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Apr 05

My Years in Purgatory, Part 4

In Brief— At the suggestion of a reader, Bay provides an abbreviated glimpse at the corporate politics he encountered in his years at Fox Broadcasting Company. Originally, three parts were planned, but this Part 4 will extend the franchise. No further parts are contemplated at this time. But you never know.

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FLASH! EXTRA!  BE SURE TO READ THE IMPORTANT UPDATE AT THE END!

Politics Intrudes—

As a reminder of how it all started, at least from my arrival on the scene, here are the facts. 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 was putting together. If I were interested I should contact the newly appointed company president, Jamie Kellner. I was interested.

I made a list of recommendations, met Mr. Kellner and explained how I believed FBC should proceed. My presentation was effective. I was hired. Although the consensus was that it couldn’t be done, Murdoch and Diller thought otherwise. I felt it was worth the gamble in view of the management. Little did I realize what I was getting into.

To tell you how naïve I was, I believed that as a widely-doubted new venture, everybody should work toward achieving the same goal: success in spite of the doubts of broadcast industry insiders that FBC didn’t have the chance of a snowball in Hell. Initially, my belief was on target. The small staff assembled by Mssrs. Murdoch and Diller cooperated in reaching the goal, but no sooner was the venture deemed a success, than the egotistical maneuvering began. Each department head—that is to say, the horde of vice presidents—began trying to impress Murdoch and Diller by throwing subtle elbows at the others. Politics had reared its ugly head and continued throughout my tenure.

Office location was part of the political game. Having an office in the administration building was desirable, particularly on the second floor where the biggies had their offices. I didn’t play that game, although in retrospect, it probably would have been smart even though I knew that broadcast standards (BS&P) was considered the poor second cousin. Eventually, BS&P had decent office space…around the corner from the administration building.

When David Grant—of whom I have spoken in less than fond terms—was inserted between me and Jamie Kellner, we had a get-acquainted meeting in my office. Among other features of his new job, I pointed out the level of professionalism of the editors. Slumped on the couch, Grant gave the impression that he was just going through the motions. Later, in his ignorance, he remarked that BS&P was “simple.” Months later, after he had already made our job more difficult by his political moves, he whined to one of the editors that BS&P “will be the death of me [Grant].”

One of Grant’s brilliant moves was to buy a package of completed theatrical films, the first of which put BS&P in the position of either making a mockery of our standards or cutting the film for acceptability thereby rendering it incomprehensible. I pointed this out to Grant in clear terms. His response was, “Cut it!” His political—and censorious—attitude was the buy was more important. A political decision resulted in corporate stupidity and departmental stress. It had “conflict-of-interest” written all over it. The next time you hear some ignoramus talk about how pure corporations are, think of this.

Believable Rumors—

A believable rumor was that Keenen Wayans and top Fox management had clashed over a buy-out of In Living Color. Although Wayans had created what had become one of FBC’s successful shows and would be forced into giving up control, it appears that corporate muscle won out. Revealingly, it was at this time that Keenan no longer appeared on the set of the show. I have since heard that there was considerable stress affecting those on the show.

A Revealing Tantrum—

A legendary Diller tantrum was promised earlier. As mentioned, I arrived slightly late at the weekly executive meeting because of an important phone call. Besides the not-unusual appearance of a new face at the table, I later learned that on this occasion the new face was a guest of Mr. Diller and I had missed the introduction. When my turn came, in keeping with the custom I presented the current BS&P problem. It seems that this embarrassed Diller in front of his guest.

A colleague and I were enjoying a post-meeting lunch in the commissary when a red-faced Diller burst through the front door under a full head of steam. As if by magic, all the waiters suddenly disappeared. At a volume that peeled paint from the walls, Diller screamed that I had embarrassed him in front of his guest. To say I was dumbfounded is an understatement. Without giving me a chance to defend myself, he spun and exited. He had done his political duty and scolded me…in effect, for doing business as usual. At the next meeting, not a word was said and nothing ever came from it.

Finally, there is my resignation. Burned out from long hours and battles with Grant, I submitted my resignation and pitched Maurie as the person best qualified to take over the department. Grant disliked Maurie and saw the opportunity to name a minority as the head of the department. I can certainly understand the choice if the individual had the qualifications for leadership. Unfortunately, as history shows, the named man was less than qualified. I pointed that out to Grant, but he had the bit between his teeth. Ironically, Grant subsequently turned to Maurie for guidance in tough situations.

The Ugly Truth—

That expands a bit on the politics I recall encountering at FBC. There was more, of course, because corporate politics is an everyday occurrence in not just FBC but at every corporation on Earth.

Remember, corporations are in business to make a profit and they are run by fallible humans. They have no conscience and no soul. Their purpose is profit. Anyone who believes otherwise is engaging in wishful thinking. Reality.

You can review earlier parts by tracking down below Part 4. Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

 

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FLASH!  Arthur, the Ecuadorian dog I wrote about earlier, has been released from Swedish quarantine and is now home with his new family in northern Sweden. Click anywhere on the highlighted area in this Flash to get the whole story.

Now back to My Years in Purgatory, Part 4.

8 comments

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  1. Linda

    Wow! You had so much power at FBC that you actually made Barry Diller walk all the way across the lot to the commissary just to scream that he embarrassed you? That’s some power, Don!

    We abstract business or corporations even while we know that they do not exist on their own. They are run by humans who should have a conscience and well, perhaps a soul. Decisions are made by humans, not an abstract entity. Corporations are people who make decisions that affect the lives of other humans and yes, profit is their purpose. I despise the phrase “It’s not personal, it’s just business” because it is always personal.

    I am still working in television standards and recently heard a story about one top executive moving his office to the one next to his because it was larger. If, however, you stood facing both offices you could not see the difference. The exec had counted the tiles in the ceiling and found that his office had one and a half tiles less than his neighbor’s.

    Hey, thanks for the memories!

    1. Don Bay

      Yep, I embarrassed Barry Diller because I engaged in business as usual, but he got the opportunity to peel paint off the walls of the Fox commissary. He probably forgot about it within seconds of his tirade.

      Corporations are corporations whether they make widgets or entertain an audience. From my perspective (and this blog is from my perspective), the egos may be a tad larger than in non-entertainment corporations, but since I’ve never been in non-entertainment corporations, I could be all wet.

      Corporations are in business to make a profit. No profit, no corporation. They are inhabited by humans, and humans have an array of flaws. Makes no difference whether it’s government or the business world, regardless of what some doofuses may want us to believe. Fox was just another corporation, and my feeble efforts were swimming upstream, but fingers crossed I made a difference when I was there.

  2. Brenda Frye

    I love the story about the Ecuadorial dog. What wonderful human family that dog has. Now that is a “good” story. Thank you.

    1. Don Bay

      Glad you enjoyed learning that Arthur, the Ecuadorian dog, has at long last been released from Swedish quarantine and has joined his family in northern Sweden. Fingers crossed all are happy.

      I hope you read my piece about FBC. If life is about getting experience (and maybe a smidgeon of wisdom), then I had eight years of experience among a generally great group of associates. I learned a lot, some of it good and some painful, but all was beneficial and helped make me who I am. How’s that for a philosophy?

  3. Jim Newton

    Thanks for this Don. As you said, business as usual contains all this, but it’s interesting to see your experience. And as Linda says, corporations are only people doing something together, so it’s really about the people. It’s about profit, but sometimes the people in corporations do something that matters to society. Except, is it about society or is this just another gambit in the profit scheme?

    1. Don Bay

      You and Linda pointed out that FBC is just another corporation in business to make a profit. I hope I made life a bit easier for my associates in the department, but I suspect that my tenure produced ephemeral results. As I pointed out in the blog, I swam upstream through the politics that surrounded me. I have little doubt that the politics continues today. So it is in society and so it will remain. Fingers crossed that there are others willing to swim upstream. They encourage others to do the same. Thanks for the warm words, particularly from another who swims upstream.

      1. Linda

        Ephemeral results? Hardly. When you consider just one of your actions at FBC like sharing your bonus with those that did not fit into the category to receive one, I would say that your efforts continue today and will continue for quite some time, spreading to people you do not know and I do not know. Just this one action on your part is huge and lasting!

        1. Don Bay

          Linda’s point is that an act of altruism can spread like ripples on a still pond. All I did was think about the fairness of executives receiving a bonus when all the employees contributed to the success of the operation. It came from within, and everybody has that power within themselves to leave the world better for having been here.

          Nicholas Kristof discusses this in yesterday’s (April 6, 2015) Opinion section of the N.Y. Times (“The Trader Who Donates Half His Pay”). Whether you choose to contribute to the betterment of your fellow humans with money or through actions is less important than your choosing to contribute to the betterment of all. I chose to do both: money and the action itself.

          The blog piece to follow this one—”Let a Spark Start a Fire”—discusses altruism. I urge readers to read it. Most important, I urge readers to make it a part of their lives. Pay it forward.

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