Moving at Warp Speed

Sarah Moga '04


When asked to pick a favorite, it’s impossible to decide. Was it hero Capt. Sullenberger? (“So nice, so humble.”) But then again, Prince Harry’s polo match was awfully cool. (“Really exciting, plus I met Madonna.”) Oh, and just the night before, there was the dinner with Top Chef honcho Tom Colicchio at his Manhattan eatery, Craftsteak. (“Absolutely delicious.”) But the truth is, when your career is centered on newsmakers, celebrities and politicians, it’s a bit unfair to designate one as most memorable.

At 27 years old, Sarah Moga is on an upward trajectory. The Manhattan-based producer for The Early Show tends to walk swiftly, pause briefly, keep moving — an ultra-efficient powerhouse. “When it comes to my job in the control room, only three people here know how to do it,” she explains, heels tapping at hyper-speed down the corridors of CBS headquarters on West 57th Street. “It’s the fastest paced of all the jobs I do; after doing that, everything else feels slow.”

That said, she’s more than comfortable stepping in as executive producer when asked. “You’re not dealing with small decisions, that’s about big picture stuff.” But it’s crucial to have a broader sense of what it takes to put the show on the air every morning.

“There are a few of us who switch around,” Moga explains. A brilliant smile flashes, intensity radiates from blue-green eyes. “I can be a broadcast producer in the morning, then move up quickly to a more senior role. It’s important to know how to do all of the jobs. You don’t want to be ignorant that booking (a guest) takes a lot of work. You’ve got to know what it’s like to be out there, to be at a plane crash, to need to get something to put on the air.”

She pauses for a rare moment, and then continues. “The schedule can be really hard. Interviews fall through; you’re always checking your phone. You’ve got to be able to figure out what’s going on. When you’re dealing with people in a crisis, you’ve just got to be sincere. Sometimes they don’t want to talk, and it’s disappointing when you can’t get what’s best for the show. Some people shut down, some people feel harassed.”

As goal-driven as she is now, it’s a bit surprising that the English/Spanish double major didn’t have a clue where she’d wind up when she graduated from USD in 2004. “I never took a communications course,” she confesses with a laugh, “though I did work as arts and culture editor for The Vista.” An internship at a local station piqued her interest in television during senior year; nonetheless, she wound up returning to her hometown to pursue a graduate degree in Latin American studies at the University of Chicago.

After a stint working for then-Sen. Obama’s press secretary as a grad student, Moga gravitated back toward TV news. Sheer persistence was a major factor in helping her to break into the notoriously tough field. “It was really hard,” she recalls. “To get hired on as a freelancer, I called the assistant news director at WGN-TV in Chicago a million times. I needed to make him meet me.” When the station had cutbacks and quit using outside workers, Fox Chicago News, a local affiliate, picked her up as a contractor. “I worked really hard until they offered me a full-time job,” she says. “It was a bad schedule; they’d call you at 11 p.m. and want you to work in two hours. “

A quick study, Moga learned to be the person that always comes through in a pinch. “You have to be the one they can count on,” she says. “That’s what it’s all about.” Through a series of fortuitous circumstances, she wound up in New York taking a meeting in the car of The Early Show’s new executive producer, Shelly Ross, on her way home from work. When they arrived at her apartment, Ross had heard enough. “She said, ‘I love you, when can you move?’”

Moga shakes her head, incredulous. “They needed a good control room producer. I knew how to write, but I had to learn how to produce. I still can’t believe how much more I know now than I knew then.”

The studios she works in can be over-the-top with information overload. She stops by the evening newsroom — a familiar-seeming place where Katie Couric takes center stage five nights a week — and points out the evening news producers, the foreign desk, the national desk. At the flick of a switch, remote footage of video feeds from all over the world can be called up, as needed. “When you talk to the camera talent, you’re right there, in their ear,” Moga explains.

Just now, it’s the beginning of hour two of The Early Show, and the control room at the main CBS studio in the General Motors building at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue is dim but for the flickering light of a wall full of tiny video monitors. An occasional murmur breaks the near silence: “Stand by.” “Talk him down.” “We’re killing the car chat.” On this particular day, Amanda Holden of Britain’s Got Talent is guest host, accompanied by show regulars Harry Smith and Dave Price. A food segment about pluots (a hybrid fruit that’s part plum and part apricot) has just aired. Later, the crew will get a taste: They’re tart, unexpected, delicious.

But that’s later. “It’s important to pay attention to the time, to know when to wrap things up,” Moga explains. “You talk to the camera talent; you’re in their ear. And part of your job as a producer is to find out who’s a ‘good talker.’” Nonetheless, even the best talkers occasionally get in front of the cameras, look directly into the eye of the camera lens, and freeze. Not for long. It’s the executive producer’s job to not let a moment like that highjack the show.

Moving on. Now, at 8:13:08 a.m. on a Thursday, all is well. “It’s always intense at 7 a.m. when it’s all news, but now we’ve moved on to chat, so no one’s really stressed.” Even in heels, Moga is sure-footed as she makes her way through the corridors, in spite of the cords that snake treacherously across the floor. She makes time to stop and exchange a friendly word with the make-up guy, banter with a cameraman and shoot the breeze with a fellow producer outside the bathroom. A moment later, she’s in another studio, perching on a riser just off camera, while the anchors wait for their cue to resume their banter after the commercial break ends.

The hours can be long — 14-hour days aren’t uncommon. “It can be hard, because most of my friends have normal jobs,” Moga says. “Many times my friends are just coming home when I’m leaving for work.” She brightens, her face lighting up like a spring flower. “Still, there’s so much fun stuff, and five years from now, well, if I stay in news, I want to be an executive producer. That would be the goal.” She’s relaxed, in her element. Of course she doesn’t know just now that in a few hours she’ll be on a plane, headed for Argentina, in search of details about a story that’s been dominating the headlines for days. The stage director raises one hand. “Quiet please! We’re going to work!”

Sarah Moga leans forward. She’s ready. — Julene Snyder

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