I’ve had a lot of varied career experience … both in and out of the Entertainment Industry. One job that has left its indelible mark on my psyche was my stint as a Stage Manager at a network affiliate station in San Diego.
I was freshly out of SDSU, the ink on my theatre and film degrees barely dry, and was working around town as a freelance lighting and audio guy at the local regional, summer stock, and dinner theatres around, San Diego. It was fun, and I learned a lot, even though the pay sucked beyond the telling of it.
I was doing a gig for a sound company at a downtown hotel, when I ran into Mitch Koi, a friend of mine who was a Producer/Director at KBMO, the local NBC affiliate. Mitch had taught a TV production class while I was at State, and we had kept in touch ever since.
As it happened, KBMO had an opening for a stage manager, and Mitch thought I’d be ideal for the job. He gave me the number of the station’s production manager, and I got in touch with him that afternoon. And got the job.
The station was typical of many smaller-market TV stations (I believe San Diego was about the 21st largest TV market in the country in 1983), mainly producing local news and sport shows, with production revenue beefed-up by producing commercial spots for local businesses.
For those of you who have never been on the business end of a local news operation, it’s a fascinating world.
For many of the talent, a station in a mid-sized market is a weigh station … A stepping-stone to bigger and better opportunities in cities like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles. For others, it was a place where they had found their niche in broadcasting and decided that they didn’t have the ambition, need, or in some cases talent, to move up to a larger market.
The combination of savagely aggressive ladder-climbers and big-fish, small bowl, types made for some pretty interesting interpersonal interactions with many of the staff members … Okay, I’m just being polite, this station had more neurotic divas per square inch than you’d find in most of society … including Entertainment Industry types. Especially among some of the news anchors.
There was a news co-anchor on the 5 and 11 who, albeit the absolute sharpest knife in the drawer, was a just a wee bit tonto in la cabeza … The man was obsessed, crazed, and just plain MEAN!
He would typically re-write all of the copy for each broadcast, before air, because, hey, it did it better than the producer and he wanted to get out of this podunk town and get to LA and so he could make the big bucks …
He was hell on the engineering/production staff as well … Particularly the stage managers.
When he wanted the attention of a stage manager during a broadcast, he would throw one of his razor-sharp pencils (which he kept a full cup of on the news set for no other purpose) at your neck … I think he must have minored in darts at college, because the son of a bitch was wicked accurate.
Whenever the guy threw a tantrum, during breaks … which was pretty much every show … He would take the trash can from behind the news desk and throw it at the stage manager and camera crew. It got to the point where filing grievances with the Union was useless … The guy was a whack job, but he was the “Talent”, so you just had to deal. Well, maybe.
One of the maintenance engineers, the station uber-nerds who know how to fix the electronics, was into flying ultra-lites … a sort of a flying lawn-chair for those who haven’t seen them. He had gotten a hold of some really thin aviation-grade cable … So thin, in fact, you could barely see the stuff … And tied the trash can to the set.
On the weekends, most of the anchors practiced a modified dress code; they just wore their shirt, tie and jacket, with shorts. The logic being that, since they never stood up and nobody would see them from the waist down, why bother with the pants?
So one Saturday night, our boy, let’s call him, “Bud”, gets to his boling point over some stupid thing or another. He was already pissed that he had to cover a junior colleague’s weekend spot and someone had dared to put pink highlighters on his news desk, instead of yellow (It really didn’t take a lot to put a nickel in old “Bud’s” slot.) So when we go into commercial, he starts doing his thing, and throws his usual child-like hissy fit … With one minor exception.
When “Bud” goes to grab the trashcan, hoping to heave it at the stage manager, he finds that its been securely tied to the set and won’t budge … Which causes him to freak even more!
It was amazing. I would have never thought the human face could turn so many distinct shades of red.
“Bud” goes ballistic, ranting, raving, and using language usually reserved for longshoremen and Casey Kasem, not realizing that the red tally light just went on over one of the cameras.
He is now standing up, in his bright orange shorts, suit jacket and tie, ranting and raving and swearing like a truck driver … ON AIR!
The director dumped to commercial quickly, not causing too much embarrassment, but I understand that there were some serious discussions in the news director’s office, on Monday morning, about Bud’s attitude and dress code.
Eventually Bud did land that big-time job in Los Angeles, where he remains to this day … No doubt still the terror of stage managers and news directors alike.
The maintenance engineer quit the business and opened up his own ultra-lite dealership in the ‘burbs, promptly went bankrupt, because nobody in his right mind wants to fly around in a flying lawn chair that could run out of gas without warning, and, for a brief time at least, peace ruled at the station.
There are just some experiences that have to be lived to be believed. This is a true story, and I wouldn’t believe it had I not been there to see it for myself.