Tuesday, February 5, 2013

We Missed the TITANIC

Actor Victor Garber once again starred in a film that netted an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.  We saw him as the shipbuilder of an ill-fated luxury liner in the box office blockbuster, Titanic.  That movie took Hollywood gold for Best Picture of 1997.
In Milk, another film based on real-life events and real-life characters, he played the Mayor of San Francisco.  Mayor George Moscone was shot and killed the same day as Harvey Milk, the city official and gay rights activist portrayed by Best Actor Oscar winner, Sean Penn.  Milk was an Oscar nominee for Best Picture of 2008.
For a triple play, Victor hit a homer in a current Oscar nominee for Best Picture.  Movie-goers and movie critics loved Argo, based on actual people and news events from 1979.
In this crowd-pleasure, we see that Hollywood can not only entertain, but its product can also save your life.  A sci-fi action movie sequel inspires the plot to rescue hostages from a Middle Eastern political hotbed.  The hostages in Iran listened to Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck) and followed his lead.  They trusted his knowledge and instincts.
If only I could've had a couple of bosses who did the same when I worked on local morning TV news programs in New York City.  One thing I've learned in my broadcast career -- the folks on the entertainment (programming) side of the business tend to be more creative thinkers than news producers.  That always struck me as odd because I expected executives in news to be broad-minded considering that their work enlightens and informs and educates.  At VH1, if there was a certain actor, director or writer I wanted to interview, I'd be given the air time -- especially if I felt I had the information and passion to conduct the interview.  When I was approached to work on local news programs, the attitude was different.  Here's an example, I had taped an interview with a movie director who was promoting his new film.  I worked on WNBC/Channel 4 then.  I told the producer of our weekend local news show that the interview was good and would be a good entertainment piece.  There was room for it in the show.  Her response was, "But no one knows who he is."  I told her, politely, that I believed the movie would do well and people would know his name.  No luck.  She didn't let me put together a 3-minute package of that interview ... an interview with director Robert Zemeckis talking about his new film, Forrest Gump.  But, at one time, she let the co-anchor book Pia Zadora to come into the studio for a live 8-minute interview.  I kid you not.  Need I tell you that Forrest Gump became one of the biggest hits of 1994?  The following year, after I'd quit that show, the film won Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Tom Hanks)...and Best Director (Robert Zemeckis).

I had a similar experience at the next station that tapped me to be on its morning news show.  Even though, for months, the Hollywood buzz was that it would sink upon box office arrival, Titanic did just the opposite.  It was a huge hit and critics predicted many Oscar nominations.  Good Day New York on WNYW assigned me to do live shots in the field.  Life style features.  I'd promote family events, talk to commuters and other folks on the street.  Did you ever see the live TV segments Jim Carrey's reporter character had to do in the first 20 minutes of Bruce Almighty?  That sort of thing.  I did get to do more entertainment features on WNYW/Fox5 than at WNBC.  But my goal was to do even more entertainment features in the studio.

Victor Garber was appearing in an off-Broadway play that needed publicity.  I got a press kit and the attached letter mentioned that he was very available for interviews.  He could be an in-studio guest.  I called the publicist to say that I'd gotten the information and wanted to pitch an interview to my boss.    I wanted to book Garber to be in our studio for the 8:00-9:00 hour on one day in particular when he was available.  It would be the day Oscar nominations were announced.  I'd seen Titanic and felt it had a chance of tying All About Eve in record Oscar nominations.  Victor Garber was in Titanic.  Here was my pitch to my boss -- let me interview Garber in one segment about his off-Broadway play.  Ask him stick around and he could watch with us as we cut to Hollywood for the live Oscar nominations coverage.  Then... talk to Garber again, as a cast member of Titanic, to get his reaction to the Oscar nominations just announced.  I felt this would be a win-win situation for our local show, plus it would give generous time to Garber to talk about his play and Titanic.  His soundbites could be used on the afternoon and nighttime newscasts.

My producer boss passed on that idea.  I was assigned to do a live-shot in midtown Manhattan at the grand opening of a new gourmet soup cafe.  Again...I kid you not.  So, there I am trying to fill  4-minute segments with commuters talking about soup.  Like so:

Me:  "Hi!  Thanks for stopping to talk to us on Good Day New York.  This is a new gourmet soup cafe in Manhattan opening today."

Commuter:  "Oh.  That's nice."

Me:  "Today's special is escarole."

Commuter:  "Escarole.  What's that?"

Me:  I think she played the mother on Good Times."

Commuter:  "What?"

Me:  "Exactly.  Here's a coupon.  Go in.  Enjoy the soup."

On that morning, I really wanted to be in the studio.  Well, a guest who was scheduled canceled at the last minute.  The guest was slated for the last half hour of the show in a spot that came after the Oscar nominations. This caused a problem.  In order to fix that big gap of time, what did the producer do?  Asked if I could fill from my remote by talking about...the Oscar nominations just announced.

There I was, backed up by minestrone and chicken pasta soup, telling the show's anchorman and all our viewers that James Cameron's Titanic -- which some Hollywood insiders predicted would sink at the box office -- not only sailed into colossal success....
...but it had indeed tied with director and screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz's 1950 classic, All About Eve, for a record total of 14 Academy Award nominations.
And I could have been discussing this on the show with Titanic supporting cast member, Victor Garber -- if only someone had followed my lead and trusted by knowledge.  This is why I dig the entertainment side of television.  News never seemed to quite know what to do with me -- even though I tried to make it obvious to executives.

Garber is a versatile Broadway and film veteran. He started his film career as Jesus in the 1973 screen version of the stage musical, Godspell.  His hit films before Titanic include Sleepless in Seattle and The First Wives Club. Millions of TV viewers remember him as Jack Bristow on the series, Alias.  Garber played Sid Luft, Judy Garland's husband and manager, in the acclaimed 2001 TV biopic, Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows starring Judy Davis.  It's based on a memoir by Garland's daughter, Lorna Luft.  Garber recently introduced press to his longtime partner.
If I ever meet Mr. Garber, one terrific actor, I must tell him that Titanic story.  Wow.  Do those two gentlemen make a handsome couple or what?  Good for you, Mr. G!

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