Journalist Reflects On Being "Geisted"


Richard Sandomir, author of the book "The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything," talks about what its like to have the tables turned on him as the subject of a story.

I don't toss cow patties (at least not competitively).

I don't roller skate with the elders of a rink in New Jersey.

I don't forecast the weather but I know rain when I see it.

I don't have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

And I don't hurl pumpkins, though I've eaten their pie.

These diverse subjects have engaged Bill Geist, which shows an eclecticism that has long made me wonder what types of quirky, goofy, funny, heartwarming story will bring Bill and his crew to visit you, me, or Mike, a chicken who survived two years without his head?

It can be awkward for one reporter, like Bill, to interview another reporter, like me, a sportswriter for the New York Times. You might have one seasoned questioner warily sizing up the ulterior motive of the other. But Bill isn't an interrogator, so I sense that his subjects, like the concrete conventioneers he has profiled, welcome him because his questions are not likely to yield a three-count indictment the next morning.

Until recently, I'd never thought of anything that I'd done since Bill came to CBS 20 years ago that would be worthy of being a Geistsegment.

But then came my new book – "The Enlightened Bracketologist: The Final Four of Everything" – which I co-edited with my agent, Mark Reiter, who once spent time retyping Bill's old columns for the Times to improve his own writing. In our book, we capitalize on the brackets formula that has been popularized by the NCAA men's basketball tournament. For the uninitiated, fans use the brackets to track the progress of their favorite teams during March Madness, or the progress of the teams they bet on.

Bill Geist's "Bracketology" from CBS News Sunday Morning
Get the latest NCAA scores from CBS SportsLine
In our version of "bracketology," we assigned more than 90 experts in their fields to "bracketize" subjects in the diverse worlds of sports, politics, culture, business, food, wine, and personal relationships. They were asked to play out tournaments in their heads, choose the winners in each "game" until a winner emerged, and write analyses of compelling match-ups.

The 101 brackets in the book include bald guys (which I did because I am one), "where were you when?" moments, game show catchphrases, newspaper headlines, classic film comedies, guilty pleasures, meaningless statistics, candy bars, kitchen utensils, pick-up lines, cartoon characters, the best Scrabble words, great advertising slogans, arias, red and white wines, inventions, golf swing thoughts and Sinatra songs.

Here was something I felt that Bill would like: a little weird, maybe a smidgen trendy. It has a connection to sports (Bill's written books about golf and Little League baseball, and covered shuffleboard) and an incestuous link to CBS, which televises the men's tournament, the very inspiration of our book. (I'm not sure I divulged to him that another funny man, Dave Barry, gave us a blurb that said our book was the one book to have in the bathroom if you could only have one, the greatest review I've ever gotten.)

And, yes, Bill liked it. I'm not sure if he liked bracketology more than sport fishing for trophy smelt or interviewing nude newscasters.
But he seemed amused.

We met two blocks from the CBS Broadcast Center in Manhattan, at the gymnasium of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The producer of the piece, Reid Orvedahl, told me in advance which brackets Bill wanted to discuss, so before the taping started, I studied them as I were cramming for the GRE's, so I would appear to be articulate. I rehearsed a few lines (one, in particular, about why Homer Simpson defeated Charlie Brown, John Glenn, Winston Churchill and Pope John Paul II in the bald guys bracket to face Gandhi in the final) that were guaranteed to make Bill chuckle, which I didn't think would be too difficult. Bill enjoys chuckling, which gives his face a Groucho-like look of delight.

Bill didn't come armed with pages of questions secure in a clipboard.

He came with my book which has a bright yellow cover.

He said we'd both be looking and leafing through the book throughout the segment. Imagine that: an open-book interview! On-air cheating.

We chatted for an hour or so in the nearly empty gym. There was no grilling over why the space won the punctuation bracket. Or why the banana didn't beat the peach in a semifinal game of the fruit bracket.

Bill asked me gently about this bracket or that. And we laughed a lot.

He selected the bracket of Shakespearean insults for our discussion and enjoyed having me read the Final Four aloud. But I would have preferred that Christopher Plummer announce the winner – "Thou wouldst eat they dead vomit up. And howl'st to find it." – than I.

We talked about a bracket that he and Reid developed – the most annoying love songs – and we got into an extraordinarily shallow discussion about "Feelings" and "You're Having My Baby."

And you know that moment in many TV interviews where you see what are called "establishing shots"? Like a writer typing in his office to establish that he's a writer? Or the one where the subject of the interview walks down the street, trying not to swing his arms too wildly or avoid looking directly at the camera? Bill and I did a tandem perp walk except we were smiling. Reid told us to walk from one end of the court to another. We engaged in naturally unnatural chatter as we walked at a gait that was not too slow and not too fast. We did that once. Reid told us to do it again but on a straighter line. He assured me that there would be no wind sprints afterward.

Bill and I chuckled some more and we said goodbye.

I'd been Geisted, which is not like being punk'd.

And it felt good.