The Couple Helping Each Other Anchor Two National News Broadcasts From Their Basement (with a 1-Year-Old in Tow)
PEOPLE's Voices from the Coronavirus Crisis will share firsthand accounts of the people facing unique challenges during a global pandemic
Katy Tur, 36, and Tony Dokoupil, 39, are both television news anchors. Tur fronts MSNBC Live daily at 2 p.m. ET, while Dokoupil is a co-host of CBS This Morning. The married couple reside in New York City with their 1-year-old son, Theodore “Teddy” Dokoupil. The pair have been covering the current coronavirus pandemic on their respective shows, but are now among the large population who are working from home. The journalists have set up a makeshift studio in their basement, where they are each anchoring their daily shows and also serving as each other’s anchor assistants. Tur and Dokoupil share with PEOPLE their experience with bringing the latest on the pandemic from home while also raising a toddler (with help from their nanny, who has been able to stay with the family as they practice social distancing) and gaining a new appreciation for each other’s jobs.
Dokoupil: I think we can say everything in our lives was completely normal until Wednesday, March 11. On that day, CBS had its first case and we shut the Broadcast Center. That following evening, President Trump gave the first serious address about all this.
Tur: My mom was in town. She was going stay for a lot longer, especially since Tony’s and my schedules were going to be crazy because of the virus. But she heard the president give that address and she looked at me and said, “I’m getting on a 9 a.m. flight home,” because she rightly suspected that everything was going to get shut down and that she might as well get out while she can. I think she also didn’t want to be around us while we were still going to work because she was scared of getting infected.
Dokoupil: Every day after that our world got smaller and smaller, to the point where we’re now both broadcasting from our basement and opening the front door as little as possible. We’ve only lived there for less than a year, so we had to rapidly try to finish the basement [so we could work there]. The time between when the work was almost done and when the cameras were coming in was so bang-bang, we actually had to call the guy who laid the concrete floor to ask, “Hey, is it safe to go down there? A, Is the air breathable? And B, can you put equipment on that floor or is it all going to sink in?” And he said, “It’s fine, but just so you know, it’s not done. There’s no plastic in the bathroom down there. The walls are cracking.”
Tur: When they first put Tony’s set-up down there, they added some network news flair with a soft background, some pottery, fake flowers, and all that – the tricks you have to jazz up a background in network news. But if you just looked at a very clear photo of it without the soft background and showed Tony in his bright yellow Ikea chair, it looks like he was in a proof-of-life video.
Dokoupil: It really is like a setting for ransom videos.
Tur: Midway through that next week, MSBNC set up a home camera in the house for me [in the basement as well]. When the crew finished setting it up, I said, “You know, if you really need to, we can move it up my living room.” And they looked at me and they’re like, “This is going to be here for months. I would not put it in the living room. It’s much better to be down here.”
Dokoupil: Also, we couldn’t put it in the living room because we have the 1-year-old, whose favorite activities are playing with iPhone charging cable and sticking forks in sockets. It would have been way too dangerous to have it in the living room.
Tur: I was really excited to get up and print Tony’s scripts. Tony goes, “You don’t really have to. They’re not going to want you to.” And I’m like, “No, no, I totally can.” I used Savannah [Guthrie] and her husband Mike [Feldman] as an example. Mike is helping Savannah and he doesn’t work for NBC. I called her and asked, What exactly does Mike do, what do we need? And she had Mike send links to me about mattress pads I could buy on Bed Bath & Beyond to make the sound better in the basement – he was getting really into it. It was novel at first and I was excited. I remember I woke up even before my alarm on that first day because I was excited to help Tony. The second day, I woke up on my alarm. The third day, I was so exhausted that I was worried that I was getting sick.
Dokoupil: We’ve both had epic screw-ups and interruptions in each other’s shows. I was on call and it looked like I was going to have to deliver a special report. And Katy’s like, “Can you make breakfast, babe?” And I’m trying to follow the market and stay clean because I have to put my jacket on and go downstairs for a CBS News special report from the basement while flipping a burrito for my wife in the kitchen.
Tur: It was a delicious breakfast. And to be fair, I had made breakfast every morning before that. Long story short, today, I was late to work. I’m criminally late to work and I go down and I didn’t quite know what needs to be printed. I’m surprised I wasn’t fired by the show.
Dokoupil: Another time, I’m upstairs in the kitchen and she’s down in the cellar and I am monitoring her show on YouTube TV. I did not realize that there’s about a 45-second delay. (I know there’s a delay, but I thought it would be 2 or 3 seconds!) So I see that they’re in commercial on YouTube TV and I go to the top of the stairs and say, “Hey babe, you need anything?” And she doesn’t answer, so I figure she’s focused. I don’t want to interrupt her, so I yell louder, “Babe, do you need anything?!”
Tur: You’d think, “She’s not saying anything, she’s not responding, so maybe she’s on air?”
Dokoupil: It’s not uncommon for you not to reply. So I plow ahead; I’ve learned my husband ways. And meanwhile, she’s on air, of course. So I had to go play it back and there’s a faint holler from the top of the stairs of her husband going, “Babe!”
Tur: We are still figuring it out. We both have a better appreciation for the job of anchor producer.
Dokoupil: That’s for sure. And, I think, a better appreciation for the job of husband and wife.
Tur: In all honesty and without any snark, I looked over at him last night and I said, “I’m so happy I’m married to you. I can’t imagine getting through this with anybody else.”
Dokoupil: There’s no one else on the planet I would rather be quarantined than Katy Tur.
Dokoupil: We definitely have not found the rhythm of these new days. They begin so early because of my broadcast and then they carry into the afternoon because of hers. And the news is so all-encompassing just because we, too, are following it like every American. I don’t know where the work day ends and our lives begin. We have to find that line.
Tur: Our jobs are very demanding and consuming, so we oftentimes neglect our together time because of it. It’s nice to be home with him, but we are finding that we’re never really away from work now. It’s almost more intense than when we do go into our jobs. I’m on my phone all night responding to doctors or business owners that I’ve been talking to who are responding late to various emails. You’re just in constant communication with everybody about this story. So when I see people who are like, “I’ve watched all episodes of Tiger King,” I’m like, where the heck did you find the time? And then I realized that a lot of my friends, A) aren’t doing broadcasting, and B) don’t have a 1-year-old to take care of as well.
Dokoupil: We recently had a major parental milestone: our 1-year-old pushed his arm back from the couch, stood solo for the first time, and took a single step – step No. 1! If we were not in this “work from home” scenario, I don’t know that we both would have been sitting on the living room floor in the afternoon to witness that.
Tur: Neither of us had to hide it from the other and pretend like it hadn’t happened before!
Dokoupil: I feel this story affects the two most important parts of a person’s life: their health and finances. It’s hard to have a life without having both of those things functioning and this crisis is putting both at risk. So in terms of news seriousness, this is an off-the-charts 10. It doesn’t get bigger than this.
Tur: Typically in a news story, you’re shuttling between the story and your world, but right now the story is the whole world and there’s no escape.
Dokoupil: I’m less worried about what our day-to-day is like, more worried about where the country is in two weeks from now. I think every American, if they’re paying attention, is worried right now. And rightly so. So I’m going to spend the next two weeks looking for signs of hope, signs of progress, and some sort of path out of this for the country.
Tur: In the beginning, I found that it was really hard to [reconcile] how scared I was about the virus, my parents and my community, but also the economy and what it’s going to mean for all of us after this is all over. Then looking at Teddy when he’d wake up and just seeing him smile and laugh, I found that I would just force myself to smile back at him because I didn’t want him to think that there was something wrong. That moment that I’ve heard so much about, where you have to hide everything because you don’t want to scare your kid, I felt that for the first time. Just the blissful ignorance that he’s able to live in is so far removed from the reality that I’m living in. It can be hard to rearrange my face to make sure that I’m smiling so that he grows up a happy, healthy, functioning person.
- As told to Topher Gauk-Roger