It's the big day on `Today' for Sarah and Mark

September 16, 2005|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,SUN STAFF

If you tune in to the Today show at 8 this morning, you will see a dream wedding, reality television-style: Boats lined up in the Chesapeake Bay firing celebratory plumes of water. Southern Maryland sweethearts Sarah Raley and Mark Dale, each the epitome of treasure-this-moment-for-life elegance, taking their place along the Chesapeake Bay Beach Club Beach House Lawn as morning ushers in the beauty of Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Then you will see the special touches to Today's Hometown Wedding show: Country music legend Trisha Yearwood crooning her best wedding ballads. Beach Club executive chef Charles Keck making his award-winning Maryland jumbo crab cake (aided by weatherman/chef Al Roker) to go with the mussels, shrimp and scallops filling a decorative boat on the South Lawn. The grounds draped in soft-colored linens and a floral arrangement that includes 2,000 stems of pink roses and 500 of hydrangea.

Somewhere between the start and conclusion of this wildly popular event, Today show senior producer Betsy Alexander will begin crying backstage, as she has at each of the TV weddings she's created the five previous years. "At a certain point in the middle of it, as television producers you realize not only are you doing a very large television event, but you're arranging somebody's life event - maybe the most important day of their lives."

That's the aim of everyone involved with the event. You want viewers to feel as if they are standing in the place of the bride and groom. You want the bride and groom to feel as if there's no place they'd rather be.

And you want this wedding, which was scheduled to begin today at 8 a.m. as a live TV event, to run so smoothly that no one involved in the preparation would think back to yesterday morning - when power went out for about two hours throughout the Kent Island region.

The blackout was more startling than eventful, and only meant improvisations kicked in: NBC relied on its own generators, and many of the Beach Club staffers shifted operations to sun-lit rooms. Meanwhile, the kitchen refrigerator was momentarily off limits, to keep the cold inside.

Dale and Raley were nowhere around when the lights went out, which speaks volumes about allowing someone else to coordinate every facet of your wedding.

Raley said that it's one of the reasons why leading up to the event, she experienced no nerves, just excitement. It has been a whirlwind time for her and her groom since being chosen for the Today wedding: shuttling back and forth between picturesque Southern Maryland and posh New York City, basking in their newfound celebrity while viewers chose everything from wedding rings to the cake, and event staffs were hired to make certain the whole thing went off without a hitch.

"In a way it's going to be coming to an end, the going to New York and the friends we've made," said Raley. "They're friends we want to have for a lifetime, and they're the backbone of NBC - the producers, the camera crew, the behind-the-scenes people. We will be back on [Today] one more time after the honeymoon, and then that will be our last [stint on the show]."

After this morning's ceremony, the couple will learn where they will be honeymooning; viewers chose from Laguna Beach and Napa Valley, Calif., southern Africa, the Maldives and Chile and Easter Island in South America.

Raley said she'd had no worries allowing others to choose their wedding details, but added that if there was one choice she didn't approve of, it was the wedding invitations. "I just wish it was one of those things that maybe we had some input or a vote toward," said Raley. "But for everything else, no."

Today's event, a little more than three months since the couple applied to have their wedding televised, was to include 200 wedding guests and 75 Today show staff (co-host Matt Lauer was the only star of the show not able to attend; he stayed in New York to deal with breaking news). About 125 other guests (mainly political officials, vendors and family of staff) were to be on hand just to see the 20-minute Yearwood concert.

Raley and Dale had to be on the set at 5 a.m., while all of their guests had to be on hand by 6:30. Meanwhile, they had to prepare for experiencing the big moment with cameras stuck in their faces, zooming in on raw emotion.

"It's definitely a different way to do it," said Raley. "I went to a wedding this summer, and it was one of the most simple weddings, but it was also one of the best. They made things instead of buying things. It wasn't about the materials of the day, but it was more about them.

"I hope that even though we have grand ideas put into our wedding that we are able to capture that real connected feeling with everyone, and that everyone can feel how much we love each other."

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