Gina Brown’s career began in New York City, took a side trip to Chattanooga, and has taken her back to the Big Apple, where she has happily worked as the production coordinator for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart for several years. Brown works behind the scenes, and occasionally she enjoys on-camera appearances.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga alumna’s face is familiar to those who follow local news in Chattanooga. Brown worked as a reporter for the NBC affiliate, WRCB-TV 3, but her television experience began as a student at UT Chattanooga.
Brown landed the kind of intern opportunity that would make any communication student salivate. In 1999 she moved to New York City to learn on the set of The Late Show with David Letterman. Those familiar with the show may believe the interns have unlimited accessibility to the show’s star.
“I had very little contact with David,” Brown admitted. “Every time I did run into him, he was pleasant. Though Dave Letterman is very involved, he has an incredible staff that works their collective you-know-what off to put on the shows you see every night. I learned a lot from so many people there.”
Brown compared television production at The Late Show to baking a cake. A variety of ingredients are added by many departments, the creators taste a sample, maybe decide it needs more sugar, and then they serve up a confection they hope everyone enjoys.
“The experience of working on such a successful show and seeing a legend perform day in and day out can’t be topped, but seeing all of these people work together, that is really cool. It seems like a blur, but an instrumental blur or else I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Brown said.
Saying she was much braver then, Brown marvels at how she lived with two other interns in a walk-up at 61st and Lexington.
“We took turns with a bed, a pullout, and a futon,” Brown said. “Though I had an amazing time during my internship, I really learned a lot living and working in such close proximity with two other kids my age.”
Upon her return to Chattanooga, she graduated from UTC and returned to NYC as the talent receptionist at The Late Show with David Letterman, which meant Brown answered phones all day. She even answered the phone at her house by saying, “Late Show!”
It wasn’t long before The Daily Show with Jon Stewart offered Brown the job of production assistant. “My first job there was about logging tapes, answering phones, ordering supplies, fixing copiers, and running around scripts. Some may call it gofer work, but I’m so glad I did it. I think anyone who doesn’t come up through the ranks is truly missing out on the process,” Brown said.
Brown’s responsibilities increased when she was named production coordinator, and her career seemed to be on track. But she took an impulsive leap, deciding she wanted to be a news reporter. In Chattanooga, she was hired by Fox 61 News.
It was another time to stretch, in her career and in the way Brown chose to live. “At first, I had a hard time adjusting to Chattanooga. I missed my friends; I was living with parents again; and I had to buy a car. I love New York, but I really love Chattanooga. New York is where my career is and I’m very happy, but Chattanooga is where my family is. It can be a struggle,” Brown said.
After making a transition to WRCB Eyewitness News, Brown realized she had the best job–and the worst. “I like to perform, but not as Gina Brown,” Brown said. “I think to grow as a reporter you really have to have tenacity unlike any other. I didn’t have it for that particular profession. I enjoyed the process of telling a story, but I needed my own pace.”
She is amazed at some of the stories she did. There was the tale of the 5-foot iguana that wore human clothing and another about Ku Klux Klan murals discovered decades after they were created. “If I could have done feature stories and no hard news, I don’t know if I would have left,” Brown said.
One of Brown’s mentors, WRCB Eyewitness News anchor David Carroll, recalled that she was eager to learn. “Gina actually enjoyed having someone critique tapes of her performance. That’s hard to hear sometimes, to have someone nitpicking your every word, move, and gesture. But she knew that was the only way to improve,” he said.
Her appealing personality came through on the air, Carroll said, and viewers often felt like they knew her. “She wasn’t trying to be Diane Sawyer, or Katie Couric, or anyone else but Gina. She has that sparkle in her eye, and she is so full of life. People come and go in our business, and sometimes we don’t hear much about them after they’re gone. But people still ask about Gina,” Carroll said.
Her decision to quit reporting brought her back to the realization that she missed New York. She was again selected for the job of production coordinator at The Daily Show. As a production coordinator, Brown acts as a facilitator.
“If we need a prop, I send an intern to get the prop. If we need footage, I have an intern go through footage to find the shot,” Brown said. “I work closely with Jen Flanz to make sure nothing falls through the cracks on the production side of things. I also work with the field department, which shoots the stories that feature other correspondents. I help them set up shoots, accommodations, and crews.”
“Not only did Gina have great experience, having interned and worked at The Late Show with David Letterman, but she brought something else that others cannot compete with–a great attitude,” said Jennifer Flanz, coordinating producer for The Daily Show.
Flanz says hiring Brown from Chattanooga and hiring many other staff members from all over the country is what makes the show so much fun. “At the same time, the environment we work in can be stressful, and Gina is who I go to when I need to laugh and take a deep breath. I would say that aside from doing her job extremely well, one of her more important contributions to the staff is her listening ear and shoulder to lean on,” Flanz said.
When Brown returned to The Daily Show, she said a lot had changed. “The people are still there, but the content, the momentum, and the expectations are at a different level. I remember when it was such a shock when we were nominated for Emmys. Now many people I work with have those statues as bookends. I’m very proud to work on a show that I think is an alternative way to look at everything we’re given through media. The show takes a story and says, ‘Here it is, but let’s look at it this way, and then let’s laugh about it.'”