Tuesday, February 15, 2005

My Time on The Dark Side

I remember sitting in a darkened conference room, watching a lurid three-part sweeps series from a sister station...

Onscreen, a handsome reporter leads the camera through an anonymous hotel room. The lights dim noticeably as the talking hair-do walks around the room and gestures theatrically. As he talks, the lens wanders away and pans the cheesy landscape of the Cockroach Inn’s floral bedspread. The lights dim altogether as the square-jawed Anchor-in-waiting yammers on...

Suddenly a black-light snaps on, bathing the bedspread’s outdated pattern in eerie night-vision. Dramatic music swells in the background as an odd-shaped discoloration shimmers to the surface of the spread. The camera pushes in on the ugly stain and it stares back defiantly, like some toxic, tattooed paramecium frozen in time, born of some cross-state illicit tryst, and waiting, just waiting to someday give you the clap...

"So what ARE these stains?" the voice says as the camera pans over to the reporter, his carefully-plucked, furrowed brow bathed in black-light. "We'll tell you, after the break..."

The screen faded to black and someone popped the lights on in the conference-room.

"Now THAT'S a series piece!," the station manager declared, grinning at the assembled yes-men. "And WE'RE gonna do it the EXACT same way! Why reinvent the wheel? Hmm? Am I right?"

The Yes-Men shifted in their seats for a second, then quickly chortled their approval. As they jockeyed for position to congratulate their leader, I sat in the corner and stared at my clipboard.
Somehow, after six years of clawing my way up the small market food chain, I found the one job in local TV I didn’t want…Promotions Manager.

Eighteen months earlier, I’d followed a whim and walked away from gig as a one-man-band reporter/photographer for an even more thankless position, churning out dreck for The Man. It seemed like a good idea, Burnt to a crisp from life as a one-man news team in an under-funded bureau, I ignored my gut instinct and took the job as head Promo Hack, er Guru for the backwaters affiliate that employed me.

Bad move. Within hours, I knew it was not for me - despite the office, the assistant and the apparent autonomy. As I settled in to a steady regiment of half-baked ideas, badly-planned campaigns and unreasonable demands, I quickly rued the day I left the newsroom. But what was a young father of two to do - take a step DOWN the corporate ladder? Surely not I thought, as I loosened my necktie and swallowed my bile. Surely not.

I believed it for awhile. Instead of daily news stories, I concentrated on quarterly sweeps campaigns. Instead of interviewing movers and shakers, I propped up anchors and rounded up stagehands. Instead of setting up my tripod on disaster’s edge, I wheeled out a barrel fun of viewer’s postcards for the wacky weatherman to pull from. Instead of piloting my news car from one vista to the next, I learned every inch of the rundown studio and antiquated control room. Instead of looking forward to the next day’s adventure, I lay in bed cursing while the alarm clock screamed.

All the while, I told myself I’d made the right move. But that day in the conference room, a white-walled torture chamber I’d come to know intimately, my well of reassurance ran dry. As the GM and his hens cackled in the background, I stared holes through the yellow-lined paper before me.

‘I can’t do this anymore,‘ I thought. ‘I cannot pretend to care any longer about whatever these clowns come up with. I want to tell stories again, not crank out cheesy promos for a man I’ve come to hate. Anything would be better than THIS - even...GULP, shooting news.’

Which to make a long story short, is what I did. Following some of the smartest people I’d ever worked with to a place called the Piedmont, I found there are second chances. Now that I’ve been back in the news saddle seven years, I gotta tell you, everyday ain’t a picnic. But whenever I get frustrated with the vagaries of the chase, I think of my time behind the deceptively serene walls of one DownEast television station and realize I’m back where I belong.

Sad, isn't it?

1 comment:

beFrank said...

Sad? Naw, dude. You inspire us.

Life is always choices and opportunity. If you make one you regret, make another one right away. If you stick it out, eventually you'll make one that you can be happy with.