friends would be our last media stop.
The morning of The Today Show (Thursday), we got ready in the 26th floor, two bedroom, Midtown Manhattan hotel suite which Today booked for us. A driver took us to the Today Show studios at 5:45am (4:45am in Kansas). We weren't scheduled to make our main appearance for two more hours, but arrived early to get b-roll footage in case Titus refused to play during the live shoot and to "tease" the appearance several times throughout the morning.
We spent most of our time in the green room (which, by the way, had Fox News on the TV until The Today Show started). During part of the morning we shared the room with the mother of singer Justin Bieber. I nearly approached her to thank her for the pro-life message she had embraced when discussing her teenage pregnancy with the future international pop idol. Fortunately, I said nothing. I later found out that the purpose of her appearance was to tell Matt Lauer that she felt taken advantage of when her comments were used to further the pro-life argument.
As we moved from the green room to the main studio for each tease, we often ran into the show's on-air personalities -- Lauer, Al Roker, and Natalie Morales. All were polite, smiled, and shook hands. Only Morales sought us out for more than a greeting.
I mention that detail not because I felt that the anchors owed us more than the courtesy they offered (though I do think the interactions speak well of Morales' genuineness) but because all of the anchors wanted to participate in the interview itself. It was a recurring theme throughout our media appearances. Media and sports stars were happy to be on camera with the adorable two-year-old basketball phenom, but most were far less enthusiastic off camera.
The hosts' on-screen crush on Titus actually caused a spat between Today's producer and director. With so many hosts requesting to participate, there was debate about how much of our family of six could be on stage. The producer wanted all the siblings, since the video featured the whole family. The director said he didn't want a shot with nine people on screen. The producer won.
The side effect of their little row was that we ran out of commercial break time to discuss what Titus should do during the segment. In each tease that morning, I rebounded balls for Titus and made sure he set his feet, stood still and was directly in front of the basket so he'd be most likely to make shot. He did well in each tease. But in order to squeeze all of us in the TV shot, they put us all in a line from one end of the stage lights' coverage to the other and told us not to move.
As a result, Titus proceeded to do the newest thing he had ever attempted: Running layups. Unfortunately he couldn't really make a running layup. What we got was a cute little kid missing a lot of basketball shots in front a few million people. Honestly though, my wife Kristin and I didn't really notice. We were busy trying not to sound like idiots on national television during the interview while simultaneously praying our other three kids (who were restless from two-plus hours in the green room) didn't do anything unruly.
After enough misses, someone from behind the camera sent anchor Savanna Guthrie out to suggest that I help Titus get set for a shot. Hopefully we wouldn't go the entire segment without any made baskets. As I walked toward him, he made his final two shots and we were done.
The next day's Fox and Friends appearance was smoother. The segment featured Brian Kilmeade, Titus, and me. Three people turned out to be easier than nine. But more importantly Kilmeade was so friendly and inquisitive off-camera that he learned that Titus was pushing himself to learn driving layups. When Titus ran haphazardly across the stage, flinging balls clumsily at the rim, instead of a producer sending out another anchor to fix it, Kilmeade drew from our commercial-break conversation, so everyone understood what Titus was doing, and we went on with the segment.
Once we finished at Fox, we gathered our things, headed to our car (and driver!) drove straight from the FNC headquarters to the airport. After a quick phone interview with the Glenn Beck Program at La Guardia, we were off.
On the flight back to Kansas, we couldn't help but muse on the character of our experience. Two days in New York, two TV appearances, each about two minutes, and then back home to the heartland.
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