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Mar 29

My Years in Purgatory, Part 3

In Brief— In Part 3, Bay describes some of the reminiscences of his years with Fox Broadcasting Company, the ups, downs and in-betweens, the stars, the management, the hiccups and anything else that occurs to him before he moves on.

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Glamor and Character-Assassination—

How about a little on FBC’s talent? Some of the actors on early FBC shows went on to become stars:

Johnny Depp, one of the leads in 21 Jump Street, has gone on to major film stardom. Though I never met him, he was described as greasy and ill-kempt. That was then; I have no idea regarding his appearance now.

Brad Pitt made a guest appearance on 21 Jump Street and was a principal in a short-lived anthology segment that aired on FBC. He has, as we all know, become a major star, is married to Angelina Jolie and has six kids. I’ve never met him either.

Jim Carrey was featured on In Living Color as the burn-scarred Fire Marshall Bill. He is reported to have said that if he hadn’t become a comedian he would be in a tower in Texas shooting at people. I believe the report. I’ve seen him on the set of In Living Color, a huge but possibly fragile ego wrapped in a cloak of attempted invisibility…except on-camera. Mr. Carrey is one of my least favorite people.

No doubt there are several others, not least executives and producers, who have gone on to greater fame and wealth…or death. I have probably forgotten them…as we all will be.

The Shows—

A few of the FBC shows deserve mention. Married…With Children, the long-lived show that may even be showing today in some late night timeslot, was one of the two most professionally done sitcoms I ever experienced. It starred—among other worthys— Ed O’Neil and Katy Sagal and was the product of Ron Leavitt and Michael Moye who were always courteous toward me. Never once in my experience was there a need for a reshoot. The cast was always ready; the weekly rehearsal and the show always went off on time. I still have the T-shirt signed by the group that was given me when I retired.

About the much-ballyhooed complaint of the woman from Michigan saying that Married…With Children was disgusting, the less said, the better. Thanks to her feckless whine, it put the fledgling FBC on the map and bothered Barry Diller not a whit.

In Living Color was another show that was handled professionally. In spite of the ulcers they must have developed, my weekly appearances on the set found Keenan Ivory Wayans and Tamara Rawitt always polite, calm and professional. Initially, I had concerns about the two gay reviewers played by Damon Wayans and David Grier because of my contacts with representatives of gay organizations, but they were largely put to rest by the positive embrace of the characters by the gay community. The only ripple was in the live half-time show during the Super Bowl when Damon and David “outed” the athlete Carl Lewis. Lewis complained, but his being gay was widely rumored and the ripple faded quickly. Carrey’s over-the-top portrayal of burn-scarred Fire Marshall Bill was a concern to fire professionals, but Keenan toned down the makeup and the complaints subsided.

Two other of the many shows on FBC deserve mention here: The Simpsons and The X-Files. The Simpsons is, as everybody knows, an irreverent take-off on reality. One of my fond memories of that show was a beer-burp of a meeting with an agency man for Anheuser-Busch who complained about how the show denigrated Busch Gardens. What is the world coming to if we allow one of the icons of America to be lampooned? Linda handled the show masterfully and can no doubt regale you with tales of The Simpsons, a genuinely worthwhile show.

The X-Files was sliced baloney that way too many people believe is the truth albeit one that is cunningly hidden from us by the government. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson played two credulous FBI agents who investigated otherworldly powers in defense of God, Country and the American way-of-life. Curse those flying saucer aliens!

Having described a few of my numerous recollections and my guiding philosophy, I will end this part with my resignation from FBC in 1994.

Burnt out by eight years of stress, I called a departmental meeting and told the staff that I was resigning to move to Sweden. Shocked silence filled the room. Following my announcement, I met with David Grant to tell him and to make a strong recommendation for Maurie to take over my chair. Grant’s dislike for Maurie led him to instantly shrug off my reasoning. He jumped at the chance to appoint the man of color I had hired earlier. The heir-apparent was a ho-hum, frequently absentee editor, and not of the quality needed to head the department. It was another of Grant’s ham-handed decisions that came back to haunt FBC.

Grant not only made BS&P’s task considerably harder, but he rose to higher office within the company…of course. After all, Murdoch’s anointment of the ultra-partisan Roger Ailes to steer the forthcoming Fox News gives a revealing picture of the Great Man’s thinking. I have long suspected that my resignation letter to top management detailing Grant’s conflicts-of-interest may have been an incentive in explaining his rise within the company. In any case, I departed FBC in October of 1994 without fanfare as if I had never existed. Ah-h, the corporate world.

And so ends this part of my recollections of the eight years I spent accumulating stress at FBC. My memories are not all there, but I have discussed my sometimes unconventional philosophy, provided glimpses of FBC’s management and a few of the stars and shows. Should you have missed some of my observations in Parts 1 and 2, you can read what you missed by tracking down below this piece. Next week will be what I believe is the final part of this trip down Memory Lane.

If you have any comments or questions, let me know and I will respond…assuming the brain keeps working.

 

12 comments

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  1. Dave Meyers

    You say FOX, I say Radical Right.
    I recognize the FOX Network ONLY for it’s news department. I’m sure that they have made some good entertainment products, but I can’t name any of them and have never been a regular watcher

    So, I find it ironic, and almost other-worldly that you, Mr. Bay, ever worked for them. Convinced that your politics have a long history, but not sure about Fox’s, I can only smile to think that they had a stow-away on board. An imbedded subversive, who, alas, was unable to jam the gears of the great right-wing machine.

    1. Don Bay

      You are one of the few in America who admits to knowing little about “The Simpsons,” but at least you differentiate between Fox Broadcasting Company and Fox News or, as I refer to it, “The Right-Wing Republican News Organization.” It’s motto is “Unfair and Dishonest.” When it was announced that Roger Ailes was anointed to head Murdoch’s Fox News, I could be heard throughout the office as saying, “Oh, oh, look out!”

      Fox Broadcasting Company obviously didn’t look closely at my work experience when I was hired. If they had bothered, they would have seen “long-haired anti-Vietnam War lawyer; volunteer counsellor and one-time president of the Los Angeles Free Clinic; ACLU Speakers Bureau; drug defense lawyer.” What they saw and heard was that I was a lawyer with a broadcast standards background who looked good and gave good advice. Oh, well, it was an interesting if stressful eight years.

  2. alysonstover

    Don, having worked for FBC from ’89-’94, I have to say that you were definitely the exec who was the nicest and kindest to me. Always with a smile on your face, making it look easy. Breaks my heart to hear how shabbily you were treated, but isn’t everyone who works in this industry long enough?

    Have you heard the news that The X-Files are coming back? Yup.

    Looking forward to your next post 🙂
    xx

    1. Don Bay

      Alyson, you make me blush. Remember, it’s a two-way street: you are easy to know and be friendly with. As for shabby treatment, there are perks to being a vice-president even if I had my share of stress and had to swim upstream.

      Yep, I read that “The X-Files” is being pulled out of the deep-freeze. My God, how the residuals roll in…that is, assuming they weren’t bought out.

      Part 4, the last of my reminiscences, will be posted in a week. You won’t be disappointed.

  3. Linda

    I need to set the record straight that the Simpson’s was Avery’s assignment and I only subbed for her. With Sam Simon’s passing, I imagine you confused us as I worked with Sam on the Carlin show. I will say, however, that some of the issues that came up on that show after you left would not have been issues with you at the helm. After Avery left, the VP of Standards took on the Simpson’s until the producers asked that he take himself off of it.

    The X-Files was my assignment and I made a deal with you to get it. You had asked the man who was later to take your place to cover a late night talk show and you asked that I cover it with him since it taped daily. After a lot of hesitation on my part, I agreed if I could also cover The X-Files. I had seen a thirty second promo for it and was impressed.

    After your departure, I will tell you that the department did not have the calm, cool and sensible leadership you always provided. There was a line in the HBO series Newsroom that reminded me of your leadership. The anchor said to a journalist that was going to quit or be fired that he would always be there for her, standing next to her and in front of her. I heard the line and it took me to Don Bay immediately. I had never worked with anyone like that before or since then who stood firmly with his staff.

    Dave, as ironic as it sounds for Don to have worked for Fox, it was a good thing Don was there to help get the network off the ground. Another VP in Standards would not have done such a remarkable job.

    1. Don Bay

      Oops! I stand corrected. I should have consulted with you on show assignments. That’s what two decades of retirement will do. Thanks for setting the record straight. Sam Simon, though unusually skilled at his job, was a test for many people, but I recall that you got along fine with him. The right person in the right job.

      Like Alyson, you are making me blush. I did my best and sometimes goofed, but it helps to know that I did some things right. If I had had others like you, we would have had fewer problems. Thanks!

  4. Mary Ann Conley

    Found this “series” to be interesting, informative, and good reading. Forwarded it to interested persons who have had media experience.

    1. Don Bay

      I’m glad that you were able to check out my travails at FBC, Mary Ann, and pleased that you forwarded it to interested people. Fingers crossed they continue to read my thoughts on assorted subjects.

      Since I am a tad compulsive, every week I post a new piece on Sundays. Part 4, the last in the FBC series, will be published next week. See if it lives up to the first three. Sometimes I even surprise myself with the subjects that pop into my head. Paying attention sometimes pays off.

  5. Tracy T.

    Don, I’ve always enjoyed your writing, but this series in particular. All on our BS&P staff were fortunate to work for such a kind, caring, knowledgeable and generous boss. I admired how you managed our department and dealt with some difficult people and situations. I wish FOX had appreciated you and your contributions more. I know I did on a personal level. Sharing your bonus and always pushing HR to give raises to us underpaid assistants were just a few of the many things I fondly remember, as well as the “family” atmosphere of our department. I cherish the longtime friendships that resulted. Re: Peter Chernin…I don’t regret at all turning down the job as his assistant and the whopping $50 more a week they offered me to put up with his antics…no thanks! I wouldn’t have lasted a day working for such a narcissist. It was an easy choice. While I know you are moving on to another subject soon, I wish this series could keep going…it’s been an enjoyable trip down memory lane!

    1. Don Bay

      I genuinely appreciate the supportive words. You, Linda and Alyson told me I did something right even though the corporate world rolled on its merry way without a blink. As I said and as I believe, we all contributed to the success of FBC and should share in the rewards, assistants as well as executives. That goes for the entire corporate world.

      As for Chernin, the less said the better…but I was glad that you turned his offer down.

      Part 4 to my FBC saga is coming up this next Sunday. After that, more of my thoughts on assorted subjects. Agree or disagree, I hope you and others will share your views. As I say, stay healthy!

  6. Jim Newton

    Don, I have enjoyed this trip down memory lane, but it’s only your lane. Like Dave, it’s almost all foreign to me. I know who the Simpson’s are but never watch. I know the stars you mention but didn’t know they started on Fox I agree with you about Jim Carrey.

    And it’s nice to read the kudos you have gotten in the other comments. I second the parts of their comments that I can relate to.

    1. Don Bay

      Thanks for the warm words, Jim. Many of the readers are TV watchers who have seen the shows and know the stars, so that part will be familiar to them. Unless they know me, the rest will be new to them and will give them a sense of what it was like for me. Ah, the corporate world. Part of my checkered career.

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