Mar 22

My Years in Purgatory, Part 2

In Brief— The author continues some of his reminiscences of his years with Fox Broadcasting Company, the ups, downs and in-betweens, the stars, the staff, the management and the hiccups. Part 3 will be posted next week. Stay tuned.

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The Plot Thickens…or At Least Wanders On—

Readers have traveled back in time with me to my early days at Fox Broadcasting Company (FBC) and the philosophy I have developed over time. This piece deals with some of the experiences I had.

The Broadcast Standard & Practices (BS&P) staff expanded over the months. From just a secretary and me, it grew into a department of ten that occupied half of a small building adjacent to the administration building. Over the years, BS&P had moved so often that we felt like we needed wheels on our desks. Sue, my devout Mormon first secretary with whom I had numerous discussions came to realize that I was not the devil incarnate. As promised, she went on to become a valued editor in the department.

As the workload expanded, my staff grew. First, it was programming, but later came commercials, children’s programming, promotions and films. With the growth, new editors were needed. Looking back, I should have expected growth and hired inexperienced editors with time to be groomed. Instead, I waited until the workload was overwhelming and looked for experience. That was a mistake because in my haste I passed up a bright young woman-of-color with an otherwise impressive background in favor of an experienced but questionable black man. If one misjudgment weren’t enough, I later hired a woman who flaunted her Mensa membership but was authoritarian. Personable, experienced and fast but needlessly unbending. As I said, I goofed.

Other experienced editors proved to be superlative. Maurie, a former V.P. with years of experience, had quit a major network in disgust after management decided to save money by laying off performing editors. Knowing that his conservative views balanced my own liberal views, I hired him as a Director. Avery, a crackerjack former teacher and experienced editor went to work for me in children’s programming, eventually becoming a vice president. Another stand-out, Linda, was an experienced editor who wrote our programming and commercial standards. She was a particularly valuable asset in that she refused to be a Yes-man (woman?) and could always be counted on to tell me exactly how she saw an issue. Unfortunately, that priceless characteristic intimidated others.

Speaking of staff, I’ve been blessed by the universe over my years in the world of show biz by having some genuinely excellent secretaries. To name them all is inappropriate here, but one in particular needs to be mentioned: Tracy.

Human Resources heard how highly I thought of Tracy so she was sent to be interviewed by Peter Chernin, a top executive who was Murdoch’s and Diller’s golden boy. Though Chernin wanted to hire her, she turned him down, preferring to stay with me. Shortly thereafter Chernin was promoted to a top spot. At one of Fox’s lavish holiday parties, Chernin walked up to the two of us and addressed Tracy, “Now aren’t you sorry you didn’t come to work for me!” then turned and strutted off. Tracy just looked at me, but her look said volumes. If inflated egos could describe people, Chernin is a derigible. He’s now a rich and famous producer. I sometimes wonder if he’s really happy.

Anyhow, back to more history. My chronology of events is undoubtedly out of whack except for the beginning and the end, but the events themselves actually happened.

Every Monday morning the execs met in the conference room to discuss the issues and problems of each department. At the head of the table sat Murdoch, Diller and Kellner, presiding over the V.P.s who waited their turn to speak, some hoping to impress. It was not unusual to see new faces around the table as the staff grew over the months. Occasionally, there would be a guest of senior management who came to see what was going on with this brash upstart. More about this later.

A bit of snarky trivia whispers in my memory. The Fox parking lot in front of the administration building where Murdoch, Diller, Chernin and other top execs’ cars were parked was a study in black. Sleek and spotless Mercedes’ and BMWs dominated. My little blue Volvo parked around the corner stood out like a dime in a goat’s ass.

Party Time!—

I’ve mentioned the lavish parties at Fox: movie or TV premiers, affiliates conventions, holidays. I’d love to have in my bank account what they spent on parties. One occasion stands out in my memory: the premier of FBC’s Melrose Place.

Fox closed down and sealed off two blocks of Melrose Boulevard, one of Hollywood’s busiest thoroughfares that evening. They built a tall inposing wall in order to keep curious onlookers out of the area. Only razor wire was lacking. Lights were strung, restaurants served the invitees, musicians entertained the crowd, actors circulated and buses shuttled invitees to and from the lot to the party. My wife and I climbed off the bus to see among the curious onlookers a homeless man propped against the wall watching the swells go in through the well-guarded gate to join the other guests. It was a picture of Hollywood…maybe of the Gilded Age.

Inside, the area hummed with opulence and activity. It numbed the senses. David Grant, the guy inserted between me and the president, deigned to stop for a moment to chat. Small, balding and impressed with himself, he had the disconcerting habit of looking past us to see if he could spot the stars or some other exec. My wife later commented on this. We left shortly thereafter without sampling the wares.

On this note, I end the first two chapters of my memories of the eight years I spent at FBC. Next week, I will give you my candid views of management, stars and shows. On the off-chance that you missed some of my earlier observations, you can read what you missed by tracking down below this piece.

Next week comes the third thrilling chapter you have been waiting or hoping for. If you have any comments or questions, let me know and I will respond…I think.

8 comments

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  1. LOL, come on already, part 3 please!!

      • Don Bay on March 23, 2015 at 16:57
        Author

      One a week is all I can handle. Part 3 is coming. Suggestion: use the intervening days to go back an read earlier postings…some may appeal to you while others don’t, but all are what I believe. And thanks for the vote of confidence, Alyson. As a former FBC employee, you might enjoy Parts 3 and 4. Then again…

  2. Well, as a non-TV watcher during this period I find this fascinating – not because I don’t think all these things go on but because I didn’t know you were in this game. You need to write a book. Seriously.

      • Don Bay on March 23, 2015 at 17:30
        Author

      Yep, that was another part of my checkered career. Started out in the corporate world as a wet-behind-the-ears idealist, made the transition into the legal world where I could put that idealism to work in something I could believe in, and ended my career in the corporate world as a skeptic with a smidgeon of idealism left. It’s to be hoped that I acquired a modicum of wisdom along the way.

      As for a book, I don’t have the energy to tilt at windmills. It’s all I can do to put down a few FBC highlights lodged in my memory banks. I’ll leave it to my friend, Maurie, to educate a few TV devotees on the finer points and frustrations of BS&P editing. Meanwhile, you can educate the world on your experiences in academia and your years in Africa improving the lives of our fellow humans. You and Art can write those books.

    • Susan on March 25, 2015 at 00:41

    I love that word ..’snarky’!

      • Don Bay on March 25, 2015 at 09:19
        Author

      “Snarky,” as used nowadays to mean roughly “sarcastic,” is quite different from “snark” when I was growing up. But language changes over the years, even slang. Indeed, the one unchanging thing in the universe is change. That’s one of my mild observations…not “snarky” at all.

    • Susan on March 25, 2015 at 00:48

    And ‘stood out like a dime in a goats ass.’..memorable expression.
    Got any memories that would blankety blank a blank blank? Could you fill in the blanks?

      • Don Bay on March 25, 2015 at 09:13
        Author

      Though I can’t fill in the blanks, my vocabulary when angry or frustrated can melt glaciers faster than global warming. My wife is making a list of my more colorful sayings, most of which have been in the family for years. My Dad, who was known to turn the air blue on occasion, would sound like a country preacher along side me when I’m in high dudgeon. Other than that, I’m really quite a reasonable fellow as I’m sure you would agree.

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