Tuesday, December 31, 2013

life at 30 rock!

Bad luck...good luck really happens....(re-post)

Losing an election for Congress (never really had a chance).
Accidentally setting fire to our Stone House on the farm...
but..I’m a firm believer in the “bad luck-good luck” syndrome and a couple of weeks after all that bad news...I got a call from NBC News Chicago...drove over to the Loop and went to work as a writer/editor for Floyd Kalber, Jim Ruddle, John (Bud) Dancy and a bunch of others at NBC News in the  Merchandise Mart.  The highlight (or low light) of my few months with NBC News in Chicago were the riots of ‘69 on the west and south sides.  
We could watch the fires from the windows of the Merchandise Mart.  Also...I got a real education about the liberal media...watching writers editing film to make Mayor Dick Daley look bad!  But that’s a whole ‘nother book. 
It didn’t take long for the honchos in New York to call me in because of the two earlier freelance trips on my own to Vietnam. I auditioned for the main NBC News radio correspondent slot by writing a five minute newscast and reading it into a mike as they listened in NYC.
So...I had burned down the house...got beat by John Anderson...and within six months I was an official NBC News Vietnam war correspondent!  There must be some category of psychology that has a term for this “bad luck/good luck” syndrome but I only had one semester of that subject at Bradley University earlier...and sat next to All-American basketball star Bobby Joe Mason (later with the Harlem Globetrotters) and we talked basketball instead of the subject matter...so I don’t know.  Chet Walker...later a star with the Bulls sat in front of me in English.  Nice guy too!  Bradley was big in basketball!
NBC wanted me to fly in to the New York and spend a few days getting acquainted.  Also I had to get a new passport and all the damn shots again since it had been over three years since the last bunch.
It was quite a thrill being at 30 Rockefeller Plaza for that three or four days.  I watched the guy who sits at the big desk ordering crews all over the world to catch planes (or charter them) to go cover breaking stories. 
      One day I noticed a lot of the tv monitors were tuned to an alternate channel where actor Paul Newman was visible going up and down a flight of stairs. Constantly.
Turned out he was taping a show in one of the NBC studios on the floor below and all the females at NBC news had discovered they could watch him do his thing.  It was better than a soap opera.  (Note: I just checked Pauls 1969-70 films and I think he was making WUSA...which was mainly filmed in New Orleans.)
I think they also could have watched the rehearsals for Saturday Night Live that went on all week...But I only saw a cast member or two at the small restaurant down on the lobby level when I took a lunch break with my radio boss Russ Tornabene and his buddy...Edwin Neuman.  
I couldn’t believe I was lunching with Ed Neuman...and more than once.  Ed is the only newsman, I think, who was ever invited to host a Saturday Night Live show.  Spending some time, informally, in his presence was one of the great thrills of my life.  
And then came David Brinkley.  I spent my afternoons hanging out with the Huntley-Brinkley folks in their office.  Chet Huntley was on vacation...so Brinkley, who normally does his end of the cast from Washington  had moved to 30 Rock for the week.
He invited me into his office (no more than a large cubical with a desk and old fashioned typewriter) and lit up one of his constant king sized Salem cigarettes and said in that clipped Brinkley tone...”so you’re going to Saigon”...and I replied in the affirmative...sitting straight up in my chair in awe of the audience I was being given. 
       He took a long drag on the smoke and got a kind of a twinkle in his eye. “You know, Major, you ought to go over there and be the first peace correspondent in the war.  Tell it like it really is.”
I thought about it for a moment then replied that I really wanted to stay longer than a couple of weeks.  Which was probably the length of time it would take to replace me if I did that.
I don’t know if he was serious or not...but we chatted for a few more minutes and then I let him get back to work on his evening news script.
  Later, I observed Brinkley typing quite a bit and inquired of Les Crystal...the producer of the H-B report if Brinkley actually wrote the  whole show. He said...everything but the film intros but he checked them out too.
“Do you ever edit David’s stuff?” I ask.
“Are you kidding” Crystal he laughed. “ I’d rather edit God!”!
But Crystal was worried about a piece of footage being used on that evenings’ newscast.  Seems there was a shot of a woman with a see-through blouse...and the shot was a required part of the story so it couldn’t be dropped.  When I saw Les the next day I said...”well how did the shot go?”
“Not one call” he said.  No stations or viewers called to complain. You never know.
Much later when I was doing a talk show in Philadelphia David Brinkley jumped to ABC (he told me he couldn’t stand CBS) and began his “This Week” show but for some strange reason it wasn’t going to be carried by the Philly ABC affiliate.  When I found out I got David  on my show and I started a campaign which eventually resulted in them taking his Sunday show.  It was important to him as Philadelphia was the 4th largest TV market in the country. He was forever grateful to me.

     say “30” to 30 Rock...now on the Saigon(again).


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