Rider’s Olympic Insider

Ashlee Bennett, third from left, worked closely with The Today Show cast; from left, Ann Curry, Matt Lauer, Al Roker, Meredith Vieira and Natalie Morales. Bennett interned with NBC during the Winter Olympics.

By Kaitlin MacRae

The expression “it’s all in the family” rang true for one Rider student last month, when junior Ashlee Bennett interned for NBC’s The Today Show.

Bennett, whose father served as a cameraman for Saturday Night Live, turned her family’s history of working for NBC into a seven-week co-op.

NBC was covering the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and for those seven weeks, Bennett, a communication major with a track in radio and TV, held her own in the Great White North. The experience proved fulfilling for both her and the university.

A former chemistry major, Bennett passed on an opportunity to work at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, but this time, she didn’t let the job slip away.

“Last semester, I was sitting in Dr. [Shawn] Kildea’s class and we were having a discussion on how internships are beneficial in establishing a career. I knew the Winter Olympics were coming up, so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity,” Bennett said.

Kildea and Dr. Barry Janes discussed the idea with Dr. Jonathan Millen, chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism, and with Dr. Aaron Moore, director of the department’s internship program.

“They thought it would be great,” Bennett said.  “This was an opportunity to set some standards.”

Although the show only lasted for two weeks, Bennett arrived in Vancouver five weeks prior to the Olympic games. She was stunned by the city, located in British Columbia.

“Vancouver was by far the most amazing city I have ever visited,” she said. “Everything was so beautiful and the people were so friendly. It was amazing to see how quickly the population in downtown Vancouver grew within the few days before the games. Although some people didn’t approve of the Olympics being held in their city, the majority of locals welcomed people from all over the world with open arms.”

Still, Bennett had her work cut out for her as a “runner,” or production assistant. Located in a lodge at the top of Grouse Mountain, she and the other runners were responsible for “setting up The Today Show office, picking up staff from the airport, visiting venues where events would later be held, running errands for the producers and familiarizing ourselves with the city,” among other tasks. She even got to help set designer Ed Helbig create the sets and helped prepare segments for the show. The runners worked 10-hour days, and during the show, they worked from midnight until noon the following day.

“It was amazing to finally have a firsthand experience of what that is like,” Bennett said, noting that her interest in the behind-the-scenes action of TV began at a young age, when she often visited her father on the Saturday Night Live set.

Bennett is taking her positive experience at the Olympics as a cue for her future and hopes to work with NBC again at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

“Working on the set of the show helped me determine what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and that is being a set manager,” she said. “Not only did I enjoy one of the greatest cities in the world, work for a major television station during the Olympics and have the experience of a lifetime, but I also was able to figure out where I wanted to go in life. That was the most beneficial part of the entire experience.”

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