“Thanks for having me.” That’s what generations of American children were taught to say after a sleepover or movie or day at the beach with their friends. They remembered it so well that today we hear the same thanks being given on television — by sports heroes, department heads, elected officials, colonels, reporters, pollsters, hipsters, all-purpose pundits, by the famous and the brand new. We hear the child’s voice hidden in the adult’s (faux?) humble “thank you for having me.” But wait a minute: who is having who? It’s hard to say.
The answer is different for news than for entertainment programs. Anything produced by cable or network news is considered “news” and, like news sources, guests don’t get paid. The same goes for guests of daytime talk shows—nada. Most late night talk shows are considered entertainment so their guests are paid at least the AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Actors) minimum of $726 per episode. In Britain all guests get paid, including journalists who are aghast that American programs expect them to perform gratis. Similarly, American journalists are aghast when the BBC or Canadian TV offers them money, although not aghast enough to refuse the check. Now that we know how this business works, we can safely take Gore Vidal’s advice: “Never turn down a chance to have sex or go on television.” (But not at the same time, he did not add.)