It is not uncommon to hear from clients who have spent years writing in to talk shows in the hope that ‘their’ story and their search will be the ‘one’ chosen out of the probable thousands received. We’ve all seen great reunion shows on Sally Jesse, Maury Povich, and Montel Williams, and some of my favorite reunion stories were seen on those shows will forever remain in my heart.

Sometimes a reunion that is highlighted in print media (magazine, newspaper, Internet) takes on a life of its own and the parties involved in the story end up on National TV. This has happened to me personally, TWICE.

In the mid 1990’s I helped a family reunite, and was contacted by CBS This Morning and asked to come to New York to talk about the search and reunion. I will never forget that invitation. When the network called I thought someone was playing a joke on me and it took a return call back to CBS to believe they wanted ME as a guest. It was a great experience, my first with good news stories. When I got home my family laughed at me and joking said, “Sure, now Oprah’s going to call!”

She did, or at least her staff did, less than a year later. I was asked to be an ‘expert’ on reunion on one of their shows as part of their affiliation (at the time) with America Online where I held a voluntary position as a Search Coordinator. The day before my flight, one of the producers called me and said that one of their segments had fallen through, and did ‘I’ know anyone that had been reunited but had not yet met. The ONLY people I could think of in that position were my own brothers, Terry Sanderson and Paris Carver. Our family and reunion story had recently been featured in an article in Woman’s World Magazine, and we ALL ended up doing the show! It was very cool AND very scary because it was a very personal moment for all three of us that was shared on National TV. Everyone on staff at Oprah was wonderful and I will never forget the experience!

Segment producers on these big shows work on different show concepts, usually several at the same time. However, rarely do most have anything to do with search and reunion. Incoming requests are usually filed in a database or a folder somewhere and are only reviewed when an upcoming show will deal with reunion. Since reunion shows are heartwarming and audience pleasing, most are produced and aired at holiday times when more people will be home to view them. Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas are great times to watch these shows, and they are also great times to write in with your story to optimize your chances to be noticed.

If you want to have the best chance of having your story considered, my advice is to write a compelling, factual and emotional piece for submission. Who are you looking for? Give names, dates of birth, place of birth if known. How were you separated from the person you are seeking? Keep it short, but compelling. DO NOT dwell on the negative, especially not in your first request. Reunion shows are geared towards happy people who are glad to have the chance to air a national plea to be reunited. If you are asked to submit photos or yourself and your family, do so! Make sure that you have several methods of contacting you included in your submission. It could be months before they have a chance to take a serious look at your request, and the more ways they have to contact you, the better your chances.

In the past few years, in the capacity of a Media Investigator, I have been involved in several pilot projects dealing with the Reunion Concept and have been blessed to meet several very fine producers that are dedicated to their show ideals. With the advent of Reality TV, there is an increase in the opportunities for your requests to fall into the right producer’s inbox.

If you are contacted through a production company working on a pilot project, by all means consider their request. Be aware, however, that each season independent production companies may be hired by networks to work on ‘ideas’ that may never actually make it to series status. If your story is selected, and you are actually reunited on a pilot, you may not ever see your story on the air. In 2006 one production company I worked with was involved with two separate reunion shows, and everyone involved, myself included, worked for months 24/7 to get the pilots complete and they never aired.

For those of you reading this who have thought about a TV Reunion, but you’re just not sure you can do it, please don’t start the process if you don’t think you can follow through. Many people need help finding who they are looking for. Search Quest America has a wonderful team you can work with, but if after your search is complete and you DO have a great reunion story please consider ‘sharing’ your story through print media or through another public format.

You have no idea how many lives your own story may touch in a positive way. If sharing your story gives just ONE person the courage to start their own search, it will be well worth sharing.

Good Luck!

Susan E. Friel-Williams

The Staff at Search Quest America