Dan Cummings and the art of the TV interview


As the television critic for The Syracuse Post-Standard from 1991 to 2007, there were many times when I interviewed executives, news anchors and others at Syracuse ABC affiliate Channel 9. The roles were finally reversed on Friday, January 29, when WSYR-TV broadcast an interview with me on its half-hour public affairs show, “Newsmakers,” hosted by longtime anchor Dan Cummings. He invited me to talk about my new book, A STRANGER KILLED KATY.


I knew for some time that Dan had been following the Katy Hawelka murder case. In 2009, he interviewed her mother, brother and older sister for a news story about how Katy's killer, Brian McCarthy, was first becoming eligible for parole that spring. So, when A STRANGER KILLED KATY was published January 18, I made sure Dan was among the first to get a copy. He immediately wrote an email to say he was “clearing a few things off my desk” to read the book, which he proceeded to do in just two days. He then scheduled me for an appearance on the show, which was recorded on the afternoon of Thursday, January 28, and conducted via a pandemic-safe Zoom call.


The interview was for me, somewhat amazingly, a pretty comfortable experience, once I figured out how to get my microphone working. I sat at my kitchen table starring into my laptop with a split screen showing Dan on one side, me on the other. Control room staff occasionally put up photos of Katy in high school and college, her funeral in Manlius, McCarthy in mug shots, the crime scene at Clarkson University, and scenes from courtrooms in Canton and Syracuse. (Although not mentioned during the broadcast, many of these photos were screenshots from Channel 9's own news video that the station had given me permission to use in the book.)


In our interview – which Dan began by holding up the book and calling it “powerful” – he did what all good interviewers do: He asked probing questions. and then actually listened to the answers. And the questions he asked were clearly aimed at getting answers he knew viewers wanted, such as why I decided to write the book, why Katy was so beloved by those who knew her, what I learned from my research about the attack outside Walker Arena, and what McCarthy has been saying during his six parole hearings held so far.


Dan is planning to follow up this interview with an invitation to Katy's family to appear on the program in the next few weeks to talk about the impact of Katy's murder as well as their strong opposition to McCarthy ever being granted parole. McCarthy is scheduled to make his seventh appearance before the parole board sometime in April.


Meanwhile, you can check out Dan's interview with me, which Channel 9 has posted on its website.

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