“Today Show” Brings Politics to UT Campus

Published: Sep 23, 2008

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Before the sun rose on The University of Tampa campus, gigantic studio lights illuminated a crowd of more than 1,200 people waiting among TV cameras in front of UT’s Plant Hall.

With the Tampa skyline as a backdrop, NBC’s Matt Lauer took a place in front of the Plant Hall fountain, amid the cheers of hundreds of onlookers, where he announced the live broadcast of the “Today Show.”

The popular morning TV news show set up shop at UT on Tuesday to highlight Florida’s impact on the upcoming presidential election. The Tampa visit was just one stop the show is making throughout the week as it examines the so-called “battleground” states in the election.

Among the several news segments devoted to the election-related coverage was a pre-taped interview with Scott Paine, UT associate professor of government and world affairs, and interviews conducted via satellite with presidential hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist also made an appearance on campus for an interview with Lauer.

For senior film students Kenisha Walsh and Allison Koslow, the task of escorting the Governor to his seat on Plant Hall’s east verandah was just one of many duties as they spent the day assisting the anchors and on-site producers. Having worked on small film productions before, the “Today Show” was the first time both students had participated in the making of a live TV production.

“Live TV is very different because time is critical,” Walsh said. “Every minute counts.”

For the crowd of onlookers, the minute-by-minute action guided their attention and excitement from one side of the makeshift TV studio to the other as the TV cameras scanned over the many banners and homemade signs held up by the numerous political enthusiasts who were in attendance. Members of UT’s College Democrats and College Republicans wielded their own signs and banners promoting Obama and McCain respectively.

Standing in front of the crowd, NBC anchor and weatherman Al Roker delivered the morning’s weather report in between chats with onlookers and the filming of promotional segments for WFLA, the local NBC affiliate. Roker also interviewed Shehila Rae Stephens, a UT senior sociology student from Denver.

In between news segments, the cameras also took in performances by the UT Spartan Band and a step dance routine by members of UT’s National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC). 

Toward the conclusion of the three-hour show, Lauer conducted a brief interview with University president Ronald Vaughn.

“We get some very interesting and entertaining things every year,” Vaughn said. “Certainly this is one of the most exciting.”