Imagine, just for a moment, a world without cell phones, without computers, without cable TV, without instantaneous media overload. It’s quiet without the omnipresent background hum, isn’t it?
There’s no going off the grid, at least not in this office, where nine flat-screen monitors flicker from dusk to dawn, where the phone never stops ringing, new e-mail keeps piling up and decisions clamor to be made without hesitation. But it’s just another day at the office for Allison Marsh. Here, every moment is about moving forward; that’s the only way to keep from falling behind.
“I watch the news all day every day,” says Marsh, supervising producer for CNN’s Larry King Live. Just now, four of the nine muted monitors facing her desk feature talking heads, one is advertising a heartburn medication, one is providing live courtroom footage, two are teasing upcoming shows and one is deciding participants for the “Showcase Showdown.”
“The news changes all day, every day. Basically, there are 500 channels and they are all our competitors.” Marsh explains. “I follow them all day just to see what the lead story is.”
For the last six years, the 1998 USD graduate has been privy to the inner workings of CNN’s longest running interview program, and judging by the dozens of photos of herself with luminaries ranging from Presidents Clinton and Bush to George Clooney to Paul McCartney to Paris Hilton to Brad Pitt, the star power is a given. “What I love about my job is that it never gets old,” says Marsh. While the presidential campaign dominated much of 2008, before that, the focus was crime stories like Natalie Holloway and the Peterson trial. “Oh, and before that, it was pop culture for a while. Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears, Paris Hilton. We were almost an Access Hollywood type show. Now, of course, it’s politics.”
The self-possessed Marsh clearly doesn’t let the intensity of klieg lights, ticking clocks and non-stop interruptions distract her from the task at hand. “It’s all about what Larry King can do. That’s what makes us different than any other show.”
Originally from Portland, Oregon, Marsh fell in love with the University of San Diego the moment she saw the campus. “I had an amazing college experience,” she gushes. In fact, for her recent 10-year reunion, she got together with a group of college friends and rented a house on the beach. “We pretended like we were back in college again. We walked around campus and were amazed at how much has been done. We didn’t think it could get better, but it really has.”
After graduation, Marsh moved to San Francisco. “It was right when the dot-com craziness had started; me and half the USD class moved there because it was so easy to get a job.” It was great — for a while. Then the crash came.
“I remember sitting there one day in a building we’d bought in downtown San Francisco, and I was the only one left on the whole floor. It was just silent, empty cubicles.” When an old friend, Wendy Walker, called and asked if she’d be interested in coming back to San Diego, Marsh initially hesitated. “She’s the executive producer for Larry,” says Marsh. “And she was looking for someone to basically help her with the show, an assistant position. I remember thinking, ‘No, I’m a manager,’ but she said, ‘Just come down and see what you think.’
It turned out to be a great fit. “I got to listen to every conversation she had, every single conference call [Walker] was on. She’s known as one of the most powerful women in media; she came on board at CNN at the very beginning. Being around her 15 hours a day helped me learn quickly.”
These days, Marsh splits her time between offices in San Diego and Los Angeles. While the breakneck pace seems exhausting, there are plenty of perks. Such as the time she got to see Paul McCartney play a private party for a few hundred guests, and was subsequently invited to fly on a private plane with other Larry King staffers to Liverpool for a personal tour of his childhood home. “It was amazing,” she says with a broad smile. “It was crazy, insane, like nothing I’d ever experienced.”
But just now, the phone is, as usual, ringing off the hook. Time to get back to work, because the organized chaos that is live television waits for no one.