Wednesday, May 18, 2011

DXM History Repeats: Television

Overwhelmingly, the subject I've written about most on this site over the last five years has been television. From news, to programming, to the tortured souls -- and, occasionally, the soulless -- who work behind the scenes, if there's one thing I know in this world and one thing I know always makes for entertaining reading, it's TV. The history of television-related posts on DXM includes the tales of my past in the business, a few hints at what it was like continuing to work as a producer, and of course the story of how I sacrificed that career on the altar of my desire to be a semi-professional jerk on the internet. Since leaving CNN in spectacular fashion in early 2008, I've continued to write consistently about TV -- its good, bad and ugly -- and so over the next week or so I'll repost some of the best pieces dealing with that very popular topic around these parts. First up: a glimpse behind the scenes of what regular readers now know was CNN's American Morning, circa June of 2007. This piece was posted briefly as a blind item, then was quickly taken down once my bile receded and sanity came rushing back in to fill the space after what was a very bad day at the office. Obviously, it doesn't matter how many people see it now -- or know who I'm talking about.

The DXM Fifth Birthday Jubilee

Topic: Television

Number of Posts: 317

"Adventures in Passive-Aggression" (Originally Published, 6.20.07)

I seem to remember making a promise a while back that at no point would this little experiment of mine turn into a "blog" in the traditional sense -- that I'd do everything in my power to prevent the columns that you find here from ever becoming a somewhat dull chronicle of what I'm doing at any given moment.

In other words, this is not my fucking diary.

And yet, there's no denying that although my primary goal here is to entertain, inform, enrage, provoke, pester, what-have-you, the feel of my MacBook's warmth on my lap and the rhythmic tapping of my fingers against its shallow keys does hold a certain therapeutic value for your humble narrator, and at the moment this is monumentally important. I make this declaration simply because I had the kind of day at work that, as of yet, nothing has been able to anesthetize.

Not beating the living hell out of a punching bag at the gym for an hour. Not playing a round or two of that Orbitz golf game that pops up on my computer desktop every so often like some internet Jehovah's Witness. Not lighting up a Montecristo Rothschilde. Nothing.

So, maybe all that's left is to get it off my chest. If I earned a living as, say, a drawbridge tender (my dream job, no lie), relaying the events of my workday to a mass audience would likely be unforgivably self-indulgent. However, because I spend most of my day wearing the hat of a network news producer, I might be able to pass the whole thing off as necessary for the general public's overall edification. I can tell myself that, goddammit, it's important that you people are fully aware just what kind of utter nonsense is involved in bringing you the important events of the day.

Yeah, that's it. That'll work just fine.

Please keep in mind that although by now some of you may have definite theories regarding which television network I work for, I still have to maintain some semblance of discretion. That said, this is the first time that I've pulled back the curtain and allowed anyone an even mildly unflattering look behind the scenes at the daily news program of which I'm currently a part. So, you know, let's just keep it between you and me -- okay?

Actually, now that I think about it -- none of what you're about to read is true. I made it all up.

We'll start at the beginning of my entirely fictional story:

00:00 (Zero Hour)

The alarm on my Blackberry goes off, jolting me out of a dream involving drawbridges (see?). Unlike most mornings, the first words out of my mouth don't bear a striking resemblance to the incomprehensible cursing that Yosemite Sam used to mutter under his breath in the old Warner Brothers cartoons; that's because my wife and I had a wonderful, relaxing weekend and for the first time in a very long time I feel pretty damn good. My current job may not necessarily be the most rewarding; it certainly isn't what I expected to be doing at this point in my life. Still, I shower and dress with a Zen-like calm -- content in the knowledge that, as Talk Talk once said so beautifully, life's what you make it. This morning, I'm determined to make it something great.

A few hours from now, this sentiment will have been crushed into a thousand itty-bitty pieces.


I arrive at the office to find that we're alarmingly short-staffed. Apparently, no one realized that one of our key line producers -- a person responsible for actually taking the show into the control room -- was still on vacation. I put my bag down at my desk and meander over to the coffee machine -- using the hot water to make myself a cup of tea. I silently repeat my pledge to make life what I, uh, make it -- over and over -- thereby stopping myself from taking a running start and jumping through the plate glass and to the street far below. I'm Zen, baby.


After reading through the day's news, which is admittedly worthless as I really only need to know one or two stories involving fires and dead pregnant women, I begin looking over the show -- my iPod earphones plugged tightly into my head, allowing the serene sounds of Coltrane's In a Sentimental Mood to comfort me as I begin my workday proper.

The big stories of the day, as expected: California fires, a dead pregnant woman, and, supposedly, the World's Ugliest Dog.

If I had actually gone to journalism school, I'd be furious that I had gone to journalism school for this.


The first real speed-bump of the day (or at least something with the IQ of a speed-bump): Our regular anchor being off, we've drafted one of the best-looking people in television news to replace him. Unfortunately, this person is -- in keeping with my Warner cartoon theme, and in the words of Foghorn Leghorn -- about as sharp as a sack of wet mice. Our writing staff now finds itself forced to put pronunciation guides into our scripts for any word above a fourth-grade reading level.

I wonder for a brief moment if someone should be proactive and inform him before air that Charles Taylor is the former Liberian president, and not a former librarian.


We're trying to come up with four or five ways to say what is essentially the same thing; this dilemma is pretty much par for the course when you have a large block of news and have chosen to fill it by throwing your entire reporting team at every conceivable angle of the Boyfriend-of-Missing-White-Woman-Found-Dead-Now-Charged-with-Murder du jour. I knew this story was going to be "huge" simply because I had noticed over the weekend that despicable ambulance-chaser Nancy Grace had actually come in on her day off to do a "Very Special" edition of her show on CNN Headline News.

One of our scripts reads, "The question everyone is asking is: Who is Bobby Cutts?" -- a reference to the man now charged with killing Ohio mother Jessie Davis.

Truer words were never spoken. Who the hell is Bobby Fucking Cutts?


After two more cups of tea, a Diet Coke and a bag of Onion & Garlic Soy Crisps (because the damn machines are out of Bugles), I'm sufficiently amped -- although still maintaining as much Zen as possible, given the circumstances. Those circumstances would be the fact that we as a news organization have already begun our slavish, Riefenstahlian proselytizing in the name of our techno-fuhrer, Steve Jobs. Apple doesn't even need a marketing campaign for the iPhone; it has us -- the mass media. In Jobs We Trust.

I glance down at my Motorola Razr on my desk. I feel so 2005.

Still, I pick it up and cradle it somewhat lovingly -- suddenly finding an odd kinship with it. I imagine it feels sad, belittled and inferior right about now.

I can relate.


I get an e-mail from a friend of mine in Miami who's also in TV news. He's in contact with the producers at another network; apparently Ann Coulter is -- at this very moment -- stalking their halls, waiting to go live on the air.

Someone once again invited Ann Coulter to appear as a guest on a supposedly respectable news show.

I hate this business.


The show is underway and, as expected, we're falling behind simply because we're sorely lacking people. Also as expected, the executives are acting as if we're at full-staff, which means that -- when the show inevitably collapses on-air -- it will be the little people who get taken out behind the wood-shed. Two go out. One comes back.

I'm motherfucking Zen, goddammit.


Our fill-in anchor has just mispronounced Mao, saying not "MOW" but "MAY-oh."

I immediately make sure he has a pronunciation guide for an upcoming story about Mensa (MEN-suh), as he's obviously not going to have the slightest clue how to say that particular word correctly.


Our other anchor misreads a script -- inadvertently turning a story about San Francisco's mayor banning bottled water in all city offices to a story about San Francisco's mayor banning bottled water in the entire city.

Well, it certainly makes for a better story.


Our main guest booker shouts across the newsroom, "I FUCKING HATE THIS PLACE!" rips off her headset and stomps away.


Overwhelmed, understaffed and completely against the wall, we're suddenly commanded to juggle the end of the show in an effort to make room for a new guest. Possibly General David Petraeus? Terrorism expert Peter Bergen perhaps? Fareed Zakaria with analysis on the situation in Gaza?

Nope, it's the kid who put his cell phone number up on YouTube -- the one who's since met a girl online whom he's now asked to marry him after a mere month and a half.

Talk Talk was wrong. Life isn't what you make it; it's what your bosses make it.

And if they happen to be in the news business -- they make it shit.

My Zen is fucked.


Eight hours and forty-five minutes after I woke up in a great mood, I'm trying to prevent myself from taking the entire newsroom hostage. My bosses walk out of the control room and into their respective offices one at a time -- saying nothing.

Not a word.

Not a "thank you" to the skeleton crew who pulled off a nearly impossible feat.


Finally, one of the show's line producers walks past my desk. I look up at him from my chair. "Say something nice to me, Alex," I say quietly. "Tell me we did good."

"You guys were great," he says. "I have no idea how we pulled it off."

Neither do I -- and I have no idea how we'll do it again tomorrow.

Or why for that matter.


J. Dack said...

Still one of my all time favorites.

brite said...

Over the years, I've often wondered why you didn't get back into the 'producin' business'. Now I know.