It's ten minutes before one o'clock, Thursday afternoon. The crew of the Today show is in Seaport Village about to begin taping a two-hour program on which the hosts will pretend that it is actually 8:00 a.m. Friday in fabulous San Diego. Although the show is produced by the news division of NBC, nobody promises reality. A small navy of yachts, skippered by vibrant young men and women, is waiting to sail, on cue, past the cameras, simulating another beautiful day in paradise. The downtown skyline and the Marriott Hotel and Marina shimmer in the background as Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley and their respective entourages make separate entrances to polite applause from the audience, lucky (and grateful) beneficiaries of a ticket raffle held the week before by the local NBC affiliate.
As taping time nears, four prosperous-looking women attempt to follow Gumbel onto the set but are intercepted by an officious young production assistant and routed to some empty seats in the front row of the audience. "Who are they?" asks a curious man in the third row. "I think it's the mayor, O'Connor," says another. He is correct but fails to identify her companions, Union-Tribune publisher Helen Copley, burger heiress Joan Kroc, and actress Mercedes McCambridge. Suddenly, Today weatherstar Willard Scott bounds into the audience and begins shaking hands. "Willard! Over here! Willard! We love you!" Willard waves and says, "Fantastic! Fantastic!" several times before hustling onto the stage.
The matronly quartet in the front row does its best to ignore the overweight weatherman. "Shall we look at the egg?" Kroc asks Copley, signaling to a beefy plainclothes San Diego police officer carrying what appears to be a shoebox under his arm. "Bring it over here, Bill," she beckons, and he quickly obliges. Kroc pops open the lid and removes the bejeweled, cobalt-blue Fabergé egg that she has recently purchased at a European auction for $2.8 million. "That's beautiful," Copley observes. Bill and two other plainclothes officers eye the members of the crowd, especially those within egg-grabbing distance of Kroc's lap. (Later the mayor's office would confirm that Bill and the other officers were on duty with the police department, but nobody seems to know who authorized the special detail to transport and protect Kroc's egg.)
A woman comes down from the stage to brief O'Connor, Copley, and Kroc on their upcoming interview with Jane Pauley. "We'll introduce you as friends, but say that, of course, you don't always agree on issues such as growth," she adds. Then, only moments before the taping begins, Copley, O'Connor, Kroc, and the egg are escorted onto the set. The cops breathe easier as the expensive bauble is removed a comfortable distance from the leisurewear masses.
"Good morning. You're looking at San Diego, where California was born," announces Gumbel. Pauley chimes in, "By the way, the power brokers in this town are all women, and we'll be talking to them." During the weather, Willard Scott shows off a table of vegetables he says were organically grown somewhere in San Diego, observing, "They're big on this down here."
After a lengthy commercial break, Pauley is back with her first three guests. "Now you don't all agree on everything, this is to be sure, though you are friends," Pauley notes, just as predicted. "The San Diego Union editorial board might not always agree with the mayor. What is your position on her slow growth?" Pauley asks publisher Copley. "Ours is that we believe in managed growth, uh, without annual, uh, numbers of houses being built, without a cap on that number," the publisher says haltingly. "But we believe in, that, managed growth might be helped by making the, uh, developers provide more of the amenities, such as parks, fire stations...."
Pauley cuts her off and quickly moves on to the Russian Arts Festival. "I'd like to point to what your good citizen Mrs. Kroc did only two weeks ago," she says, which is Kroc's cue to hold her sparkling egg to the camera. "This is a Fabergé egg made in 1900 for the wife of a Siberian gold industrialist," Kroc announces. "Her name was Barbara." Pauley gasps: "$2.8 million you paid for that? You either love eggs or you love San Diego!" O'Connor mentions that in addition to Kroc's egg, the Soviets are sending eight from their collection, Malcolm Forbes will loan nine of his own, and "the Queen of England has agreed to send her two," Pauley proclaims. "When San Diego talks, the world listens, I get the bottom line." To which the mayor responds, "What's unique about San Diego is the public-private partnership. When the city wants to try to do something, we go to our private leaders and ask, and these two women are always there, whether it's the Russian Arts Festival or the homeless...."
Pauley again cuts the answer short, "Well, we've got a lot of San Diego to look around, so we better get to a commercial," and the interview with San Diego's power queens is suddenly over. While the San Diego Zoo's Joan Embry leads a cheetah up the stairs for the next sequence with Jane and Bryant, the three wealthy women are shown to the edge of the stage. Before the descent, Kroc's friend Mercedes McCambridge, who has been watching from the sidelines, turns to the crowd. "When they come down, let's all applaud," the veteran actress urges loudly. "They were scared to death, and they did a really good job. " A few polite handclaps are heard as police close in around the foursome as they head for the parking lot.