It is always a gamble. Anytime we decide to do a live shot in a public place, there's a chance something could happen on live television that we had not anticipated. It is the chance we take. Luckily, most of the "backgrounding" by people during our live shots is benign and draws little attention.
Because I spend most of my time at the Wake County Courthouse, I do the majority of my live shots on the sidewalks on Fayetteville and Salisbury streets. On any given week day, these sidewalks are bustling with people who work in and visit downtown Raleigh. People routinely walk behind me during live shots. Sometimes they are aware of it; other times they are not.
Last week, there was one particular visitor in my live shot who created a buzz in the courthouse and online — Judge Howard Manning.
Just before my live shot on a murder trial that I have been covering, he was chatting on the sidewalk nearby with my photographer, Chad Flowers, and another media colleague. As soon as the anchors tossed to me I became hyper-focused, trying to block out whatever was going on around me and concentrate on the very serious story that I was covering.
Apparently, Judge Manning, not knowing what I reporting on, decided to dance through the shot and give us a little wave and a smile. At the time, I knew nothing about it. The next day, as I entered the courtroom I saw a group of court employees and officials crowding around a computer laughing hysterically.
"Have you seen it?" one woman asked me. "You have to see it!"
The whole things lasted less than two seconds. But luckily a friend in the courthouse captured an image from the video, so the exact moment that the judge was behind me would be forever be preserved. The video and the image circulated like wildfire around the legal community in downtown Raleigh, giving everyone, including myself, a good laugh.
Later in the day, the News & Observer decided to write a blog about it. They interviewed Manning, who said he was just trying to add a little levity to our day, and again he didn't know the content of the story we were covering.
In hindsight, the judge's "dance" made a lot of people smile — people who spend a lot of their time dealing with tragedies on a daily basis, people who need a dose of levity every once in awhile.
I was getting e-mails and visits in the courtroom from normally stoic attorneys who said they had watched it over and over. One friend said she wasn't surprised WRAL's server hadn't crashed given the number of people viewing it. Judge Manning took the attention with his usual brand of offbeat humor telling the newspaper reporter that no one had asked him to audition for the ballet after his performance.
I got an e-mail from one courthouse official asking me if Judge Manning and I planned to be on "Dancing with the Stars." I told him they hadn't called yet, but I'm not ruling anything out.