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Who Works the Night Shift?
Surviving the Night
Talk About It

...There's a Way (to Fall Asleep Anywhere, Anytime)
Night Shift Diary
Patrice O'Neill, executive producer

Millennium/Dec 31, 1999--Jan 1, 2000 Washington, D.C.

I got my first dose of the night shift working the all-night PBS Millennium Special on New Year's Eve. Will Durst was hosting SIX HOURS OF LIVE TELEVISION. I'm his producer. At first, I felt the smugness of someone who was still on West Coast time. (It may have been 1 a.m. in Washington, D.C. but my biological clock was saying ten o'clock-ha ha ha. ) At first I watched the others--the building irritability, the nodding off, the compulsive candy consumption. Around 4:30, I became one of them. I kept repeating, "what, what, what, what, what."

January 12-13, 2000--Las Vegas, Nevada

My first Emily Latella moment. We're interviewing a hotel maintenance guy at about 1:30 a.m. He's telling Will about tough nighttime disasters. "Yeah, I hate it when the rooms flood-but you just deal with it and call in the wetbacks."

I'm fuming. "Okay, I think we've got enough."

Several hours later--just after the all-night day care center and before we finished at Pinky's--I ask the rest of the crew why nobody said anything about the racial slur from the hotel maintenance guy.

They all act shocked--no one else heard it. Then Dave, our production manager/associate producer gets in the car and says, "All I heard was the guy talking about pulling out the wet vacs."

I'm learning more than I want to know about sleep deprivation stupidity.

January 20-21, 2000--Des Moines, Iowa

We're covering the Iowa Caucus for our election project called Citizen Durst. We have to edit a segment at Iowa public television and feed it the next morning. I figure we'll be done by midnight and have time for an all crew howl at the moon by midnight (it's the first full moon of the Millennium). It's an edit from hell. "What, what, what, what."

The real winner is Will Durst-because--as we've seen before (see backstory) he can fall asleep ANYWHERE AT ANY TIME. At about 4:30 a.m., Andy and I walk out of the edit room in search of coffee--only to find Will camped out in the hallway with his leather jacket over his head--snoring. He didn't even hear us--did not stir. The sun was bright when we left there at 10 a.m., but we were not happy campers.


We first learned about DSAS (Durst Sleep Anywhere Syndrome) on our first Livelyhood shoot in Linton, North Dakota. I'm interviewing Sharon Jangula, a farm wife who became a travel manager for Rosenbluth International. Will says he wants to "listen to my interviewing techniques" from the couch behind us. Sharon has just finished telling us how Hal Rosenbluth saved the whole town when he brought jobs to Linton. She's wiping tears from her eyes. It was an incredibly emotional moment and we knew we'd nailed the story. But then Sharon looks puzzled--"What's that? " she asks. It's Will snoring in the background. We're all laughing, but it doesn't wake him up. We let him sleep.

I could tell a number of these stories. Blake, our camera man, Lauretta the sound recordist, and I all have "Will snoring too loudly" visual cues to each other.

January 27, 2000--Manchester, New Hampshire

Forget about renting an edit room--Andy just brings an avid system into our Super 8 hotel near the Airport in New Hampshire. It's so crowded in Manchester with people covering the primaries, we run into Congressmen in the breakfast room. Andy thinks it's the best commute he's ever had--jumping straight from his bed to the edit console. We create a sound studio in Rich the sound guy's room where Will hides behind a cheesy bedspread curtain. By 3 a.m. the whole place smells like dead pizza. But we're done by 3:30 so the segments are better. Sleep makes for better TV.

While we're in Manchester I meet my friend Carol, a news anchor for CNN. When we were young--it was "Our Bodies, Our Selves." Now it's "Our Work Lives, Our Marriage Counselors." Carol starts telling me about the night shift effecting her hormone level and making her skin break out. I think we've found our star.

February 11, 2000--Stanford Sleep Center, California

At last, we're with the guru--Dr. Dement--founder of the Stanford Sleep Center. I expected him to be a gruff and mean expert type. He's a teddy bear--and someone who passionately cares about using his research to save people's lives. But he also has incredible insight into why Will Durst falls asleep at the drop of a hat. (See interview in Durst's Naphole.) It seems ONLY SEVERLY SLEEP DEPRIVED PEOPLE can drop off like Will does.

At 6 a.m. the sleep therapists start waking people up. I have a plan. When a room goes vacant--I suggest that Will take a little nap. Five minutes later (I'm not kidding), we're in the other room listening to him snore on the monitors...

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