As a Los Angeles-based producer for NBC’s TODAY Show, Molly Cowan ’05 works around the clock on breaking news, feature stories, award shows and anything else that comes across her desk. Through College courses and internships, Cowan applied her communication degree to go from freelancer to producer at TODAY, and her work has been harder and more rewarding than she ever could have imagined.
Q: What is your position title and what are your job responsibilities?
A: I’m a Los Angeles-based producer for NBC’s TODAY Show. I work with correspondents and TODAY anchors to report on breaking news and tell feature stories. My job responsibilities include pitching and researching potential stories, booking guests for taped and live interviews, producing pieces in the field, writing taped and live segments, and working with editors to put stories together for air.
There are 11 of us who work on west-coast stories for TODAY so we cover anything that happens in our region and usually late-breaking stories since we have an extra three business hours to get expert interviews and gather for a story.
Q: Did you start in this position or have you been promoted since starting at NBC?
A: I started freelancing for the TODAY Show in 2006 as an associate producer. The job quickly became full time and I was eventually hired for a staff position. I was promoted to producer in 2012.
Q: What is a typical day or week like?
A: The only thing typical about any day or week is that it’s always something different! I’m usually working on one or two feature stories and have anywhere from a few days or a few weeks to plan and put those together.
In the meantime, I’m typically assigned a few “crashes” each week. That means the story is for air the next day so it usually involves a very late night. Some stories aren’t done until a few minutes before air at 4 a.m. Pacific time, or 7 a.m. Eastern time, when the show starts.
Q: What do you like most about your job?
A: The best part of my job is the people I work with and the people I meet on stories. We often work long hours and work as a team so my friends in the Los Angeles bureau have really become family. In fact, I met my husband (Lee Cowan who is now with CBS’ Sunday Morning) when we both worked at NBC in 2009 so quite literally my colleagues have become family!
I’ve covered serious tragedies like the Tucson shooting that injured former congresswoman Gabby Giffords and the Aurora movie theater shooting. In the midst of such sorrow, I have witnessed incredible compassion, love and kindness.
I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Al Roker on our “Lend a Hand” series which gives us an opportunity to profile organizations that are making a difference in their communities and then team up with vendors to surprise the deserving individuals and groups with things they need to sustain their work. Being able to shine a spotlight on everyday heroes is an honor and when we can take it a step further and give them the help they need, it’s incredibly gratifying.
Q: What’s the craziest or most surprising thing that’s happened to you at work?
A: I often have moments at work when I take a step back and think, “How in the world did I end up here?” One of those moments was eating dinner under a tree at Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch less than a week after the pop star died in 2009. I went along with Matt Lauer, who interviewed Michael Jackson’s brother Jermaine, and remained there through our live show from Neverland the following morning.
I also found myself at Muhammad Ali’s home for Thanksgiving in 2011. We did a big piece for The Champ’s 70th birthday and I was sent to get some footage of him with his family, including his new granddaughter. The Alis were very kind and it was an honor to spend the holiday with them.
Q: Who have you been most excited to meet/work with through your job?
A: I’ve had the chance to work with all of our anchors on various live shows and shoots and my favorite thing is watching them do their job with tremendous poise and expertise. I’ve covered the Oscars and Golden Globes for the last nine years with Al Roker and I was fortunate enough to work with Natalie Morales when she interviewed Barbra Streisand at her home.
I was with Hoda Kotb when she sat down with all of judges from The Voice and Maria Shriver on a trip to Texas to profile gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis. Watching Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer go live in a breaking news situation is truly inspiring. I learn something new each time I get to work with one of our anchors and they make all of us better.
Q: How did you hear about your first position with NBC?
A: My late father, John Palmer, was the news anchor on TODAY from 1982 – 1989 so the show has always been a part of my life. I knew I was interested in journalism but thought that print might be a better fit – that was until I was given the chance to intern for TODAY in New York during the fall semester of my junior year at the College of Charleston.
I worked full time and received school credit for my internship. I loved every minute at NBC and returned to the College my senior year with a renewed focus on broadcast news.
Q: How do you think the College helped you prepare for this career?
A: My media studies classes the College gave me the knowledge and confidence to thrive during my internship and my first position with NBC in Los Angeles. I still refer to lessons I learned in Kirk Stone’s Media Law class when I’m considering a video clip to fair use or when I work on a story that requires a hidden camera.
Even my math and science classes at the College, by far the most difficult subjects for me, taught me how to problem solve more efficiently and figure something out one step at a time. I often find myself relying on those lessons when faced with a complicated story that requires pouring through dense legal or medical information.
Q: What advice would you give to current students interested in a career in TV production?
A: I think internships are key to finding work in any field. An internship is an opportunity to determine if you’re really interested in a profession, and hopefully you can make a great impression with professional contacts who can help you down the road.
The people we hire now usually have experience editing and shooting their own material so if you have the opportunity to take any classes that teach you those skills, I highly recommend taking them.