Friday, September 11, 2015

Back From the Dead

The Blog is back. Sorta It's still under construction and there might be some big news soon about where to find it but, after years of laying low, I can return to my tales of thirty-five years in the television business. Also, now that I'm a free agent in a manner of speaking, I am free make some observations on the current state of things without some thin-skinned assholes (you thought I was going to be nice? Yeah right) complaining to my boss about my posts or tweets.
So while the blog is under construction and I work out a couple of interesting things (stay tuned) I thought I would start posting my greatest hits which I'm sure, for most, will be 'New To You".
I thought I would start at the end. You see I "retired" two weeks ago. Really retired. No more corporate job for me. I do have a few interesting sand boxes I might be playing in but thirty-five years in the broadcast TV trenches is enough.
Two weeks ago I posted a farewell on both my Facebook and Twitter pages. It was heartfelt. I have made so many friends over the years. A few enemies as well. In fact my assistant of twenty-five years Kathy gave me a dart board with several familiar faces on it. She knows me too well. I'm sure some of you are guessing who's on it.
So here's the post and I'll continue to bring back some of the best from the old blog while I figure a few things out.

One love to all

Well, as of today I’m officially “retired.” What that means? I have no idea. Stuff will come up (it already has) and there are a few things I’ve been meaning to do. If you see me playing the alto sax on a street corner, please be generous. I’ve been in the TV game for 35 years…20 at NBC and the past 15 at FOX. I’ve had a seat at the table for two historic runs in broadcasting…NBC’s “Must-See-TV” and the American Idol era at FOX. It’s time.

After winning our first “Sweep” at FOX we had a party to celebrate the historic event. Peter Chernin came up to me and said, “You’re either really good at what you do or really lucky.” I have no idea which of the two it is; but I do know that it’s been lots of fun and I have worked with and met so many interesting people on this journey. I had a chance to, in some small way, influence the culture.

As I prepare for new adventures down the road, I want to give thanks and praises to several people who have played a significant role in my TV career.

First and most important I am blessed with my family. We’re there for each other, support each other and love each other. I would always make it my business to get home in time for our family dinner. They have kept me grounded.

Kathy Farrell has been my “assistant” ever since I walked in the door of NBC’s Burbank offices. Her kind, warm, caring persona buffered me from the daily irritants of my job. She is family.

MJ LaVaccare has been my scheduling sidekick at FOX and we have accomplished so much together. MJ would patiently listen to all my crazy scheduling ideas and figure out how to execute them. Along with Anne Schwarz we made a formidable team. We dealt with many hairy situations like September 11, the Gulf War, Baseball disruptions, NFL overruns and phone number screw-ups on American Idol. We always stayed calm and got through the crisis. Donovan, Dougie, KMo, Yvette and now Erik have been our coordinators. We lucked out with all of them.

Dan Harrison has worked with me at two networks. I depend on him for so much. When I transitioned over to my final gig as Senior Strategist, I immediately asked Dan if he was interested in replacing me at FOX. I’m so glad that he was interested. He’s my little brother.

Melva Benoit has become a dear friend and I hope that we find opportunities to work together again. We put together an excellent FOX research group. Thanks to Laurel, James, Benny, Lauren, Will and the gang.

I could not have asked for better bosses over my career. Most of them have become my good friends.

Warren Littlefield changed my life. He had more faith in me than I had in myself. We built one of the most iconic brands in TV history with “Must See TV.” I was so happy to be at the Emmys last summer when Warren accepted his award for FARGO. He persevered and it’s finally paying off.

Don Ohlmeyer arrived at NBC in January of 1993. He protected us from the East Coast posse. Smart, tough, supportive and faithful to his friends, it was never dull with Don around. I enjoyed mentoring his Pepperdine students. I hope we reconnect real soon.

I have so much love and respect for Gail Berman, one of the toughest and smartest executives I ever worked with. We took FOX from the “coat hanger” network to a position of dominance through much of the new millennium. Gail’s contribution to our success lasted far beyond her tenure as President.

Peter Liguori is from the Bronx. I’m from Queens. Fortunately, Peter is a Mets fan so we could focus on the work and have fun together. No other boss gave me the finger more than Peter. He signed me to a long-term contract to keep him from firing me, which I believe he wanted to do quite often.

Peter Rice has been so kind and generous to my family and me. I enjoyed helping him transition from his successful run in the movie business to the world of TV. He offered me the opportunity to make the transition from the high pressure scheduling game to whatever the future brings. Thank you, Peter.

I was so fortunate to learn from some of the big boys. Jack Welch and Bob Wright over at NBC both impressed me with their vision and common sense approach to the business. I am especially grateful for all the time I spent with Rupert Murdoch. I think he appreciated my honesty and made me feel very comfortable in our one-on-one conversations. Peter Chernin was the best and made the scheduling room fun every year.

There are so many other people who made my 35 years in the business such a joy. It’s impossible to mention them all, but at NBC I want to give a special shout-out to the “closet cabinet”:  Rick Lacher, Jerry Petry, Ed Swindler, Mike Mandelker, Harold Brook and Eric Cardinal. We kept the place running while the big boys played. John Miller and I came out to Burbank from 30 Rock at the same time. John remains a great marketer and executive. Mike Nelson left the Milwaukee Bucks to become a pit bull in our press and publicity department. He remains a dear friend. Lindy DeKoven and I put together a successful movie strategy through the MSTV era. Things didn’t end well for us but we had a good run. Neal Shapiro and I bonded while building Dateline into one of the most successful News Magazines in the business.

There was an All-Star lineup of program executives during the “Must-See-TV” era. Several went on to wildly successful careers, so big up to Kevin Riley, John Landgraf, David Nevins (who made the call which brought me over to FOX), Jamie Tarses, Karey Burke, Joanne Alfano, Steve McPherson, Lori Openden, Robin Schwartz and Bruce Evans.

I learned so much from Don Carswell, John Agoglia and Brandon Tartikoff. I miss them as they have moved on.

Moving from NBC to FOX in 2000 was a real culture shock. I was the successful big time network executive now in the world of the renegade upstart network…just where I wanted to be. Let me give special shout-outs to Sandy Grushow, David Hill, Ed Goren, Bill Shine, Kaye Bentley, Joe Earley, Jon Nesvig, BJ Arnold, Jean Rossi, Susan Wachter, Ira Kurgan, Shannon Ryan, Scott Grogin, Gaude Paez, Craig Erwich, Marcia Shulman, Caroline White, Marcy Ross, Jeff Acosta, James Oh, Del Mayberry and Jon Hookstratten….most of whom are still toiling away over at FOX. Shout-out to two of my FX pals: Chuck Saftler has been a great ally over the years and Julie Piepenkotter has become a dear friend. Glad I had the opportunity to meet Heather Moran at Nat Geo. Barbara Chardovyne has made my step into the void very easy.

My years on the Board of Directors for the Entertainment Industry Foundation have been a blessing. Sherry Lansing and Lisa Paulsen are angels, and I am so proud of our efforts with “Stand Up To Cancer.”

I always tried to keep a low profile when it came to the executive producers of our shows; but some of them did break through the curtain and I enjoyed our conversations and collaborations. Special shout-outs to Dick Wolf, John Wells, Tom Fontana, Steve Levitan, Bruce Nash, John Cosgrove, Terry Meurer, Joel Surnow, Howard Gordon, Seth MacFarlane, Mitch Hurwitz, Simon Fuller, Cecile Frot-Coutaz, Nigel Lythgoe, Ken Warwick and Arthur Smith. Hart Hanson and Stephen Nathan are very special to me, and I will fondly remember my appearances on both “Bones” and “The Finder.” Finally, Josh Berman appeared in my NBC office one day over 20 years ago and we have remained good friends. He has had so much success with CSI and “Drop Dead Diva.” We had a chance to work together on several FOX projects. I’m so proud of him.

I have enjoyed my conversations with those who write about the TV business. Covering TV has changed a lot but Bill Carter, Steve Battaglio, Brian Lowry, Lisa DeMoraes, Lynette Rice, Joe Adalian, Mike Schneider, Cynthia Littleton, Verne Gay, Joe Flint, Gary Levin, Alan Sepinwall and Tim Goodman remain the smart ones. Keep in touch. I’m a good “network veteran.” I took it as a badge of honor when Nikki Finke blocked me from her Twitter feed.

Respect to my fellow network scheduling warriors: Kelly Kahl at CBS, Jeff Bader and Steve Kern at the Peacock, Andy Kubbitz at ABC, and Kevin Levy over at the CW. We know that scheduling still matters.

I saved two people for last. I could not have succeeded at either network without someone who would get in the sandbox and play with me. I was never any good if I wasn’t having fun. Fortunately, I found someone at both NBC and FOX to be my friend and playmate.

Vince Manze is one of the smartest and most creative people I have ever worked with, but more importantly he is my dear friend. When I left NBC and became a pariah over there, he never stopped calling every morning and Vince didn’t care who knew it. We have supported and stood by each other over the years. I look forward to working with Vince on some projects in the not-too-distant future.

When I came to FOX, the first person I called was Mike Darnell. I got on Mike’s radar when John Miller and I lured Bruce Nash over to NBC. It took a while for Mike and me to attain a level of trust, but we eventually became the closest of allies and also good friends. Through virtually the entire run of American Idol, Mike and I would be on the phone by 5:30AM going over the ratings and discussing the prior night’s show. Mike Darnell is the most unique person that I have met in this business. His passion, competitiveness and creativity are unmatched. I got to know Mike’s posse and I felt honored that they allowed me into their world. We were a great team for over a decade.

Mike, Vince I love you guys and thank you for being a big part of my life.

There are so many other people who made a difference to me and forgive me for not mentioning you but one love to you all.

I love television. You have to love it to do this for as long as I have. TV is better than ever. I watch a lot of it. It’s time for a new generation to take the reins.

So I’m “retired”, but there are new adventures and opportunities on the horizon. I’m starting to feel I might be busier “retired” than employed, so stay tuned. Peace and Love to all.

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