Today I met the Tiger Mother. I booked Amy Chua, author of the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother on a show that I currently produce. Chua’s book chronicles her journey of raising her daughters the traditional Chinese way. She had mixed success with making her daughters practice the piano of minimum of two hours a day and not allowing them play dates or slumber parties. First, let me say that she was intense, charming and too tiny to appear to be anyone’s task master.
The challenge with preparing the interview with Chua was that she has already been interviewed almost anywhere you turn – on television, on radio and in print. Her book and the reports about her book have drawn ire from some parents and praises from others. The critics are much louder than her supporters. It seems that they have sent her on a back-to-back damage control media tour. She’s been accused of being a callous and tyrannically to her kids, of being condescending to western parents and of back peddling by trying to explain some of the harsher moments in her book away.
My job was to find a line of questioning that both addressed the controversy surrounding Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother but also to compose questions that would elicit answers that viewers had not heard before. In other words, my job was to make the interview fresh. The questions had to be approved by my supervisor and asked by the host. We had the luxury of a half-hour show so we could go deeper than just discussing the headlines.
I felt for Chua. I think a lot of what she has to say makes a lot of sense. As a parent, I sometimes push my kids to do things that they don’t want to do or don’t think they can do. I agree with Chua that some western parents think that to build a child’s self-esteem, you have to cater to that child’s ever whim. I don’t agree with her making her children practice a song without a bathroom break or something to drink until they got it right. But the interview wasn’t about me. I wasn’t even the one doing the interviewing.
After reading the book, digesting existing reviews and watching countless interviews, I noticed that few people, if any, were asking Chua about her day-to-day life. Spending all that time drilling her kids couldn’t have been easy. What was her daily schedule like? Few people asked her about her previous two international policy books and how they related to her memoire. What were some common cultural insights in all of them? I tried to put the book on a broader scope, to find out what, other than the controversy about her tough love, could we learn from her and her work. I feel the question covered a nice range and that the host did a good job making the conversation flow naturally and seamlessly.
Working with authors and literature is one of the best parts of what I do as a producer. It is always difficult to find the line between not repeating what has already been covered, respecting the author, and asking the probing questions. In the case of Amy Chua and Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, the production staff was happy with the interview. Chua and her publisher seemed pleased as well. Now it’s time to wait and see what the viewers think.