New York Scrapbook: Behind the scenes at the Today Show and SiriusXM radio with Dr. Halaharvi
It’s not every day a national television show comes calling. But that’s exactly what happened on Sept. 7, 2017. Producers from the Today Show were working on a special show to kick off Breast Cancer Awareness Month and were aware of Deepa Halaharvi, DO, breast cancer survivor and breast surgeon with OhioHealth Breast and Cancer Surgeons.
They thought she’d be the perfect fit to take part in their “PinkPowerTODAY Breast Cancer Summit” where she’d join six other physicians from around the country in answering viewer phone calls live on the show. There was also a small possibility that she’d be interviewed and have a chance to tell her story.
The following is a behind-the-scenes journal by OhioHealth Media Relations Manager, Katie Logan, of the preparation that took place and what happened when Dr. Halaharvi and team were in New York.
Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017 – Getting the Call
I was sitting at my desk writing a news release when my phone rang with a “212” area code on the display. On the other end of the line was Mary Ann, a producer with the Today Show, inviting Dr. Halaharvi to be a part of the #PinkPowerTODAY kick-off on Monday, Oct. 2. The segment would be led by anchor Hoda Kotb and would also feature legendary journalist and breast cancer survivor, Joan Lunden. The Today team had seen Dr. Halaharvi on local news segments and was confident she’d be a perfect fit for their panel. Mary Ann also said she knew Dr. Halaharvi was a breast cancer survivor and thought, if time permitted, they might mention a bit of her story. Trying to play it cool, I thanked Mary Ann for the opportunity and told her I would check with Dr. Halaharvi and be in touch as soon as possible.
I hung up the phone and immediately grabbed my cell phone. One of Dr. Halaharvi’s nurses told me it was a surgery day for her, so I sent her a text message asking her to call me when she was done – I had very exciting news to share!
Dr. Halaharvi wrapped up her surgery about a half hour after I texted her and I was able to share the news with her. She was ecstatic and thrilled about the opportunity and instantly accepted.
I called Mary Ann back and told her we were in. She then said she’d send a handful of questions for Dr. Halaharvi to answer so they could start preparing for the segment. Within minutes, I received an email with a variety of questions: things ranging from “what are the top 10 questions Dr. Halaharvi receives from patients and how does she answer them” to “tell me about your breast cancer journey.” Dr. Halaharvi and I scheduled time to go through them the next day.
September 2017 – Plan, Plan, Plan!
The rest of the month was devoted to making sure Dr. Halaharvi felt ready for the show. I worked with the Today
Show staff to coordinate flights, hotel, transportation, talking points, approvals for use of logos and day of show details – how would we get to the studio, what she should wear (fun fact: Dr. Halaharvi bought an awesome pink dress to wear on the show, then a few days later we learned that the Today Show decided all the doctors would be wearing PinkPowerTODAY t-shirts – but she did get the opportunity to wear the dress on a local news interview, which is pictured to the right). We even discussed details like if she should arrive at the studio with wet or dry hair (the answer was dry!)
A week before the show, the Today Show began promoting it, asking viewers to send in their questions using the #PinkPowerTODAY hashtag. This provided us with the opportunity to learn what viewers might be calling about on Oct. 2 and what questions Dr. Halaharvi could get asked live on TV. Being a practicing breast cancer surgeon, she knows the answers to many of these questions like the back of her hand – however, before a live interview, it’s always good to practice answering them as it can be intimidating with hot lights, cameras and a microphone in your face. A few days before we left, I searched the hashtag and pulled all the questions for Dr. Halaharvi to review on our last day in the office before we headed for the bright lights of the big city.
Oct. 1, 2017 – New York Arrival
I arrived in New York the day before, but Dr. Halaharvi arrived on Oct. 1, along with OhioHealth Cancer Services program director, Pauline Russ, and marketing manager Rachel Driskell. Pauline, who is also a breast cancer survivor, and Rachel decided to come along to provide more moral support for Dr. Halaharvi and to stand out on the famous Today Show Plaza during the show in their pink gear, holding up signs! Rachel also helped get photos for social media of Dr. Halaharvi’s travels into the city.
After a slight delay in getting to the hotel (you’ve got to love road closures due to parades and the general insanity of New York traffic!) Dr. Halaharvi, Pauline and Rachel arrived. We had made plans to have a quiet dinner and then head back to the hotel so Dr. Halaharvi could get a good night’s sleep before the big day. A Today Show intern would be picking us up in the hotel lobby at 5:45 a.m. the next morning to walk us over to 30 Rockefeller Center to begin hair and makeup for Dr. Halaharvi ahead of the show’s 7 a.m. start.
Oct. 2, 2017 – Tragedy Strikes Las Vegas
My alarm was set for 5 a.m. but nerves and excitement for the day woke me up at 4:45 a.m. I started to get ready and then turned on the television to catch up on the news from overnight. I was surprised to see Today Show anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie already on the air. My first thought in my groggy state was that I had overslept. But then I checked the clock and it read just after 5 a.m. Turning my attention back to the television, I quickly realized why the Today Show was on early. The largest mass shooting in American history had taken place hours earlier in Las Vegas and Today was in the midst of wall-to-wall coverage.
I knew chances were very good that our segment was going to be pre-empted or even cancelled all together in the wake of this terrible tragedy, which would dominate the news of the day. I grabbed my phone to see if I had a missed call or email from one of the producers telling us not to come. But there was no such message, so I continued to get ready, checking my phone every few minutes.
A little before 5:45, I headed down to the hotel lobby to meet Dr. Halaharvi, Pauline and Rachel. When they arrived downstairs, I made sure they were aware of the news (they were) and said I didn’t know what was going to happen in terms of the appearance. Soon after, the Today intern arrived to walk us over. I asked her if the segment was happening and she said a decision had not yet been made, so they still wanted everyone to gather in the green room.
When we arrived at Today, the green room had an eerie feel. For such a crowded space (Komen volunteers and the other doctors and scheduled guests were already assembled) the room was relatively quiet with many glued to NBC’s coverage. To no one's surprise, we soon found out that the #PinkPowerTODAY segment would no longer be happening that day. The producer asked us what our availability was – they were thinking of rescheduling it for either Wednesday or Friday. We agreed we could stay in the city until Wednesday, but if it was going to be Friday, we would fly home as scheduled and come back Thursday evening so Dr. Halaharvi could get back to her patients. The producer said they were staying on the air until 2 p.m., after which their team would reconvene and let us know the official reschedule date.
Shortly after the announcement, Today anchor Hoda Kotb came down to the green room. I can tell you that she is just as nice in person as she is on television. She spent time with everyone in the room, apologizing for the cancellation and giving hugs to those gathered. Of course, we completely understood. While we were a little sad to not go on as scheduled, it paled in comparison to the heartache the families of those in Las Vegas were dealing with. Hoda reassured us that her team would be in touch and we headed back out into midtown Manhattan in search of breakfast.
We spent the next few hours in the city trying to distract ourselves from the news by doing a little exploring, all while waiting for a call or email from the producers. Pauline and Rachel needed to head back to Columbus as scheduled for meetings the next day, so Dr. Halaharvi and I remained in New York waiting for an update.
At 3 p.m., I got a message that a date was not yet determined. With flights back to Columbus scheduled for that evening, we were certainly starting to get a little anxious! Do we stay at the hotel and risk missing our flight back if we were in fact leaving that evening, or do we go to the airport and have to turn around if the segment is going to be an earlier date that would keep us in the city?
Around 5 p.m., I got the email we had been waiting for – the segment was on for Wednesday. We rescheduled our flights home for Wednesday evening, extended our hotel stays by two nights and started to mentally prepare ourselves for the segment again.
We grabbed a quick dinner near Times Square and went to bed early. After an early start and the uncertainty of the day, we were both ready to call it a night.
Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017 – Some Exciting News
With an extra day in the city, I thought it might be nice for Dr. Halaharvi to see what live television was like before she was the one in front of the camera. It is so much more than what you see on TV – producers giving last-minute notes, makeup artists and hairstylists running around to all the guests, sets being completely changed out in two minutes during a commercial break. I wanted to make sure that she was aware of all this movement and experienced it, so we obtained tickets to the new third hour of the Today Show, which is hosted by anchor Megyn Kelly and filmed before a live studio audience. Dr. Halaharvi agreed it would be valuable to see what a live show was like behind-the-scenes and got to experience it without the pressure of being in front of the camera (even though we had randomly been given excellent seats and she was on-camera as an audience member many times during the show; in the screenshot below, she's on the left side in the pink shirt).
We left NBC around 10:30 and then it was back to the hotel to do some work. The day before, Dr. Halaharvi had already called her office to reschedule her Tuesday patients and then needed to reschedule her Wednesday patients as well due to the delayed appearance. She would spend much of the day Tuesday calling those patients from the hotel to check in and answer any questions they had. The concern and positive relationship that Dr. Halaharvi has for her patients was evident as she wanted to make sure that she was there for them, even while miles away. As she said, “the television appearance is exciting, but my purpose is to care for my patients.” Many of her patients were texting and calling her throughout the trip to wish her good luck.
We went to the hotel lobby to have an early dinner and while we were there, we received a call from Mary Ann, the producer we were working with. Our first thought when we saw her number pop up was that we had been canceled, but it was much better news. She wanted to let us know that they had made some changes and decided to move Dr. Halaharvi to the interview panel. This meant she would definitely get the opportunity to share her story and answer questions live on the show, not just during the live event on YouTube that would run after we were off the air at 9 a.m. Mary Ann said she wanted Dr. Halaharvi to share the top three questions she gets from patients, tell a little of her own breast cancer journey and answer a question they had received via Twitter. We were so excited! Not only would she be on the show, she was also going to be interviewed by Hoda!
Another early night, to make sure Dr. Halaharvi was well rested for the big day.
Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017 – Show Day, Take Two
We woke up early again, a little after 4 a.m. to start getting ready and go over the questions she would be asked. Dr. Halaharvi practiced them a few times to make sure she was giving concise, but descriptive answers. We also flipped on the news to make sure there wasn’t any major breaking news – fortunately, it was a quiet news day!
The hotel coffee shop was closed, so after we got ready, we ran across the street to Starbucks to get some caffeine. Then it was back to the hotel lobby to wait for our escort over to the studio.
The intern arrived at 6 a.m. and walked us back to 30 Rockefeller Plaza. From there, the fun began! Dr. Halaharvi was whisked into the hair and makeup room to get television ready. After she and the other doctors had been “beautified,” the producer and an NBC attorney gathered us together to go over what the segments would look like. The attorney also discussed what could and could not be discussed with callers (for example, they couldn’t diagnose someone over the phone, but that they could give general answers and suggestions on next steps.) From there, it was off to the set a little before 7 a.m. We were taken up a narrow stairwell to the studio (we were filming in the same studio where Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda tape their 10 a.m. show every day.) On the way up the stairs, we even passed Al Roker!
Dr. Halaharvi and the other doctors were given their seating assignments on set and were instructed on how to use the phones. Representatives from Susan G. Komen were answering the calls and then forwarding them along to the appropriate doctor – in addition to surgeons, there was a radiologist, oncologist, and psychiatrist on set. Joan Lunden was even back to offer her words of wisdom and share her experiences with callers. The phones started ringing at 7 a.m. when the show went on the air as the number was given out and were steady all morning. Dr. Halaharvi remarked that she received questions on a variety of topics and was honored to help women all over the country.
At 8:35, it was time for the big moment – Dr. Halaharvi’s interview with Hoda! She started off by sharing her own cancer story, then talked about the three questions she is most often asked by her patients. As someone who works with Dr. Halaharvi, it was quite a thrill to see her being interviewed live on national television in front of six million viewers. She handled the pressure like a pro!
At 9 a.m., the live television portion ended, and the Today Show went live on their YouTube channel, with Hoda interviewing the other doctors who weren’t interviewed on television and continuing to give out the phone number. At 9:30, we were released from the set and headed downstairs to another green room to answer phone calls for west coast viewers. The show we had done live in the eastern time zone was now airing in the mountain and Pacific time zones and they needed some volunteers to answer those calls. The phones rang off the hook until 12:30 eastern, which meant Dr. Halaharvi was answering viewer phone calls for over five hours!
12:30 didn’t mean it was time to rest though. Dr. Halaharvi was asked earlier that morning to go across the street to the SiriusXM satellite radio studios and be a guest on Hoda’s radio show on the Today Show radio channel! We were both really excited to get some more time with Hoda – she had been so gracious and friendly to everyone and we weren’t ready to say goodbye. And, it would be a longer segment than Dr. Halaharvi’s television interview, which meant she got more time to tell her story and even take a phone call from a listener. With many different radio channels broadcasting out of the midtown studios, it was celebrity central! In the lobby alone, we saw country singer Zac Brown, actress Jenny McCarthy and actor/comedian Russell Brand!
When it was Dr. Halaharvi’s turn on the show, we were escorted back to the studio. Live on the radio, Hoda asked Dr. Halaharvi about her diagnosis and how being a survivor made her a better doctor. They also talked about risk factors for cancer, symptoms and more. Once off the air, we took photos with Hoda, shot a quick interview for the OhioHealth Newsroom video above, thanked her and headed out.
Once we walked out onto 6th Avenue around 1:30 p.m., we were able to take a breath. We both looked at each other in disbelief of what had happened today. Dr. Halaharvi got the opportunity to share her story with millions and provide comfort and guidance to many on the phone. It was an incredible day and opportunity!
We grabbed a late lunch at some food trucks lined up on the street, then ran back to the hotel to pack and decompress for a couple of minutes before our car arrived at 3 p.m. to take us to the airport. Once at the airport, we scrolled through our phones looking at our photos, still in shock that the day really happened. We arrived back in Columbus just after 8 p.m. that evening, grateful for the opportunity. Then it was back home and to bed – after all, Dr. Halaharvi had patients to operate on the following morning.
To see Dr. Halaharvi's interview on the Today Show, click on the Today Show logo below.
To listen to Dr. Halaharvi's SiriusXM interview, click on the SiriusXM logo below. (Note: some businesses block the app used to play the audio for this interview. If this is the case for you, you may need to use your mobile device or personal computer off of your work network to be able to listen.)