Wired for Action
Larry Hoff’s morning job sounds glamorous, until you realize that the TV personality has to do some pretty amazing things while making it look routine.
If you’re Larry Hoff, reporting to work involves getting up at three-thirty in the morning and driving ninety miles to a water park in Riverhead, Long Island. There, two hours before the park opens, you climb an eighty-foot tower and then, accompanied by the whoops and shrieks of a pack of applauding off-duty park workers, descend the almost-vertical Cliff Diver slide, all the while providing a running commentary on the whole adventure for ten million people watching you on live television.
Welcome to Larry Hoff’s World, a fixture on the Emmy-winning WB11 Morning News for the past six years. The blond, youthful-looking Hoff is a television reporter with a difference. Instead of sitting at a studio desk and reading from a TelePrompter like the anchor he once was, he is live and unscripted from hot spots around the tristate area and the nation, connected to a bemused in-studio morning news team via satellite truck.
Hoff has climbed 800 feet above the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge to change lightbulbs, been shot out of multiple cannons and lit on fire, ridden Brahma bulls, descended an eighty-eight-story skyscraper with a team of steeplejacks, gone diving in a shark tank and hunted for alligators in the city sewers. He’s been to Cancun, Mexico, for parasailing, Florida for stunt-driving and North Carolina for parachuting school — anything to find new excitement for his New York audience.
These adventures are not without incident. Hoff has been injured several times and broke his back last January when he was thrown from a spooked horse at a riding school in Riverdale, New York. “I heard a crack, and the next thing I knew, I was being wheeled into the trauma unit at Columbia Presbyterian,” Hoff says. WB11 field producer Dave Kimmel, who’s been with Hoff for all of his years on the job, adds, “If we don’t put Larry in a neck brace at least twice a year, he’s not doing his job.”
Riverhead was one of Hoff’s milder stunts. The central point of the exercise was introducing Splish Splash’s newest ride, Alien Invasion, which sends thrill seekers in four-person rafts through a darkened seventy-five-foot tube to emerge sliding from side to side in what can only be described as a giant, multicolored megaphone. Needless to say, the sensitive wireless microphones used by live TV crews don’t like to be hit by pressurized water jets, so mike checks are a big part of the day. Would the Aquapac hold up? It’s unlikely it has ever had a more dramatic test.
Wired for all of his segments, Hoff ad- libs live while multiple voices in his earpiece are cuing him to station breaks or advising him, as they did for one sequence, not to get too close to the hungry sharks. Going down the water slide, he was trying to protect his mike while his nose filled up with water and his head got banged around. But you’d never know it listening to his breezy commentary. “People are always saying I get paid for having fun,” Hoff says, “but I’m the one getting up at 3 a.m. and dealing with a dozen crises every day.”
Hoff’s a master at not only making it look easy, but also at relaxing those around him. At the water park, he balanced giving and taking instructions from his five-man crew with rehearsing his teenage extras in the fine art of creating good TV.
“Are you guys psyched?” he asked the moonlighting Splish Splash employees. They shouted in the affirmative. “I want you guys screaming, whooping and showing a lot of enthusiasm,” he said, somewhat unnecessarily because their adrenaline was already running high. Everything went flawlessly. Viewers at home saw television as fast paced as any reality show, a shot of high-octane fun in the summer sun. Hoff emerged dripping from the ride and seamlessly handed TV coverage back to Linda Church, the morning’s weather anchor, whose usual role is to remark on how much fun the live guy is having.
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