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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Bigger The Gaffe...

One of a news producer’s most tedious duties is the writing of the nightly discrepancy report. If the show was clean, the producer could get home at a reasonable hour. If it was a “TV’s Bloopers & Practical Jokes” kind of newscast, it could mean an extra hour or more in front of the keyboard, reliving every botched super, clipped piece of audio, or story that failed to make its slot.

I’ve been on the producing end of some newscasts that were so brutal, the discrepancy report was pages long! Everyone hates those kinds of shows, except around Christmas time. Every December, it’s time to gather that year’s news bloopers, and put something together for the annual skit reel. That’s the time when those mispronunciations and technical theatrics stop being sore spots, and become, well, funny. It’s the time when the laugh’s on us, and the bigger the gaffe… the bigger the laugh!

I’ll be posting a few different news blooper reels in the months to come, starting with this offering from 1983. This one concentrates more on behind-the-scenes flubs and mishaps, and as you’d expect… the language is graphic. You might want to wait until the kids, or the boss, aren’t around to watch the following video. (You can’t survive in a newsroom if F-bombs bother you. News professionals curse more than Dick Cheney at an environmentalist’s convention.)

Look for Dave Levine, John Turchin, Joyce Evans, Amanda Moss, Barbara Sloan, Mike Medrano, Jay Held, Don Franklin, and even Channel 7’s Bob Gilmartin in this video.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I-Missed-It News

Even the most experienced producers, assignment editors, and reporters blow it occasionally. Anyone who lived through CBS’ woeful coverage of Princess Diana’s death knows that even the big boys choke on a big one from time to time. No one’s immune. Certainly not me!

I always felt I had good news judgment, something you either have or you don’t. It cannot be taught. Yet in May of 1987, I made one of my biggest blunders. It was a Saturday morning, and the Miami Herald had just published their expose about presidential candidate Gary Hart, and his no-longer-secret tryst with celebrity wannabe Donna Rice. It was a salacious story. I hate salacious stories! The Ten O’Clock News was not a tabloid, and I was adamant about it. Still, the assignment desk sent our only weekend reporter out to pursue this ode of infidelity, and the manager on duty agreed it was the story of the day. Everyone agreed, except me. I’m glad I was overruled. Boy, did I blow it! I hated the freaking story, but the public gobbled it up, and soon Gary Hart was out of the race, throwing the democratic challenge for the nomination into turmoil… and ultimately handing the White House to the first George Bush. Yeah, I’d say it turned out to be an important turn of events. I’d say that was probably my biggest brain fart in my nineteen years in the newsroom.

(Gary Hart & Donna Rice:
Too Much "Monkey Business")

But I wasn’t alone! I’m about to name names, which doesn’t mean these producers weren’t good at what they did. It just means they, too, blew it on occasion. First, Rob Puglisi… and what came to be known (thanks to Dangerous Dan Slade) as “The Killer Cheese Incident”. It was June 14, 1985, the day a TWA plane carrying 80 Americans was hijacked by Lebanese extremists. A U.S. Navy diver was murdered; dozens of Americans were taken hostage, and held captive for weeks. The story was quickly unfolding, and was turning into a huge international crisis. How much time did it receive on The Ten O’Clock News that night? Thirteen seconds. Thirteen seconds!! The ultimate afterthought, after five minutes devoted to a Jalisco cheese recall that didn’t even reach into South Florida. After the newscast, a frowning Solon Gray spoke up and said, “Rob, I’m not pleased with our coverage of the hijacking”. It was the talk of the intern party that night at Monty Trainer’s, and of course the hijacking/hostage crisis would go on to dominate, and lead, the news for weeks. Hindsight is 20/20, they say. Rob made a lot of good decisions, but that sure wasn’t one of them!

(Click image to view full screen)

Now turn the page to June 13, 1994. Evy Woods rushes out of the feed room, to inform us that a body has been found at O.J. Simpson’s home. Howard Bernstein, who was producing the 5PM show, turned to Evy and told her, “Okay, I heard you, keep me informed.” A little while later, he added the story to the show… in the 6th block! With all the other celebrity news! Evy came out and argued her case, telling Howard that she thought the story deserved to be higher in the show. Evy would have made a good attorney, because she convinced Howard to move the story up, and to book a satellite window to carry a live report. Good move. (Of course, the Associated Press going ga-ga over the story might have helped convince him as well.)

It all reminds me of a line from Steve Boyer, the one-time WCIX intern who worked his way up to become assignment manager in 1988. After we got completely killed by the other stations on what turned out to be an important story, Boyer turned to news director Larry Wallenstein and said, very calmly, “We out-thunk ourselves”. That line has stayed with me all these years.

The truth is, all news people occasionally outthink themselves. It’s how we recover, and how much we learn, that determines our worth to a news operation. It’s how we grow, evolve, and how flexible we allow ourselves to be.

I still hate that sleazy Donna Rice story.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

It's All In The Game

They paid us… to hang around a TV station, to watch Tom & Jerry cartoons, to appear on Duck Duck Goose, while eating a piece of birthday cake that seemed to be around on any given day. They paid us… to be an eyewitness to turbulent events in America’s most turbulent city, during its most turbulent decade. We met exciting people, shared exciting times, and grew up a little with each passing year, and yes, they paid us for it. That’s one way to look at it.

If I put away the Kool-Aid and the rose colored glasses, I can see the not-so-fabulous flip side: the long hours, the six-and-seven-day weeks, being just a name on a schedule, having to sweat out the latest round of cutbacks, the egos of our bosses, understaffed newscasts, and endless critiques of every minor “discrepancy” we were a part of. Let’s face it, it was hard. We worked our butts off. We earned our fun!

I’ve talked about some of the ways in which we blew off steam, but really, the possibilities were endless. Personally speaking, I loved getting together with the guys for softball, and occasionally basketball (though I could never really keep up with Fess, Lucious, or Cisco). As a little guy with no power, I was the perennial bit player at our early 80s softball games, but I really enjoyed getting out there and doing my best. And yes, I really did play catcher.

(Click images to view them full screen)

The film that follows was shot in 1979, before my time at the station. I managed to save this from the trash heap during the great film purge of 1985. Notice how everyone in this footage is having a blast, even reporter Harlan Levy. And no, I’m not sure who the chicken dancer is, but I’m hoping somebody will recognize her.

(Channel 6 vs. Channel 2, August 25, 1979. By the way, Channel 2 beat us.)

And yes, I still have my rather faded WCIX softball shirt. It still fits.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


The most asked question about this blog is one that is short and sweet:

No, not why are you blogging, but why are you blogging about a TV station that almost always finished last in the ratings, doesn’t even exist anymore, and is barely a blip in the radar of many of the subjects of these musings. I admit that in some ways, it makes me look rather pathetic. Believe it or not, I do live in the here and now, and don’t dwell on the past. (Yeah, right….) Well it’s true. It’s just that I’ve swept that past under the rug for a decade or so, and have finally come around to embracing it once again. Doing so is both therapeutic and… dare I say it…. fun. The bad feelings I had when I jettisoned my TV news career have vanished into the ether, replaced by a warm and gentle spirit of healthy nostalgia and gratitude. It may sound wimpy when I say it, but it feels great to look back on these two decades of my life with a smile, instead of a growl. And yet a lot of my posts will be growly, because that’s the way things were a lot of the time. The negativity that pops up just reinforces that this is, by and large, a positive blog about an imperfect place with imperfect people. And Lord knows this writer is pretty damn imperfect himself!

This is also a one-stop spot for information about former WCIX employees, and (whenever possible) ways to get back in touch with them. To me, the “Life After Channel 6” links are just as crucial to this site as the blog posts. I’ve tried to include up-to-date links on as many former WCIX’ers as possible. If your name (or that of one of your friends) is not included, it means one of six things:

1. I could not find a link to your present whereabouts through an internet search. If you contact me through the comments section, or an e-mail, I’ll be glad to add your name, and link, to the list.
2. You’re still at WFOR (to the best of my knowledge). There is really no need to put links for present Channel 4 employees, since we know where to find you!
3. You worked at the station before my time, and I’m not aware of you.
4. Your last name has changed. This is especially true of some of the young ladies I worked with nearly three decades ago, who have long ceased to be single.
5. Your name just slipped my mind (which is not hard to do, after so many years). Again, contact me through the comments section or e-mail, and I will see to it that your link is added to the list.
6. You share your name with another person with a web presence, and I’m not sure which one you are. (How many different, successful women named Caryn Brooks are there, anyway?)

I feel that this site belongs to all the folks who traveled in and out that door (good line, bad song). I’m particularly gratified by the comments of one of my former colleagues, who said “thank you for bringing WCIX to life once again”. What he said really got to me, because technically, WCIX is dead, and HAS been for more than thirteen years. Some of you might say that only the name has changed, but come on now. Most viewers have already forgotten about the Great Channel Swap of 1995, and seriously believe the current WFOR is the same Channel 4 that Ralph Renick helped bring to life sixty years ago. WCIX may be “so last century”, but it cannot be forgotten. It WILL not be forgotten. That’s why this blog exists.

If you enjoy these pages, or even if you think they’re a waste of time, feel free to leave a comment after any of the posts. Also check out former WCIX news director Paul Stueber’s blog, Tying My Shoes, for some very entertaining stories about Channel 6 and his other ports of call. Those of you on Facebook are encouraged to join the Fans & Former Employees of WCIX group on there, for a chance to reconnect with old friends and share some photos and videos. (That group is 85 members strong, and growing by the day.) I really do welcome your comments, so by all means, speak up. We had a good thing going then, and with your participation, we can have a real good thing going now.