Rage of the Page

On a recent Sunday morning, while most of their 20-something buddies were probably still on the futon sleeping off the previous night’s rail vodka, two pretty, fresh-faced young women—one donning nerdy-hot librarian glasses, the other dark-haired with a broad, warm smile—pinned NBC peacock pins to the lapels of their gray, plaid Brooks Brothers jackets and dragged themselves into the visitor’s center at 30 Rockefeller Plaza to lead a tour.

These were NBC’s famed pages—interns paid $10 an hour who work 50-hour weeks mostly packed with work like this. Smiles, please!

Just before 10 a.m., the one with the glasses and shoulder-length brown hair cheerfully warned a pack of middle-American moms and their teenage daughters (nursing not-so-secret dreams of one day working in television) that no weapons were allowed in the building. Check your nunchucks at the door!

The deadpan delivery scored some chuckles.

For the next hour, the two pages led the tour group through MSNBC’s newsroom, past Brian Williams’ desk and into the Saturday Night Live studio. All along the way, they gamely smiled, answered questions, held open doors and talked up their place of employment. At NBC, we believe in … At NBC, we love to … At NBC, we have a tradition of …

But for pages, this is not supposed to be all there is. After all, Michael Eisner, Steve Allen, Willard Scott, Kate Jackson and Eva Marie-Saint all got their start as NBC pages! No, what is supposed to happen is that the pages get snapped up for assignments at the network, or get snapped up by competitors, to begin to climb the corporate ladder to TV fame and fortune.

For the luckiest pages, the first step is temporary assignment to real shows; of those assignments, arguably the most prestigious and competitive one is the assignment to Saturday Night Live. But luck is not favoring the pages these days.

In recent days, The Observer spoke with a number of former pages who are trying to come to grips with the diminished opportunities in their chosen field.

The jobs aren’t there anymore.

“I understood getting into TV that it was going to break my heart over and over—whether it was pitching ideas that don’t work or working on a show that fails,” said one former page. “I went into it with open eyes. But now, I don’t know that I’m glad that I did it.”

“It’s extremely selective for a reason,” said one former page. “They’re picking the elites. If you can make it into the page program, that means something. You’re being groomed for a career in television. But almost everyone I know who just left the program doesn’t have a job. If they do, it’s not at NBC.”

“Obviously, no one could have anticipated what happened with the economy,” said another former page. “But essentially it has been a sort of negative experience. I no longer recommend the program to others.”

On Sunday morning, the two pretty young pages leading the tour group around 30 Rockefeller Plaza led the visitors into studio 8H, home to Saturday Night Live. Here and there, props lay scattered around the cluttered studio from the previous night’s performance. 30 Rock star Tracy Morgan had hosted.

In the opening skit the night before, Mr. Morgan, unrecognized by security, had stormed into 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Seeing one of the pages in his telltale jacket, Mr. Morgan punches the guy’s lights out.

On this Sunday morning, the pages made no mention of the “funny” page abuse. But as their group boarded an elevator, one asked what everyone thought of the SNL studio. Everyone agreed that the studio seemed smaller and more grimy in real life than they had expected.

The page nodded sympathetically. “It does look a lot more glamorous on TV,” she said.

Rage of the Page