Finalists should not be surprised if they get the red carpet treatment at Morristown’s big talent show on Feb. 26.
Emcee Tara Bernie has been doing red carpets for years, after all.
The Academy Awards, the Grammys, Emmys, Golden Globes… glam and glitter are her bread and butter as senior producer for NBC’s Access Hollywood.
“I’m not a comedienne. I can’t tell jokes,” Tara says over coffee at SmartWorld. “What gets me excited is interviewing.”
So if you enjoy the red carpet banter that almost certainly will be central to the seventh annual Morristown’s Got Talent! contest in 2014, you can thank Dan Rather, Matt Lauer and especially Howard Stern.
Tara worked for all three, but it was the tart-tongued shock jock who most influenced her style.
“He can interview anybody and get them to say anything,” the Morristown resident says of Stern.
“I love his interview style. He’s very conversational. He’s almost like a therapist. He gets people to reveal things about themselves.”
During her year as an intern on the Stern show, Tara endured her share of on-air sexual innuendo. Howard was a tamer animal after his microphone was switched off.
“Actually, he is a very sweet, nice man,” she says. “He was always very nice to me off the air.”
Mayo Performing Arts Center
Feb. 26, 2014
Sixteen finalists from Greater Morristown vie for $1,750 in prizes
Presented by the Morris Educational Foundation,
Last year’s show raised more than $50K for the Morris School District
‘I’VE MADE IT’
Dan Rather, by contrast, was all business as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News.
“He was very well-informed, he was very involved, sitting down with the writers,” Tara says. She marveled at Rather’s smoothness roaming the floor of the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York.
“It was my first foray into news, covering a big story. I thought, ‘I’ve made it,’” she recounts.
Network news was a serious step for a student at William Paterson University (Class of ’93)desc.
“Everybody seemed so old to me. I was so young… everyone there was in their 30s or 40s,” says Tara. And Dan Rather was an iconic figure.
“He was kind of dry, he always talked about his wife, and his ranch,” says Tara, who was sent to gather “man on the street” interviews during her internship with CBS. Some of her evenings, meanwhile, were spent as a dancer at New Jersey Nets games.
Her first paying gig as a news person came at WNBC in New York, where she was a production assistant for Live at 5 and the 11 o’clock news.
“My job was making sure the anchors got what they needed. It was like Broadcast News,” Tara says.
She helped line producers working on scripts and met celebrities and authors. Once she was asked to arrange a live shoot at Point Pleasant. Duties included renting a van…and buying pants for anchor Sue Simmons.
Tara also worked with Al Roker and Matt Lauer, before they became national figures and long before reports of diva behavior at the Today show made tabloid headlines for Lauer.
“Matt was delightful. He was new, and young. He was personable enough so I could ask him questions,” she says. “I’m still friends with him.”
When her husband, an operations manager for an oil refinery, was transferred to California, Tara landed at a cable news channel in Orange County, Calif. She covered everything from murders to surfing tournaments. It was fabulous training, she says, but the pay was low.
‘THEY’RE JUST PEOPLE, TOO’
Next stop: Entertainment producer for KNBC in Los Angeles. She planned celebrity shoots and conducted interviews, then handed her material to the “talent” to read on camera.
Tara interfaced often with Access Hollywood; when an opportunity came along there, she jumped. In 2004, she transferred to New York and settled in Morristown, to be closer to family members.
Tara says daughters Grace, 12, and Layla, 10, do not get star-struck. No doubt, they absorbed that trait from their mom. Celebs, Tara insists, “are just people, too.”
When it’s red carpet time, “they are there to sell themselves. When we see them, they’re already on. They’ve already flicked the switch. We don’t see the bad side of them.”
Most of the time, anyway. Steven Seagal was so rude, Tara says, that she cut short an interview. Mariah Carey is famously tardy. Extracting quotes from Tommy Lee Jones practically requires dentistry skills.
Hugh Jackman is in Tara’s Hall of Fame. “He’s the nicest man ever!” she says, describing a guy who remembers your name, looks you in the eye, and makes you feel comfortable during an interview.
The one interview Tara wishes she had scored: Michael Jackson.
All in all, it sounds like a great ride so far. Tara says she’s looking forward to interviewing the hot personalities at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, right before Morristown’s Got Talent!
Her advice to aspiring entertainment reporters?
“Make it conversational,” Tara says.