I did push to do some entertainment interviews. In the show's second month, I got Madonna to talk to me. After that, I still had to do community events. My goal was to move up to being an entertainment features contributor for the weekend network edition of TODAY. I started in September 1992 and quit in January 1995 when I was told my work was excellent and I was popular with viewers but I'd never move up to full time employment and I'd never get network exposure. Matt Lauer was network by then. I gave notice.
Jump to the year 2000. Two print columnists told me that ABC News was seeking a film reviewer/historian for a new live weekday hour-long show it was producing on Lifetime TV. I aggressively pushed to get an audition. I had to be aggressive because ABC News producers didn't think I knew anything about films. One admitted that I was seen as a local funny "man-on-the-street" guy.
I auditioned and I got the job. I'd do an 8-minute segment every Friday which I'd write myself and I'd write reviews for the website. I had a title -- "Entertainment Editor." I was reviewing two new films a week, one DVD release, and spotlighting Women in Film history by recommending a classic film with a strong female lead performance. That was my idea.
He could not get me one penny more. But you know what? I absolutely LOVED that job. Films are my passion. Also, I was doing something I never saw black people do on network TV when I was growing up -- film reviews. I hoped I'd be making an impression on network execs.
As for the pay, ironically my agent took 10 per cent of my weekly pay, as he was allowed to do per SAG-AFTRA union rules, for attempting to get me more money. Some agents would've just passed because the pay was low. Not this guy. He also became my ex-agent. There I was, talent for ABC News on a live national show every week doing something African-Americans never got to do every week on a network news program.. and I was taking home $330 a week. After my agent took his cut.
My questions --- if you're an entertainment news reporter looking for a story -- are these: What's the deal with agencies not taking care of their clients as well as they should? The other question -- is the pay inequality in Hollywood and TV wider among performers who are people of color than it is for white talent? Just wondering.
I have had national TV talent jobs since 1999. The ABC News/Lifetime TV job was one, hosting a Food Network show that ran every week for six years is another and I worked with Whoopi Goldberg on her national weekday morning radio show that ran from 2006 to 2008. The highest annual income I made for a national broadcast job from 1999 to now --- was $55,000. By the way, my job on Whoopi's show started at $500 a week. For a national show.
I bet white performers like Billy Bush, Mo Rocca and Carson Kressley made more -- and had better agents.