Thursday, October 13, 2016

That Time Bob Dylan told me to "Fuck Off"

I woke up this morning to the news that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Big up to him. Several of my good friends have heard this story but, in honor of this award, I thought I would share it with all of you. It's about the time that Mr. Dylan told me to "fuck off".....he really did.

While playing the role of a powerful network executive I had the opportunity to meet several celebrities and powerful people. After a while you get sort of numb to it. Some of them impress you (Jack Welsh, Rupert Murdoch, George Clooney) and some of them are fucking idiots and you just wonder.

At FOX I was often asked by casting to sit in on meetings with professional wrestlers. I had a chance to meet Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H and Chyna and Jeff Jarrett. I also got to meet Vince McMahon along with his kids Shane and Stephanie when they were shopping Smackdown to the broadcast networks.

I met John McCain of the set of 24 and the entire Masked Family had their picture taken with the Clintons when Bill was President. We actually used it as our Holiday card one year. The card said "The B------s and the Clintons wish you Happy Holidays" We received calls from several friends asking us how we photoshopped the picture. Several thought I was joking when I said it was real.

Funny story about that. Before we headed to DC for "Christmas in Washington" my daughter broke her wrist so she was wearing a cast at the taping. My wife tried to make her feel better by promising that we would ask the President to sign his cast. My good friend in NBC Sales got us on the list to have our picture taken with the Clintons. After the picture was shot, as we were walking away, I heard my wife say "Mr. President would you sign my daughter's cast?" Bill said "Do You have a Sharpie?" of course she did and we have my daughter's autographed cast to this day.

But I digress.....

....So it's late 1988 or early 1989. I'm in Research at NBC and still living in New York. I was coming back from a business trip to LA. This was a time when you could still smoke on a plane and it was also a time when executives like me could travel First Class. It so happened that on the day I was returning to NYC The Traveling Wilburys was nominated for a Grammy. At some point early in the flight a man in a hoodie gets up to use the restroom. On the way back to his seat I noticed that it was Bob Dylan. He was sitting across the aisle and a few rows back from me.

My relatively new boss at NBC was a huge Bob Dylan fan and legend had it that, when Dylan was on SNL, my boss went down to the dress rehearsal with Dylan's picture in a frame and a knife to cut it out of the frame. He was jumped by security and never got the autograph that he was seeking. I thought to myself "Wouldn't it be cool if I could get my boss Dylan's autograph". As I said at the top you get numb to meeting celebrities BUT THIS WAS BOB FUCKING DYLAN!!!!!! This was different. This was like approaching a God.

I took out a pad and a pen and spent the whole flight working up the nerve to ask him for his signature. In my mind I went through every possible line I could use.I was terrified. Finally, about twenty minutes before landing, I got up crossed the aisle and stood at his seat. Dylan was smoking a cigarette and was talking intensely with his travelling companion. So there I am holding a pen and a pad. His companion looks up at me and shakes her head like---don't do this. Dylan sees her reaction and turns around to look at me. Here's what came out of my mouth: "You can tell me to fuck off". Dylan looked at me and said as only he can "Fuck off". I walked back to my seat with no autograph and with my heart beating quite rapidly.

When we landed I immediately called my boss. "You won't believe who told me to fuck off on the flight back to New York....BOB DYLAN!!!!". I told him the story and we both agreed that being told to fuck off by BobDylan trumped getting his autograph.

So congrats on the Nobel Prize Bob and thank you for giving me one of the peak experiences of my life.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016


Tonight is Yom Kippur so it's time to turn the page and begin entering the new 2016-17 series in the Book of Life. I generally wait for three numbers before determining the fate of a show. I made one exception because the ratings are so strong that, even when the gimmick wears off, there's enough there to merit another season. I'm assuming five of the eleven shows below will return for a second season which is a pretty good success rate. Each network has something to feel good about. As I said last spring the broadcast networks decided to act like broadcasters and they are being rewarded.

I think that there is only one major casualty so far and that is Notorious. It is suffering from the triple whammy of low ratings, little critical/social support and inhabiting a "Must Succeed" time period hammocked between the two Shonda shows. ABC is going to have to do something to prevent this important night from slipping away while they wait for the return of Scandal, so expect something if Notorious dips below a 1 this week. I feel bad because a good friend of mine is the Executive Producer here.

There are other shows hovering at a 1 rating but they will probably not suffer the ignominious fate of Notorious. Pitch will hang in for 13 and not go beyond that this season. FOX is into these short orders. It is holding up relative to its leadin and has the critical/social respect to support it. Also the dude who does This Is Us did this and I don't think FOX wants to piss him off right now. If I were to bet it's 13 and out for Pitch       
                                                                                    McGyver is not showing a very good trend and is down near a 1. CBS (whom I have a lot of respect for) if the king of the "My Shit Doesn't Stink" philosophy of programming so they will ride it out for 13. Also CBS generally gets the largest audiences for their shows so that 1 for McGyver includes a lot more viewers than we see for Pitch. 

I don't know what FOX was thinking with The Exorcist. In addition to being a bad pilot I have to believe that there was resistance to this show from their Sales group. I don't see how they can hang in there for all 13.

The one head scratcher for me is Designated Survivor. The next number will be interesting. I couldn't get myself to buy it tickets for next year's Kol Nidre service. It was the winner of the MASKY for best new Fall hour but, having watched the three episodes, it does have the whiff of coming off the rails. The family stuff is terrible and every few minutes I hear myself saying "Now wait a second"....this show requires just too much suspension of disbelief. I'm also waiting for Kiefer to go all Jack Bauer and when it doesn't happen I feel let down. I think it will last the season and the delayed viewing is large but I'll withhold judgement for now.

I'll be back with a few more shows real soon. Meanwhile here is the list so far.

BUY THE DELI PLATTER AND PAY A SHIVA CALL (stick a fork in it, it's done)

WILL CELEBRATE THEIR B'NAI MITZVAH (will get to 13 on the air)

LET'S GO TO A BRIS (the order will be snipped)

SET A PLACE AT THE SEDER TABLE (should finish full the season)

SEE YOU AT NEXT YEAR'S KOL NIDRE SERVICE (there's a second season)

Monday, June 27, 2016


There's been a lot of really good television so far this year. As we approach the halfway mark I thought that i would share with you the MASKED TEN for 2016 so far. As always I never call these shows the best because that is a personal evaluation. Rather, these are the ten ( actually 14) shows that I especially enjoyed this year. 

The one criteria for being on the list is that the show has finished it's run or, in the case of streaming series, I have watched the entire cycle. There are some shows like PREACHER on AMC and UNREAL on Lifetime that are currently on and may well knock off current MASKED TEN shows.

There are 14 shows on the list because, in three situations, I gave a platform credit for something beyond simply one show. i guess that was my attempt t being cool and creative. I don't think that this is a radically offbeat list and I have a feeling many of you enjoy these shows as well. We may differ on the order but that's simply subjective. So here are the mid-year MASKED TEN listed in the order of my enjoyment. 


There are five honorable mentions that will miss the cut this year but still had excellent cycles:

Let me know your thoughts

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


One of the greatest wrestlers of all time (in my humble opinion) Bret Hart said that professional wrestlers can be evaluated on three characteristics:

  • In-Ring Ability
  • Appearance
  • Mike Skills

It was that simple.

Evaluating Broadcast TV Pilots can also be reduced to three characteristics. Over my 35 years in the business, and having seen hundreds of pilots, I can pretty much tell whether something has potential by asking myself three questions:

  • Quality...Pretty simple. Was it good. Well produced. Cast right. Did it hold my attention. Were there people to root for or care about.
  • Is it commercial...Can it attract a large broad audience. That is important for the BUSINESS of broadcast television which still relies, to a large extent, on ad sales. Is there more than a niche audience here.
  • Sustainability...Is this a TV show or just a solid pilot. Can you see episode 50. Are there enough stories that can be told and characters whose journeys you want to follow. 
Pilots that hit this trifecta and hit it big are rare and by no means am I saying that there aren't shows that have long successful careers that come up short on one or more of these criteria. Clearly other factors come into play but when you screen the pilots, hear the research and put together a schedule you need something other than your gut.

I have gone through many pilot seasons without seeing a home run on my network or the other nets. Once in awhile the heavens do open though. Since coming to FOX in 2000 there are four pilots that exploded for me:


The EMPIRE pilot was so good that I remember telling our head of Drama development that he finally made a pilot that lots of people may actually want to watch. Yeah I'm an asshole...never denied it.

Well I watched 37 pilots and sadly I have to report that none of them popped on all three criteria. If I had to characterize this year's crop of pilots I would call them "competent". There are a lot of familiar ideas here. Several of them are pre-sold with the hopes that a franchise, be it film or TV series, will attract eyeballs. Comedy continues to be a bitch and, to be honest, sometimes the nets make it harder on themselves than they have to. If you look at the small list above three of the four are family shows and the fourth, 24, started out its life as a family drama.

Maybe I'm getting old and I AM old and cynical...but one thing I sensed this year was the cookie cutter nature of most of the characters in this year's class. There was something rather predictable about everyone's actions as if writers went to the character playbook and followed the recipe with little deviation. I felt that there was a lack of trust that viewers can figure these people out on their own. There was little effort to add complexity.

Even in a solid pilot like DESIGNATED SURVIVOR it felt really important to keep Kiefer Sutherland in a Cornell sweat and to give him horn rimmed glasses to drive home the point that this is an academic thrust into the role of President. He's fucking Jack Bauer man. That's why people are gonna watch this.

So I have my check list for judging the pilots and, of course, I have the 35 years of experience, and I give each pilot a grade of A through F. Without getting into the plusses and minuses here was this year's breakdown. Oh and of course the nets will now potchkie with several of the pilots...recast, add a character,change a plotline or ending etc. generally making things worse but this is what we have right now:





A lot of those C's were competent, just not inspiring. There are four shows that I will personally check out in the fall. There are others that may work but I won't be watching. The four I intend to follow are:


A few other observations

I felt that FOX had the best development. I'm not just saying that because I worked there for 15 years. In fact they refused to share their pilots with me. I'm saying that as a broadcast professional.

I love the ABC family comedies so I was scratching my head at this year's comedy choices. I think there's a reason why ABC has had the success it has had in comedy and there seemed to be a conscious effort to avoid servicing that audience. To CBS's everlasting credit they know who their audience is and they service them and they did it again this year.

There were two pilots whose premise was billionaires know how to do things better than institutions (APB-law enforcement and PURE GENIUS-medicine) Hmmmmm

There were two pilots which I gather were written by the same dude. Both had a big reveal at the end which sort of changes the narrative and makes you wonder what the series is. I won't say which two they were but both got very low marks for sustainability.

There was a lot of time travel this year. I DM'd Shawn Ryan after his pilot TIMELESS was picked up over at NBC to wish him the best and emphasize how important the rules are for sci-fi in general and time travel shows in specific. I am not a fan of sci-fi on broadcast. They generally have a niche audience and these viewers often bail if there is an inconsistency in the rules of the show. If TIMELESS sees itself as more of an adventure show and less sci-fi it may have a chance but this is a tough nut to crack.

I was a little disappointed in the CW. They are doing a great job over there and in the last two seasons have really delivered something special in JANE THE VIRGIN and CRAZY EX-GIRLFRIEND. I guess they felt NO TOMORROW was the next one in that space but it wasn't. FOX initially developed RIVERDALE and, when it suddenly appeared as CW development, I was excited to see the finished product. It was OK...sort of more WB than CW if you know what I mean. I probably set a higher bar for CW than the other nets.

Well those are my thoughts on the pilots and again just one person's opinions. Judge for yourself.

So if you missed the MASKYS on Twitter here they are:










Tuesday, May 31, 2016


Last night I read that legendary programmer Michael Dann had passed at the age of 94. I hope that longevity is in the scheduling gene. 

There is not a very large fraternity (and sadly yes it is overwhelmingly a male dominated gig) of schedulers in the history of Broadcasting. Schedulers tend to keep their jobs across several regimes. I have had more than one new Network Entertainment President come into my office and say a variation of "I don't know what the fuck you really do but you seem to know what you're doing and I have bigger problems so carry on". On one or two occasions a new President has approached me and said "I know a thing or two about scheduling". They generally get fired pretty fast. But I digress.

Mike Dann and I shared a few things about our careers. We both had long runs at two networks. We appreciated how scheduling could turn mediocre shows into hits. We both celebrated and tried to protect and build quality shows. Most importantly, neither of us looked down on mass appeal, silly, "low brow" television. For him is was the Paul Henning shows: "Petticoat Junction", "Beverly Hillbillies", "Green Acres". For me it was reality television and my friendships with Bruce Nash and Mike Darnell.

You see what Michael Dann and I shared in common was that we were both ratings junkies. In his obituary in today's New York Times this quote of his stood out.

“By and large I operated under a principle I was trained in, and that was that there was no such thing as a good program executive with low-rated shows or a bad program executive with high-rated shows, and I never changed my position as long as I was working in the commercial networks.” 

I shared this principle through my entire career as well. That often put me at odds with several of my colleagues but I really didn't care. My job was to get ratings and if I could get them with "quality" fine but if I needed to go into the gutter once in awhile so be it.

So in honor of Mike Dann I will share with you one of the lowest moments of my professional career. This is from my late lamented original Blog. It's the tale of how I came up with the idea for a reality show called "MY BIG FAT OBNOXIOUS RABBI"

Don't judge me.

There has been some discussion of late about how CBS will be able to do another iteration of UNDERCOVER BOSS now that the show is having some success. Won't it be difficult to replicate the secrecy and won't workers know something is up especially if the presence of cameras is explained in the same way each week?  Since I believe that reality TV is the pro wrestling of the new millennium I assume that UB is more staged now than we may think and that's ok. FOX was faced with a somewhat similar dilemma several years ago when we were stunned by the ratings success of JOE MILLIONAIRE. Mike Darnell tried to convince our leaders to make a second one before we aired the first iteration. Mike hoped that if JM popped we would have a second one in the can and therefore avoid the problems of replicating the surprise element. I think NBC shot two iterations of FOR LOVE OR MONEY for that very reason. All this got me thinking about the need for secrecy in the world of unscripted and one of the lowest moments of my professional career when I threw all principles aside in pursuit of a rating.

A little while after the success of our series MY BIG FAT OBNOXIOUS FIANCE' (a woman introduces a fat obnoxious guy to her family and tells them that they are about to be married) the Masked Wife and I received a letter from the Rabbi of our temple informing the congregation that he was about to retire. I had actually become buds with him. We would often have sushi and shoot the breeze. He was and is a really nice guy who now wanted to be known as "Alan" and not "Rabbi".                                                                                                                                                                                  A few weeks after we received the letter the Masked Wife informed me that she had been asked to join the search committee to find a new Rabbi. My mind immediately went to the dark side. What if Mikey (Darnell) and I went to the board of our temple and offered them a sum of money that would clear all their debts and in return the temple would allow us to find an actor to play the most obnoxious Rabbi ever. He would be introduced to the congregation and we would film his first few weeks as the new Rabbi. The committee can continue to find the replacement; we just want to do the con first. I even figured out the camera thing. We would say that the temple had agreed to allow the search to be filmed for a documentary on how a reform synagogue selects a Rabbi.

This all made perfect sense to me. I could not contain my enthusiasm as I pitched all this to my sweet wife. She just looked at me and said "You realize if I agree to let you go to the board we would have to leave the temple and possibly the area". I think my response was "Possibly but this is going to be huge". She said, "Go ahead". My wife assumed that I would eventually come to my senses. She called my bluff. That's what these jobs can do to you.

So I pitched “My Big Fat Obnoxious Rabbi” to Darnell who, not surprisingly, shared my enthusiasm. We played around with the idea for a while but eventually we realized that we would burn in hell if we did this. Mike and I still think of it as the big one that got away. Anyway, the temple finds a Rabbi and one Sunday afternoon the entire congregation assembles to meet him. After some speeches the curtains open to reveal the new Rabbi and his family. I turned to the Masked Wife and said, "That's a 40 share down the drain".

A few weeks after the new Rabbi was introduced I'm having a farewell lunch with Alan our now former Rabbi. I decide, what the fuck, let me share this crazy idea with him. I walk him through all the details; he sits there quietly for a minute...."How much money would you have offered us?”. So I give him a number, a number that would have cleared the books on the temple’s debt. "How could you afford to do that?".... I explain how production works. "Why didn't you come to me with this?".....................OH SHIT!!!!

So respect and praises to Mike Dann and maybe this story makes it into my obit.

Friday, May 20, 2016


On Tuesday morning after seeing the ABC Upfront announcement, and after evaluating the FOX and NBC schedules on Monday I tweeted out the following:

So this year the networks are acting like broadcast networks and casting their cable envy aside. This is gonna drive certain people bonkers.

Over the course of the next two days I found myself in two "conversations" on Twitter about both the relevance of the Upfronts and the level of creativity and quality in what was being peddled by the networks.

The first discussion was with Tim Goodman, Television Critic for the Hollywood Reporter and professional Bitcher and Moaner. Tim is that guy who, for decades you see standing on a street corner with a crazed look on his face carrying a sign saying "The End Is Near". He has coined the two TCA
annual events the "Death March With Cocktails" and each year mocks the Upfronts claiming both the networks and advertisers are in denial regarding the reality of Broadcast Television. It's only 8-9 billion dollars about to change hands. Tim also believes he could do the job of a Network President (or whatever the title de jour is) better than the incumbents but then questions why anyone would want such a well compensated job. Our exchange ended with the following tweet on my part.   

Monday, May 9, 2016


In my thirty-five year career in broadcast television the question that I am most often asked has to do with exactly what goes on in the scheduling room. Over the years, there have been several television writers who have called me up during pilot week imploring me to let them spend an hour in the room so that they can experience for themselves what it is like to set a network schedule. I have walked into scheduling rooms with several young executives who were about to experience the process for the first time and you could see the mix of excitement and fear on their faces. Last May was my twenty-sixth and final year in a scheduling room, over a quarter of a century, and for over twenty of those years I “ran” the room first at NBC and then at FOX. Let me take you inside the scheduling room..

As I mentioned in a prior post, I came out for my first NBC pilot screenings in 1989. Brandon Tartikoff was in charge and, although he invited me to come out to Burbank for the pilot screenings, I was not allowed into the scheduling room until the very end when Brandon went over the final schedule. The room was populated primarily with men and it was almost a religious experience to sit in the back of the room while Brandon, as only he could, went through the rationale for the schedule. Brandon would often stop to remind an executive about phone calls that needed to be made or points he wanted someone to remember for his epic upfront presentation in New York. Little did I know that in January 1991, on a totally miserable day in NYC, I would receive a call from Warren Littlefield asking me to come out to Burbank to be his head of scheduling. He was going to trust me with the keys to the bus.

But let’s go back a year. I came out to Burbank for my second pilot screening and this time Brandon Tartikoff let me into the room and he even allowed me to put up a schedule. Brandon and I had connected over the years. When I was in research Brandon and I played “dueling schedulers” with our Saturday Morning kids lineup. Brandon would go to the Sat AM scheduling board and put up his schedule and then I would put up mine and we would go at it for a while. He was using SMURFS, SNORKS, ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS, PUNKY BREWSTER and MT. T to test my mettle as a scheduler. In Brandon’s book “The Last Great Ride” he recounts how I would walk my dog on Sunday night (in those days the three nets aired movies and specials head-to-head on that night) and look into windows to determine what network the family was watching. Brandon would call Monday morning and I would download him on what I had seen. So by the time Brandon let me into the scheduling room he knew I was a sick fuck and addicted to the scheduling game.

So I sat in the back of the room taking it all in. NBC was in its downward spiral with THE COSBY SHOW starting to decline in ratings. It was clear Brandon had no idea what the schedule should be. We used magnetic cards (believe it or not we were still using them at FOX when I left) and Brandon was just moving them around the schedule with no real strategy. In the end he changed 11 ½ hours (more than half) of the schedule.

At some point Brandon looked at me sitting in the back of the room just trying to be invisible and hoping he wouldn’t throw me out of the room. Brandon told me to go  put up a schedule. Of course, like others, I had put together a schedule and I went up to the board. I honestly don’t remember much about what I put up but I do remember two “moves”. I put SEINFELD on the schedule on Sunday at 8. I honestly don’t remember what I paired it up with. The second move was to put SISTERS in the Saturday 10PM slot (this is back in the days when we actually scheduled twenty-two hours). Neither show was on Brandon’s schedule. Both shows were removed from the board before I had sat back down. I did have some vindication.   SEINFELD was on the fall 1991 schedule (my first year as head of scheduling) and SISTERS came on mid-season and spent five years in the Saturday 10PM time period.                                                                                                                       

What I do remember about my first trip to the scheduling board was how comfortable I felt being up there and how I could walk through the schedule and give a rationale (code: for bullshitting my way through) and it almost made sense. I had passed my second trial by fire and, a year later, it was my board…. well sort of. In May 1991 I had not officially been announced as head of scheduling so Lee Curlin, Brandon’s scheduler (Brandon was over at Paramount by then) was officially in charge of the grids. After we had screened the pilots and it was my time to put up a schedule I put SEINFELD in the Thursday 9:30 time period behind CHEERS. Lee quickly took it down and returned WINGS (an underappreciated comedy but no SEINFELD) back behind CHEERS where it remained. I’ll save the story of why for another day. SEINFELD did get on the schedule  but on Wednesday night Where it led out of NIGHT COURT. That July I was officially made head of scheduling and for the next twenty-two years it was my board.

So what exactly goes on in the scheduling room? First of all, there is no scheduling room. At NBC the scheduling board was in the executive conference room. One year the conference room was renovated and the board was positioned such that when executives would enter the room from a side door they would smash into a panel used to close the board. It was hilarious and often broke the tension in the room. At FOX, for most of the time that I was head of scheduling, the board was in Peter Chernin’s conference room. One year I developed an electronic board that was built to replace the magnetic scheduling board. One problem, the screen was too heavy for the wall in Chernin’s office so I had to spend one year in the room taking shit for spending thirty thousand dollars on a board that would take down the wall. We stuck with the magnets after that.

As pilot week progressed we would keep getting down to a smaller and smaller group until we finally had the people who would be in the scheduling room. Here is where I’m going to piss off some people who may be reading this. If it were up to me, here’s whom I needed in the room:
·      The President (Chairman) of Entertainment
·      The top one or two Network Sales executives
·      Our Head of Business Affairs
·      Our one or two top Finance executives
·      The head of Research
·      Our one or two top marketing executives
·      The big boys (in my tenure they were all boys). At NBC Don Ohlmeyer and Bob Wright. At FOX Rupert, James and Lachlan Murdoch, Peter Rice and Peter Chernin.

Notice who’s not on the list: the creative executives. By the time we get down to a small group they should have had the opportunity to pitch their favorite pilots to this senior group of executives but once it’s schedule setting time I always tried to get them out of the room. To be honest I was not always successful in doing that. I had nothing against them and appreciated how hard they had worked in delivering the pilots but at some point, for me, the room had to be populated with those who did not let a personal agenda dictate their decisions. We were now down to the business of setting a schedule. We were down to ratings, costs and revenue. Needless to say this attitude did not win me many friends.

Since, most years, the room was populated with more people than were needed I mastered the art of “going away” where, after putting up the schedule, I would get into some sort of Zen state where my body was in the room but my mind and spirit were somewhere else. I would generally play all of “Pet Sounds” in my head while these discussions were taking place around me. It was the only way I could keep my sanity as others ripped the tiles apart figuring there had to be a better schedule. I always had faith that, at some point, common sense would prevail. I also knew that most people didn’t have the guts to own a schedule and take responsibility for the final decision. I am the first to admit that I could be a real dick in that room.

By the time we got into the scheduling room I had a pretty good idea as to where we would wind up with the schedule. For a few months I had spent lots of time talking with the various constituencies, screened the pilots and listened to the research. Throughout my scheduling career I would tell everyone that the best schedule was the sales schedule. Entertainment had spent the prior ten or eleven months developing, marketing, managing and scheduling the product but, as soon as we returned from NYC after the upfront presentations, the ball was in Sales’ court, They had to go out there and monetize this shit and I felt we needed to make it as easy as possible for them to do that. Ironically, on this week’s “Silicon Valley” a tech COO says, “You know how you keep the best sales people? Give them something easy to sell.” It’s something of an indictment but there is an element of truth to it.

At NBC I had a great relationship with the two top Sales executives at the time Larry Hoffner and Mike Mandelker. Mike and Larry would come out to Burbank for pilot week. The three of us would go out to dinner the night before we started the scheduling meetings. I would hand them the grid with my schedule, we would go over the rationale and I would make sure that they were on board. The next day they were the first people I called upon to go up to the scheduling board. There was a lot of trust among the three of us. Larry would play the Vanna White role and Mike would do his best to articulate why this was the schedule that Sales wanted. During the good years we would discuss for a while but generally within a day or two we would walk out pretty much where we started. Every year at some point we would talk ourselves out and Don Ohlmeyer would ask, “OK so who do I fire when this doesn’t work?” Mike and I would raise our hands and we would be done…. our version of white smoke.

Some years weren’t quite that easy. When Jerry told us that he would not do another year of Seinfeld we needed to figure out what would replace the show in the Thursday 9PM time slot. In the mid-90’s that was considered the primo slot on Network television. I still remember the Festivus call from Warren Littlefield after he had met with Jerry. “Well we’re going to win the May sweep”. That was Warren’s way of telling me Seinfeld would not be on next year’s schedule. Warren, Don Ohlmeyer and I all immediately came to the same conclusion, which was to move Friends up to 9PM. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the scheduling room in May things got muddled as too many voices joined the conversation. Instead of moving the young skewing Friends to 9PM we moved Frasier back to Thursday night. By that time Frasier had established a Tuesday night for us. Moving it back to Tuesday led to all sorts of complications over the next few seasons.

There was the year we cancelled one of our movie nights, which resulted in WWIII in the scheduling room and created rifts within our already dysfunctional group. That was the beginning of the end for the group that put together the Must-See-TV era at NBC. It was so ugly and vicious that I came home after I thought the schedule was set (with the Monday Movie still on) and told my wife that I’m pretty sure I will be fired when we return from New York. To Warren Littlefield’s credit, we went back in the room the following morning and turned some people around on the move.

I remember the year we moved Mad About You to the 8PM Thursday time slot because the comedy we thought would fill the slot turned out to be a dud. Up until that point the 8-9 hour was considered the family hour and putting a show like Mad in that time slot caused a bit of a controversy. I was suddenly Public Enemy #1 among some pro-family organizations.

NBC back in the 90’s was an East Coast/West Coast organization with the East being Business/Sports and News while the West was Entertainment. Every year the EC execs would come out thinking we were a bunch of clueless airheads and each year we sent them back with their tail between their legs. One exec in particular tried to run the room every year only to be put in his place.

At FOX the scheduling room was, for me, a lot more fun. Peter Chernin really seemed to enjoy the whole process and, although we would generally wind up pretty close to where we started, Peter liked to turn over every stone. We also spent a lot of time doing anything but discussing the schedule. We were just having a blast. One of my favorite moments ever in a scheduling room was when my buddy Mike Darnell brought in a Russian Roulette-like gizmo where a few of us would put our finger in a slot and one person would get a shock. Mike, Rupert Murdoch and I spent an hour playing with this. Yeah that sums up what goes on behind closed doors in a scheduling room.

At FOX I was sort of the caterer in the scheduling room which meant that all the leftover candy and goodies from the screenings was brought up to the conference room and we were all on a sugar high for two or three days. I remember once losing track of how many Oreo cookies I had eaten (over twenty). I was standing at the board while some conversation was going on and I had to grab onto it as I found myself passing out. You could literally smell the sugar halfway down the hall from Chernin’s office.

I had developed a lot of tricks to get us to what I felt was the best schedule. I mastered the art of taking the contrary position to what I believed was in our best interest and get others to make my case for me. One year a certain top executive at NBC was so blindly opposed to some moves I wanted to make that, when I put up what he wanted, he went to the board and put up my schedule. I was sitting next to my pal Rick Lacher from Finance. He looked at me and whispered, “Wait isn’t that….”
I hushed him. Early in my tenure at FOX we were scheduling through the weekend and, even though it was Mother’s Day, we returned to the office for one final meeting. My boss Gail Berman was not happy with where some things were left on Saturday and asked me to figure out how to get others to change their position. While I stopped for gas I had an epiphany as to how I was going to do it. I was so excited I drove away with the pump still connected to my car. Four hundred dollars later I was on my way to FOX to use some contrarian arguing.

Having Rupert Murdoch in the scheduling was always fun. Out of respect I will keep most of those stories in the vault but I’ll share this one. Arrested Development was a show we all loved but was never really embraced by the audience. We all felt it had a shot at an Emmy (for what that’s worth) and, in spite of the ratings, we all wanted Arrested to return for another season (yeah heartless soulless network executives). Mr. Murdoch was not a fan. I had called Mitch Hurwitz at some point during the season and asked him if he could deliver all the Arrested episodes so that I could finish the season in early April. He asked why and I told him with total honesty that I did not want the show on in May when we were setting the schedule. I did not want certain people to be looking at low ratings for the show while we were trying to renew Arrested Development for another season. Anyway when we finished scheduling Arrested was on the schedule Sunday at 9:30 and Rupert was coming into the room to see what we had done. Before he arrived Peter Chernin turned to me and said, “Why don’t you walk Rupert through the schedule, he likes you”. I knew exactly what Peter was doing and, since we started discussing the schedule with Monday, Arrested would be the last show we discussed. I will leave it up to your imagination as to what happened when I said to Rupert “…and at 9:30…”

At FOX, Peter Chernin had his version of Don Ohlmeyer’s question about who to fire. At some point towards the end of scheduling Peter would say some variation of “So when all this fails what do we do?” That’s when I knew he felt we had exhausted all our scheduling options.

Back in the day networks would try to guard their schedules until the morning of the upfront. It was done to make the presentation more of an event and it also served the purpose of preventing the other networks from using the information to perhaps make some changes to their schedule. At both NBC, and for a good chunk of my time at FOX, I would encourage my bosses to position us as the first network to announce their schedule. I had several reasons for this. I didn’t want us to spend a lot of time in the scheduling room trying to outthink the competitive schedules. I had a mantra “Let the other guys do the dirty work for you”. Generally when you react to another network’s schedule you wind up hurting yourself more than you better your position. The best example of that was when Ted Harbert, in reaction to our move of Frasier over to Tuesday, flipped time periods for Home Improvement and Roseanne. He did more damage to his comedies and his overall schedule. Meanwhile, NBC benefitted from that move. By going first we got in the minds of the other guys and, if needed, we could react to their reactions but we rarely did.

Another reason for going first was to put less time between setting the schedule and the presentation. This decreased the potential for the schedule to get leaked to the press and, trusts me; TV writers were obsessed with trying to scoop each other with scheduling tidbits. I don’t know how many times over the years I would get an email (would never take the call) with a bogus schedule hoping that I would react and spill the beans.

One year at NBC I decided to have some fun with this and, after we nailed things down, I put a fake schedule on the board. My long time assistant Kathy Farrell had the key to the scheduling board. Brian Lowry, who I think was on his first run at Variety, called me while I was on my way to the airport. Brian was one of a select few writers who I felt comfortable talking to. Brian was looking for scheduling dirt. I gave him the bogus schedule. He didn’t believe I would do that so I told him that if he didn’t believe me to go over to the offices in Burbank and I would tell Kathy (who was in on the joke) to open the board (which had the bogus schedule on it). I was so impressed with myself until I saw Pat Schultz, our head of press and publicity, on the plane and told her what I did. Let’s just say she was not pleased and was desperately trying to connect with Brian to undo the prank.

Although the television landscape and platforms are evolving you would never know it in the scheduling room. All that goes away and the top executives at all the networks will still discuss lead-ins, timeslots and competitive matchups. That’s the way it was the first time I was in a scheduling room and that’s how it was last May for my final time in the room. It’s sort of endearing. I wish the schedulers smooth sailing in the next few weeks and make sure you have a copy of “Pet Sounds” on your iPhone.