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  • Writer's pictureE. Sclafani Bayless

My New Life As Skip's Everything

Never in my wildest dreams did I envision becoming Skip’s camera operator, producer, makeup artist, and stylist, but welcome to my world (at least for the foreseeable future.)

Here is a quick recap of my work history as well as how my new “career” came about: When I was a kid growing up on Long Island, I dreamed of being in fashion. When I reached my teens, my entire world was fashion.  I devoured every fashion magazine; Vogue, Glamour, Mademoiselle, Harpers Bazaar, Seventeen, Teen ... you get the picture. I also lived for music and entertainment publications like Tiger Beat, Fave, 16, Hollywood Movie Magazine and Hollywood Screen. My dream was to move to the Big Apple and work on 7th Avenue, aka Fashion Avenue. That was the place one needed to be if you had a sense of style and that ESP touch for what was going to be worn next year. No idea where this obsession came from, but I had it.  I didn't come from a family that was riddled with relatives in the garment business … wait, I take that back, my father’s sister Phyllis - Aunt Phyllis - was the ladies' sweater buyer for Alexander’s department store in New York City, which back in the day was THE place to shop. Of course, it no longer exists, but back then it was right up there with Macy’s and Gimbels (ah, another cool store from the past.) My mom was also a true fashionista, always “dressed to the nines.” She just adored clothes. Her closet was filled with classic, sophisticated, and trendy looks. She owned the neatest footwear and accessories and her jewelry boxes overflowed on top of her dresser. I finally landed my first “heart of 7th Avenue fashion job” working for Izod Lacoste. This life I was living was far better than my dreams; My new friends included designers, stylists, art directors, models, pattern makers, and anyone else it took to create a clothing line. I eventually moved out of Izod and onto working in lingerie and hosiery, designing for major brands like Charles Jourdan. That was a real hoot since it included spending tons of time in North Carolina where hosiery mills are located. It was in an incredible part of the country way up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, in a tiny town called Spruce Pine, so small the “hotel” I stayed in had originally been a schoolhouse that they converted into a hotel/motel for out of towners. Each time I checked in I wondered which classroom I was staying in tonight … English? social studies? home ec? After my lingerie/hosiery stint, I transitioned to public relations and worked for Bally Of Switzerland, the footwear and accessory company. My magazine obsession came to life when a large part of my job was to work with every publication and their editors to pitch our product to use in their fashion spreads. I also traveled endlessly to Europe, where their headquarters and showroom was located.

This was the epitome of fashion and for the first time, I felt entrenched in the glamour of it all. When the ten-year mark came, I had an opportunity to take my “pitching” talents to a public relations agency, which was a different animal entirely. Edelman, the largest independently owned PR firm in the world, was now my home. Big time, working on a large array of clients, from travel to food to lifestyle and consumer brands. Name a brand, I pitched it. My boss decided to jump ship and work for one of the world's leading global PR firms, Weber Shandwick, and six months later asked if I would join him to create a media division in New York (he was based in Chicago, where the corporate office is located). Since we were good friends in addition to co-workers, I trusted him and took the plunge after 11 years at Edelman.  Little did I know Weber Shandwick would change my life in a major way… it was where I would meet Skip. One fateful day I was accompanying the actor Kevin Dillon from Entourage to a few national TV segments — he was a spokesperson for one of our client's brands. One of the shows was Cold Pizza, Skip’s ESPN show. We met in the Green Room, exchanged quick hellos, chatted briefly, I handed him my business card, and the rest is history.

We have been together for 14 years, going on 15 this August. We owe Kevin and Hanes (our client) a big thank you! So all of this brings me to "MY NEW UNDISPUTED WORK LIFE." When this pandemic hit hard about three weeks ago, Fox Studios shut down and Skip decided to do Undisputed from our house. The first week Shannon Sharpe and three Fox camera/production people came over early in the morning to create TV magic — the end result being a real show from our living room. I was nervous the moment Skip revealed the plan. People coming over to our sterile stronghold, Chez Lysol. I shared my concerns but he assured me they were going to practice social distancing and they would not be spreading out throughout the house. “They will work in a contained area,” Skip promised. Well, let's just say that’s not exactly how it turned out. In order to pull this show off, cameras had to be placed across our living room, wires were run from downstairs up the staircase to our loft and the electronics closet. A "contained area" turned into basically using the entrance hall, living room, dining area, upstairs and parts of the kitchen. Social distancing went out of the window.  My new job: after every show, as soon as the group left the house, I became a full-force cleaning nut. I opened every screendoor and window, wore my mask, gloves, hoodie and winter coat and attacked with Lysol, Clorox wipes, alcohol, Fabuloso for washing the floors, Windex for our glass dining room table... Let’s put it this way, if there was a germ who had the slightest notion about coming into our house, it would immediately run for the hills! It took me over an hour to clean daily, ending with vacuuming. I was physically wiped out. After the first week of filming in the house, I continued to watch the ever-growing COVID-19 numbers and endless news reports saying that masks and gloves were a requirement as well as at least six feet of social distancing. Say no more, the Bayless Rules changed. Anyone entering our house had to cover face, hands and remove shoes. We were just learning that someone can be asymptomatic and not even know he or she had COVID-19.  The gang involved gladly adhered to our new rule, after all, we were opening up our home and taking a big risk by allowing them in, but I still did not feel good about it. Skip, on the other hand, was just happy his show was back on the air and he was able to continue doing what he loves, debating sports. Just for the record, I am pretty easy going but when things don’t feel right to me my Italian/Jewish temper (thanks, Mom and Dad) rears its ugly head, and let's just say you don’t want to be around. That is exactly what happened. After two weeks of shooting Undisputed in our living room, I had it in my head this was ending. That’s when Skip casually told me the gang was coming back tomorrow. Tomorrow? I can't take this anymore! I have hit the wall! Not only is this not safe for all involved, but I cannot continue to non-stop clean! I did not sign up for this! I was living in a nightmarish “Groundhog Day." Once I lost it, Skip finally understood and agreed with me that things had to change.

He discussed the situation with his executive team at Fox and they came up with another idea. Instead of three cameras and four people at our house, let's try one camera and one person, with Shannon doing the same from his house. Well, it was better than a group, and this time we would use our loft, a much smaller and contained area. The one camera person agreed to wear a mask and gloves and remove his shoes as soon as he walked in. We created a set in the loft. Skip was happy, the show looked great, debates were flying, but I was still shaky that we had someone other than the two of us and Hazel (our Maltese) in our house daily. The virus toll was gaining by the second, and I was still cleaning like a crazy person, only now it was up in the loft. Yes, it was better than before, but not perfect. Then one night I happened to be watching Inside Edition when I heard Deborah Norville say that she was alone in her studio with a robotic camera. There was no camera person. A lightbulb went on in my head! That was the answer!

As soon as Michael, our camera expert, arrived in the morning I asked him if that was possible. He knew exactly what it was and said he thought Fox had acquired a few of those robotic cameras and was planning on giving them a whirl. He did say someone has to be responsible for turning the camera and equipment on an hour or so before the show, as well as be in communication throughout the show with the director, producer, audio person, and tech people — the many cooks necessary in this virtual kitchen. At any moment things may need to be adjusted such as sound or lights. It is not easy to pull off airing a national-TV show remotely, even though when it airs, it looks seamless. Without even thinking twice, I volunteered to be the new Fox everything person at our house. Michael was happy to hear I accepted since he was no more comfortable risking being in our house than we were having him there. Finally there would be no outsider inside, just Skip and I. Skip felt good about my participation since he knew anything I agreed to do I would do 150%. It's just who I am, and once I learned “the ropes" we would be off to the races. Since the first day the show was filmed in our house, I had already taken on the role of Skip’s makeup artist. My bathroom closets look like a Sephora store and I confess I am a makeup addict, so to help Skip put his TV face on was not a problem. After the robotic camera was installed, Michael walked me through the process of what each day would entail. I now had my daily pre-show list and I was ready to rock. You have to understand that Skip is a perfectionist, especially when it comes to his work and the show. Skip preps and researches like a maniac each night and morning before Undisputed —  he does not have a second to think about anything else except the two-hour live debate against Shannon.  So for him to worry about mics and lighting and makeup and clothes, his head would pop off. The way I look at it, the small contribution I can provide in easing his mind is not that much of a sacrifice. When you love someone, the little things you do for each other can’t be counted on a list. It’s what a relationship is all about.   He never gets nervous, EXCEPT the first time I was on Undisputed to promote my recent book Balls: How To Keep Your Relationship Alive When You Live With A Sports Obsessed Guy.  I had zero nerves as they microphoned me to sit beside him at the debate desk to be on the show. He, on the other hand, was a wreck. Even one of the hairstylists said she had never seen Skip this nervous in her four years being around him. I asked him after the show (which ended up being a big-time ratings-maker) why he was flipping out. He told me he was afraid I would end up not being calm once the camera’s red light went on, so he was carrying the nerves for the both of us. The night before we did the first live "loft" show from our house with me as his newly appointed "camera tech, producer, audio person, makeup artist, and clothing stylist," he asked me at least five times before he went to bed, "you

 

good for the morning?"


"Yep, I am fine. Yep, all good."


I am positive he did not sleep a wink. I, on the other hand, slept just fine. The first day went off without a glitch or hitch (Sort of!) The only faux pas was that while the show was live upstairs, I happened to be walking from the kitchen to my office in the back of the house and yikes, I had my phone on speaker! Azzie, Skip’s producer was in the middle of providing direction to his team and Skip could hear everything while he was debating Shannon. I quickly muted my phone and the morning was right again. Other than that, Skip was happy, the Undisputed folks were happy, and that made me very happy. The way I look at it, I am on a new journey. It is exciting and invigorating to be a part of the behind-the-scene madness it takes to pull together a live national show with three on-air talents located in three different locations. Each day I witness the endless concentration, attention to detail, and camaraderie among talented people. I experience firsthand the “must-keep" sense of humor they all have from the moment I place my earpiece in at 6:30 a.m. until the show ends at 9:00. I have also enjoyed making “new morning friends," Azzie, Reggie, Paul, Jim, Lindsay, and Angie. My new normal is looking forward to hearing their voices again tomorrow! God speed. - E

Skip getting ready for the show, filmed in our home's loft.

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