In Brief—The author’s reminiscences on his years with Fox Broadcasting Company, the ups, downs and in-betweens, the philosophy, the management, the stars, the staff and the hiccups. Part 2 will be posted next week.
The Road to Burn-Out—
The photo on my 1994 passport makes me look at least ten years older than my 2004 passport photo. The two could easily be reversed to illustrate the aging process. But wait! I’m getting ahead of myself here.
In the fall of 1986, I was contacted by Fox Broadcasting Company (FBC) and told that I had been recommended for a job as the broadcast standards (BS&P) advisor in the new broadcasting company conservative tycoon Rupert Murdoch, formerly of Australia, was putting together. If I was interested I should contact the newly appointed company president, Jamie Kellner. Talk about good for the ego! As I was “on the beach” after my resignation from an ill-considered brief tenure with a Century City law firm, I jumped at the chance to do something for which I was eminently qualified. After all, the days of my anti-Vietnam War efforts were long gone.
With brash self-confidence, I made a list of recommendations I believed would help launch the new broadcasting endeavor. Apparently my presentation impressed Kellner because I was hired while FBC was assembling a staff that management hoped would challenge the old established networks, ABC, CBS and NBC. Everybody who was anybody in Hollywood said it couldn’t be done, but Murdoch and Barry Diller*, late of Paramount fame, thought otherwise. I figured it was worth the gamble in view of the management. FBC was a baby waiting to be born. Little did I realize what I was getting into.
*A friend once related witnessing one of Diller’s now-legendary tantrums during childhood. I was destined to be the target of one of the adult Diller’s well-honed tantrums during my tenure at FBC.
With only a few newly-hired people operating out of the old administration building on the Century City lot, my first of several desks over the course of my tenure was a low mahogany coffee table at one end of the office of the executive whose call led me to Fox. His secretary bore my presence with an impish sense-of-humor surpassed only by her efficiency. It was a less than impressive start, but at least it was a start that fattened my hungry wallet after my departure from the practice of law.
As expected, I had my own office and secretary during the eight years I spent working my buns off and loading up on the stress that showed in that 1994 passport photo. Over those eight years, my weeks averaged about eighty hours, fifty hours being practically a vacation week. On one occasion I covered a live show at midnight on New Year’s Eve with a temperature of 102. I arrived home and fell into bed at 2:00 A.M. And I wasn’t the Lone Ranger. I often wondered what kind of lives the other execs lived…if they had a life outside the office.
Scripts for the inaugural shows rolled in. Since I was the sole standards advisor in the early weeks, restricted to dealing with “young” programming executives half my age who had barely begun to shave, I wrote script reports that may have been too blunt in the belief that the programmers would edit my notes when they met with the producers. I soon learned that my reports were posted for the delight of all and sundry. That was fine with me because those reports were educating the new programmers on what was acceptable and what was not.
A word on my philosophy is in order here. One of several lessons I learned from my years at NBC and ABC was that smart bosses show what works while bad bosses show you what not to do. Another lesson is that reversing a decision by the show’s BS&P editor only leads to more work for the executive doing the reversing and a lesson to the producer to go over the head of the editor. A corollary is that it’s a mistake to second-guess the editor handling a show without knowing exactly what the issues are. At the core of my philosophy is the conviction that there is seldom the need to cut something as long as there is a way around the problem by exercising a little creativity. Most importantly, a boss should to treat the staff as respectfully as the boss would want to be treated…the Golden Rule, in effect.
As a confirmed cynic, I contend without reservation that I see broadcast standards as cheap insurance for management to insulate themselves from criticism from the FCC, congress, advertisers and the public. Executive thinking is to pay the editors as little as possible and be able to say, “Well, BS&P approved it. We’ll have a little talk with them and we guarantee that it won’t happen again.” But it always does. That’s the way the world works.
An illustration of the level of esteem given to BS&P is that I started receiving a bonus. Whoopie! Sounds great. What was unusual, however, was that nobody else in the department, indeed, everybody I talked to, received a bonus. I had gotten a raise earlier and assumed that it was warranted, but a bonus was more than I expected. My reaction was to call Kellner and thank him. In an “Oh, by the way” response, he apologized for not telling me earlier that I had been promoted from advisor to vice president of BS&P. I became one of the horde of Fox V.P.s. Knowing how upper management thinks, I have a solid suspicion that V.P. stripes were a substitute for money.
Now seems a good time to relate my take on bonuses. I believe that all departmental personnel contributed to the company’s success so all should share in any bonus awarded. Based on that philosophy, I shared my bonus with those who didn’t get one. By contrast, other execs did not look kindly on my action which may reflect on the reception I received from some in senior management. That paranoia aside, I am pleased to say that my philosophy has been passed on by a few of my former colleagues who now have departments of their own.
With that, I will end Part 1 and continue my sordid story in Part 2 next week. If, by chance you want a refresher on Part 1, track down just below the end of Part 2. There it is!
Comments or questions? Ask me.