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Guest Blog: Steve Liesman on Doing the Work of 'Three' People

It started the way most crazy or great ideas do: with an errant, off-handed remark.

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CNBC

A couple months ago I was discussing with our Special Projects Team some ideas for innovative programming around the January Fed meeting and the press conference by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. We wanted to plan something different.

Senior Producer Rich Fisherman offered that we should stage a debate with three people portraying all points of view inside the Fed : a hawk, a dove and the chairman. We chewed on that for a while, including who would play what parts. Somewhere in there, I blurted out, “Well, why don’t I play all three parts.”

It was a joke. I had no expectations that we either had the technical capacity to do it or that anyone would take it seriously. But the immediate silence afterwards told me I had made a mistake. Director Andy Barsh’s red hair seemed to glow crimson. Fisherman’s smile stretched from one ear lobe to the next.

I think it was either Special Projects Director Ray Parisi who quickly decided we could pull this off with different outfits, including a bow-tie for one part and glasses for another. Fisherman wanted me to grow a beard to imitate Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, but was quickly overruled. I told them I could do it but needed a week off.

Barsh assured us we had the technical capacity in house. “Technical capacity like a 1950s sci-fi movie with the space ship swinging on fishing line?’’ I joked. “Or real technical capacity?”

Barsh just told us to trust him.

Why do this at all? FOMC members make their views known in public speeches and interviews and, ultimately, in their committee votes. But, in many ways, the members talk past each other, not to each other.

This makes it difficult for the public to grasp the back and forth and some of the subtleties in the debate, even while the Fed has taken several monumental steps towards transparency.

The technical team created a back drop to simulate the inside of the Fed’s meeting room and brought in real flags and a potted tree to stand in front of the visual set. I proceeded to write three scripts, using actual speeches and conversations I’ve had with Fed officials to portray the sides of the hawks, the doves and the chairman. I structured it more or less along the lines of a real meeting: the economic debate, followed by the policy debate and then the discussion of the statement.

Barsh took the scripts and created a shooting schedule that I imagine is similar to what you might get in a real movie. We shot it over three days, 90 minutes at a time — actually four days because of a technical snafu. I would change into a set of clothes and read the first part.

Parisi and Fisherman expertly stood in as stunt doubles (I was going to say dummies), reading the lines so I could react. Then I would change clothes and read the other parts. To answer a question I’ve received from many viewers: the bow tie was Parisi’s. Barsh tied it because I don’t now own a bowtie or know how to tie one. It was my least favorite part of the shoot; either that or having to look at Fisherman for such a long time.

I don’t actually know the rest of the story since it involves Barsh working with editors to use the technology to piece it all together.

A crazy or great idea? I’ll let viewers decide. But if you didn’t like it, blame Fisherman, Barsh and Parisi.

Follow Steve Liesman on Twitter:@steveliesman