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Q&A with Willie Geist

Host of MSNBC’s Way Too Early

A Career That Starts in Sports TV Can Take You Just About Anywhere




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Willie Geist always had a hunch that he wanted to be on camera but after graduating with a degree in Political Science and French, it took a little time to get noticed.

“After years of writing and field producing for other people, it’s nice to finally tell a story in your own voice,” says the acclaimed author and host of “Way too Early” on MSNBC, “but mostly it’s good to get quick, preferential service at the dry cleaner. Who knew shirts could come back in an hour?”

Geist started out doing his own laundry while working overnights as a sports video editor, then made his way up the ranks as a writer and producer. But it wasn’t until he transitioned to News that he got his big break.

As Senior Producer of "The Situation with Tucker Carlson" executives started to notice Geists calm-but-provoking nature, dry wit and overall rapport with host Carlson. Soon thereafter Geist was added to the final segment of "The Situation" and in 2007 was named a co-host of MSNBC’s "Morning Joe".

Since that time Geist has launched his own show "Way Too Early" and has written a book "American Freak Show". Geists second book is set to come out in May and is a spoof on ‘Get Rich Quick’ books titled: "Loaded! Become a Millionaire Overnight and Lose 20 Pounds in 2 Weeks, Or Your Money Back!".

From Sports TV junkie to one of the brightest young stars on Television. Here’s Willie Geist:


Willie Geist’s TV “Stats”

Education: Vanderbilt University

Production Jobs held: Video Editor, Writer, Producer, Reporter, Co-Host MSNBC’s "Morning Joe" and Host of "Way Too Early with Willie Geist"

Stations worked at: CNN/Sports Illustrated, CNN Sports, Fox Sports Net, MSNBC

Best piece of advice: If you’re young, don’t walk into your first job and let everyone know that your sole purpose for being there is to get on TV. Just work hard, shoot your demo reel during off hours, and listen to people who are doing what you want to be doing. Your time will come.

Most Embarrassing moment involving a former TV Superhero: We had Lynda Carter on a while back and I asked her if she still could fit into the Wonderwoman suit. I didn’t get the sense that she liked that.



When did you decide that you wanted to work in Television?

During an internship the summer before my senior year in college at Vanderbilt. I worked in the Political Unit at CBS News during the 1996 presidential campaign. I caught the bug while running around the conventions dubbing tapes and getting lunch for people who actually were being paid for their work.

Where did you get your education and did it help get your started in Broadcasting?

Geist: I went to all the public schools in my hometown of Ridgewood, New Jersey and then on to Vanderbilt University in Nashville. I didn’t study television or even communications in any way. I was a political science major with a minor in French. My best advice is not to spend four years learning the technical ins and outs of television. Just get smart in a wide range of areas. It’ll help you in your career more than any TV class.

How did you land your first TV Job and where was it?

Geist: My first TV job was as a video editor at CNN/Sports Illustrated, a 24-hour sports network in Atlanta. I moved to Atlanta with friends after college and sent resumes to every media outlet in town — television and print. I got an interview at CNN/SI and somehow tricked someone into hiring me. The network didn’t last long, but it’s still the most fun, and the most learning, I’ve ever had in TV. It was a group of smart, motivated, excited twenty-somethings programming and producing an entire network. There was opportunity around every corner.

After your first job how has your career developed in roles and locations?

Geist: I was at CNN for six and a half years. After CNN/Sports Illustrated went under, I stayed on as a producer, both in the studio and in the field, at CNN Sports (a much, much smaller version of CNN/SI which serviced CNN and CNN Headline News). From there I took a job in New York as a writer and producer for a sports debate show on Fox Sports Net. That show had a short run and I made the jump over to MSNBC, where I was a senior producer, but also did some on-air work. "Morning Joe" was conceived in 2007, and I eventually was chosen as one of the three co-hosts.

Did you know early on in that you wanted to end up on camera?

Geist: I always had a hunch. My dad is a correspondent at CBS News, so it was in the air growing up. After years of writing and field producing for other people, it’s nice finally to tell a story in your own voice. But mostly it’s good to get quick, preferential service at the dry cleaner. Who knew shirts could come back in an hour?

What is the hardest thing about working in Television?

Geist: The hours were absurd, but I was 22 so I didn’t really notice. I worked every weekend, usually from 7pm-3am as we waited for the Mariners-A’s extra inning game to end mercifully. Generally, you have to be willing to work strange hours in TV (today, I’m on the other end of the spectrum — waking up at 3am for a morning show) and be prepared for change. TV shows come and go pretty quickly and that means your job often does too.

Was it a hard transition to go from Sports to News?

Geist: It wasn’t too hard. I always was engaged in the news and followed politics, so it actually was exciting and refreshing. I’ve found, a few years later now, that I like working in news and keeping sports as a hobby. Grinding out highlights and digging deep into sports every day starts to feel less like fun and more like a job — which it was.

Do you see yourself getting back into sports at some point?

Geist: It seems unlikely now that I’ve traveled several years down the news road, but I never say never. David Letterman was a weatherman. Careers take strange turns.

Did you ever say anything during a show that was really embarrasing that you wished you could take back?

Geist: I’m on live TV for three and a half hours every day, so odds are you’re going to spit out a few words you’d like back. We had Lynda Carter on a while back and I asked her if she still could fit into the Wonderwoman suit. I didn’t get the sense that she liked that.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue an on camera job?

Geist: My advice is always to be yourself. It sounds trite, but the best thing you can do is to be genuine, to put out your signal, and then see if people get it. People see right through contrivance and phoniness. And if you’re young, don’t walk into your first job and let everyone know that your sole purpose for being there is to get on TV. Just work hard, shoot your demo reel during off hours, and listen to people who are doing what you want to be doing. Your time will come. Also, never — under any circumstances — use puns. They’re a red flag.

What is your favorite sports memory?

Geist: Even though my team lost the series, those 2001 World Series games at Yankee Stadium, played just weeks after September 11th, were like religious experiences. The dramatic home runs hit by Scott Brosius, Tino Martinez, and Derek Jeter — and the foundation-shaking explosions of emotion that followed them in that stadium — forever will send chills up my spine.

Who have you interviewed that made the most lasting impression?

Geist: We had George Clooney on recently. He was as cool as you’d hope he’d be — smart, funny, and, well, George Clooney. I had a great interview not long ago with Condoleeza Rice. Rising from segregated Birmingham to become the United States Secretary of State — a great personal story. On the athlete side, Mark Sanchez was very cool when we had him on. He even laughed when we reminded him of the pay cut he had to take from the Jets after playing in the well-paying program at USC.