Dave Karger, a 1995 Trinity graduate, knows his way around a red carpet. As a writer for Entertainment Weekly for 17 years, he covered a wide range of entertainment news while keeping one foot in the broadcast world as a regular contributor on the Today Show. In 2012, Karger made the jump to be NBC's Chief Correspondent for Fandango, where he now hosts two shows talking with entertainment stars and making a splash online. Karger, who is also involved with Duke Entertainment Media and Arts Network and the Duke in LA program, came back to Duke for the second time this year last week. The Chronicle's Georgia Parke sat down with Karger to talk about the ins and outs of entertainment media.
The Chronicle: What are some of your best practices or must-dos when you’re interviewing someone?
Dave Karger: In the broadcast world in general, you rarely have a lot of time to actually do an interview. When I worked at Entertainment Weekly I regularly had a half hour or an hour to interview someone. For on-camera sometimes it’s five minutes, sometimes it’s 15, sometimes it’s 30. So the challenge is to get to the point without being abrupt. My style of interviewing is very conversational. I have found that friendliness goes a long way—just smiling at your guest makes a big difference. You’d be surprised—a lot of people don’t project a friendly vibe, so I certainly try to do that.
For online I find that it’s about coming up with maybe some more wacky and clever lines of questioning. I always want to focus on the movie and not just do a silly game for the sake of doing a silly game, but I have found that the funnier interviews, the games that you can play, that’s what really takes off. I did a game with Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth where we played a game… It’s super funny because the first time I did it was just with Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson so I did it with them and it got something like 3 million views because it was so funny and you saw Jennifer Lawrence in a different way. Now everybody does games with her and what everyone does. But that was a really special video.
TC: In terms of red carpet and interview situations, what is something most people don’t know about interviews that take place in those kinds of contexts?
DK: For a red carpet, it’s even more hectic than anyone would think, and you have to be prepared to talk to anyone at a moment’s notice. You don’t get a lot of advance word as to who’s coming up next, so preparation is key.
TC: When you conduct interviews, especially recently as chief correspondent, do you have total control over what your questions are and what you want to get out of the interview, or do you still have some oversight of what other producers want?
DK: For the most part I have complete control over what I ask. Occasionally some colleagues of mine will come up with a game idea or questions and that’s fine. But I would say 90 percent of what I ask my celebrity guests are questions that I came up with. And I love that freedom. I love being able to laugh with them. I love the challenge of watching a film and trying to think of the questions that these people are not already being asked by 30 other people. That’s my big goal all the time.
TC: If you have a guest who you’ve spoken to in the past, how do you play off of stuff that you learned in previous interviews?
DK: My favorite thing is when I‘m interviewing someone that I have a great rapport with... Hugh Jackman, Hilary Swank, Reese Witherspoon, Matt Damon, George Clooney—that I’ve interviewed so many times that there’s just an ease already there. It’s definitely more difficult when you’re interviewing someone for the first time and they’re not sure what you’re about. I always try to go back—if we had a funny experience at another interview or something interesting, I try to remind them. That’s one of the most rewarding things about doing this for so long is that over 20 years it’s been a lot of the same people. It makes a world of difference.
TC: A lot of celebrities criticize the media for misrepresenting them or taking things out of context. Do you think that some outlets do intentionally take things out of context?
DK: I think a lot of times it’s accidental. The classic case of this is the Nicki Minaj comments about the Video Music Awards that Taylor Swift took offense to because she didn’t see the whole interview where Nicki was really talking about the Miley Cyrus video from last year, not Taylor Swift's from this year. So I think that’s one of the biggest dangers of our social media age. Because on Twitter, until they raise the 140-character limit, taking things out of context is almost unavoidable. So that’s something when I was a print journalist, I was very cautious about. And I think Internet journalists should be extremely cautious about that because it’s very easy to omit things in order to keep your blog items short and sweet or your tweets short.
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That’s something people need to watch out for because as a member of the media, your reputation is everything. And these days as a journalist you are your own ambassador more than the publication you are working for. People are moving around so much… the publicists know individual journalists by name and reputation and you need to have a good reputation if you want access.
TC: You mentioned earlier having one foot in digital and one in TV. How does creating content for broadcast differ when you’re definitely aiming it for an online audience or for a TV audience?
DK: In the simplest terms when I’m doing web content, I’m thinking about a younger audience. And when I’m doing the Today Show or Access Hollywood, I’m thinking of a more adult audience. I find that the episodes of my Fandango shows that seem to resonate are the ones that feature stars that the younger generation really loves, like Shailene Woodley or Jennifer Lawrence. Whenever I have an episode with any of those people, my Twitter blows up and the view count is higher and all of that. But when I’m on the Today Show or Access Hollywood I’m definitely thinking about a 30 or 40 something mom who’s home watching the show. Whereas for Fandango I’m thinking about high school-aged, college-aged.
TC: What are some of the stranger or more unexpected things to happen to you in an interview?
DK: A couple years ago I was interviewing Tom Cruise. It was one of the first episodes of one of my Fandango shows and one of the cameras broke in the middle of the interview, and it was mortifying because you don’t want that to happen ever, but particularly if it’s Tom Cruise. And he was so nice about it and actually tried to help us fix the camera.
The other crazy one I remember was one time I was interviewing George Clooney for Entertainment Weekly. I had to meet him at the photoshoot and we were going to drive to lunch and he said, “Oh, let’s go to lunch. Do you have a car?” And I thought to myself, “Why don’t you have a car?” And I said I do and I ended up driving George Clooney down Santa Monica Boulevard from the photo studio to lunch. And it was so scary driving George Clooney—what if we get in a wreck?!
Crazy things like that happen all the time and that’s what’s so fun, you never know what’s going to happen and you just have to roll with it.
TC: How do you put being starstruck aside when you have to do an interview?
DK: Let me tell you. When I first started I got so nervous and excited every time I had to do a phone interview with any actor, even if it wasn’t someone that famous. But very quickly you learn that you have to get over it and you have to get a good interview out of these people. You can’t be distracted by who they are and you have to get the interview. So very quickly I learned how to not appear starstruck. But of course, there are times where if it’s Meryl Streep or Harrison Ford, you can’t help but be starstruck. You just have to behave. The more experience you get, the more you realize you have every right to be in that room with them.
TC: In entertainment media do you feel like there is… a conscious drive to diversify reporting or is it still stuck because Hollywood is still very homogenous?
DK: I think in the film world there’s still a lot of progress to be made. In the TV world, newer companies like Amazon and Netflix are doing such interesting things so we’re seeing more diversity on the screen. The movie world has a long way to go, and I think as far as traditional media is concerned, we still have a long way to go. Look at the late night hosts—there’s a couple men of color but it’s still all men. That Vanity Fair picture was very telling. So I do get the sense that particularly new media and younger media companies are definitely wanting to have diverse people on staff and in front of the camera. I should say not just people of different genders and races, but also sexualities and that’s very important too.
TC: How or did a Duke education, a liberal arts education, help going into your career, and what helped the most?
Academically I can think back to a couple courses I took—like Hollywood Film Music. Overall though, I would not say my education per se was a huge factor, but my extracurricular activities did. I was the director of one of the a cappella groups here, Rhythm ‘n’ Blue, for two years. Managing that group of big personalities and creative people was a great training camp for me for dealing with and interviewing creative people in my job.
I feel like I met so many fascinating people here at Duke and intimidating people and smart people that anyone I meet now, I’ve already met people who are just as impressive because I went to Duke. If I can survive four years here, I can survive anywhere.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.