I Am The TV People

It’s October 8th, 1988. It’s my first day working in television and I’m surrounded by around 70,000 people. Mistakes are made. Thousands of people are upset. What should have been a miserable day, turns out to be one of the best days of my life.

Turner Broadcasting came to Tuscaloosa on a beautiful Fall weekend to broadcast the University of Alabama homecoming game against the Ole Miss Rebels. At the time, I had already abandoned one or maybe two other majors and was trying on the Communications department for size. Film and Television track to be specific. A week or two before, the Turner people contacted the department looking for production assistants for the game. People to help set up, break down and be gophers during the game. Sounded like fun and the fact they were going to actually pay us made it sound even better.

We met the day before the game at Bryant-Denny stadium. Maybe 8 to 10 Communications students and the Turner crew. We all got cool TBS Sports t-shirts and some brief instructions. What to do, where to go, and a call for a couple of volunteers. Two of the students would be “in charge” of a sideline. One for Alabama. One for Ole Miss. I wasn’t even sure what was meant by “in charge” but I volunteered anyway. So did one other guy but for some reason I can’t quite remember, he was given the Alabama sideline and I was given Ole Miss. I was a little ticked about not getting the Tide side but I had to roll with it.

The next day we get to the field a couple of hours before game time and starting setting up. At one point the TBS commentators for the game came down to the field and walked around checking things out and talking to us. I remember at the time being a little star struck meeting them. But now I can’t remember who they were. I need to look that up.

It turns out the “in charge” duties were actually pretty cool, especially for a television newbie. I would be on headsets on a long cable (Not quite long enough. More on that later) and would be the on field communication to the booth and truck from the Ole Miss sideline. I wouldn’t be on-air but I would report back to the truck anything going on on the sidelines that was worth mentioning. Injuries and things like that. I did have one other thing I was responsible for. A seemingly simple thing. You know when the players burst out of the tunnel before the game and storm the field. Well for televised games, that needs to happen when the cameras are rolling and ready, so somebody actually has to “cue” them. Guess who.

Earlier, while things were relatively calm, I got some brief instructions about releasing the Rebels. After the Tide is introduced and takes the field, the director would tell me to cue Ole Miss and they would take the field. Got it. Simple.

We finish getting everything set up for the game. The stands are packed. The stadium is electric. It’s finally time to get this party started. I put on my headset and I feel like I’m on top of the world. Through the chatter of the director and camera operators, I’m told it’s time to get in position to cue the team. I start to head down to the corner of the field where the Ole Miss players are gathering and as I’m walking I feel a jerk and I’m stopped in my tracks. I turn and realize the cable is stuck. I walk back a little to un-stick it and discover the real problem. It’s too short. From the end of the cable, I’m about 20 yards from the Ole Miss players waiting on the field. Uh oh.

Then I hear the introduction of the Crimson Tide. I can’t see the players but the crowd roars. As the roar dies down, the director tells me to cue the Rebels. I start waving my arms at the players trying to get their attention and telling them to go. It’s not working. I wave more frantically. Nobody sees me. The director starts yelling in the headset Go! Go!. I yell back that the cable is not long enough. I can’t get to the team. He screams back for me to drop the &*^%$!! headset and get the team on the field!

I rip off the headset and run to the players. I grab the first guy and tell him to GO! The guy looks down at me with wild eyes and tells me they can’t go until the TV people tell them to go. I reach down and grab my shirt pulling up the TBS logo so he can see it and yell, I AM THE TV PEOPLE! GO! The team takes off and I’m almost trampled.

I run back over and put on my headset and start apologizing. The director, somewhat more politely but firmly, tells me to shut the hell up! It’s over. Move on. So I moved on.

And I had to move on quickly. Between trying to pay attention to the field from behind the bench, scanning the sideline for anything worth reporting and trying to pay attention to and decipher the language of the production people in my ear, the first half was a blur. At halftime, I exhaled.

The second half also moved quickly but I was able to settle down and take everything in. There was an injury at one point and I told the guys in the booth and let them know the trainers were icing the guy’s knee on the bench. They said thanks and keep us updated. I will do that, I thought. I will keep you updated. I felt important. The day was beautiful. The stadium was rocking. I had found my groove. It was a beautiful day in Tuscaloosa. Then the strangest thing happened.

It was late in the game. Only a few minutes left. And suddenly, something happened on the field that got my sideline very, very excited. The players around me were jumping and screaming and going crazy. But the stands were eerily quite. Then I started getting instructions in my ear. They were telling me if this score held up, as soon as the game ended, I needed to find Ole Miss head coach Billy Brewer and get him to midfield for the post game interview. Ole Miss had taken the lead.

But I didn’t have time to process it because I started freaking out a little about this new responsibility. Which one was coach Brewer? What do I say when I find him? Do I keep my headset on when I go get him? No, that’s dumb. Calm down Brian. Let’s try that breathing thing again. Nothing to worry about. Besides, the game’s not over yet.

But in the last few minutes the Alabama comeback attempt failed and Ole Miss scored again. The game was indeed over and I had a job to do. My adrenaline was pumping. Players were going crazy. People and press came from everywhere and we all poured onto the field. Do you have any idea how hard it is to locate one person in the middle of that chaos? But I fought my way through and was able to catch up to coach Brewer just as he was shaking hands with Alabama coach Bill Curry.

I took coach Brewer by the arm and led him to midfield. As we walked we were surrounded by players and media and I congratulated him on the win. For years I had a VHS tape of the game with the shot of me walking with him. I wish I knew what happened to that tape. Coach put on a headset and was interviewed by the guys in the booth. It lasted a couple of minutes and then it was over. See. Nothing to worry about.

We still had a couple of hours of breaking down to do but even that went quickly because I was still pumped up from the excitement. When we finally did finish, we got our checks and I headed home. And I was in for a little shock.

My apartment was in walking distance of the stadium. I practically bounced home and instead of going to my place, I went to the apartment downstairs where we all gathered after games. I popped through the door and… the place was like a morgue. A group of depressed friends sat around the room, beers in hand, not saying a word. I sat down and it was then I started to process what I couldn’t process earlier. We, The Alabama Crimson Tide, had just lost our homecoming game to Ole Miss. Going back to 1900, the Rebels had never beaten Alabama in the state of Alabama. Never. And it was homecoming. This was an upset that was very upsetting.

And I should have been upset too. If I had been sitting in the stands for the game, like I was every Saturday, I would have been depressed. But I wasn’t. The day was too much fun. In spite of, and partially because of,  my screw-ups and inexperience. I was inside the same stadium, watching the same game but I had a much different experience. Television changes things. Changes what you see and how you see, whether you’re making it or watching it. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Turns out, television production is not always that much fun and the day to day didn’t hold my attention very long. I changed majors 2 or 3 more times and bounced around a couple of other jobs and didn’t get back into television until 10 years later. Oddly enough, sports was once again the reason although that’s not what I do now. I’ve been working in TV for over 12 year now and while I’ve had some fun, I have yet to have another day like that Saturday in October.

Brian L Butler

MJ Love

Basketball. The smell of old leather and stale sweat. The sound of a hardwood symphony. Piercing squeaks. Booming echos. Ripping nylon. Shouts and grunts and gasping. Hands and elbows and knees. Surface chaos masking an intricate dance. God what a great game.

The season is underway so how about a little Jordan love for old time’s sake. These are three of my favorites but there are many more.


The Entertainer

We bought a Wii.

I read a report the other day that said the average child spends 4 hours a day watching television and another 2 hours playing video games. The alarms went off in my head. Like that beeping when they test the Emergency Broadcast System. Only this time, it was an Actual Emergency. My kids are below average!

This will not do. They just need to apply themselves a bit more. I know we can get those numbers up. And if they work hard at it, maybe one day they can even be, dare I say it, ABOVE average.

So Julie and I decided to take action. We got them the Wii to go along with the Playstation from last year. Good start. Now we’re considering adding a third television to the home, perhaps in the younger daughter’s bedroom. It will be a sacrifice but we love them that much.

We’ve locked up the bikes, taken away all books and destroyed any toys that don’t require batteries. (Stuffed animals smell funny when they burn.)

But if that’s still not enough, we’re going to look into getting an Xbox and maybe even a TV on the kitchen table so we can watch while eating. Valuable time is being lost at dinner time discussing events of the day and school work. Time that would be better spent on Hannah Montana for sure.

Speaking of school, that’s one of the major obstacles to our plan. We do our best at home but they spend so much time in school that it doesn’t leave enough hours in the day for TV and gaming. But there may be a solution on this front as well. A portable gaming device or two (PSP and/or GameBoy and/or DS) should allow them to catch up during breaks at school. And if they’re careful, maybe they could even sneak in a few games during certain classes. Nobody really uses math or science after graduating anyway.

And as for TV, if we pick up a couple of iPhones, they can catch up on favorite shows while they’re at school. And it will give them a chance to bring up those low texting numbers too. It’s the best of both worlds.

But there’s another obstacle to the master plan. There aren’t really enough kid shows out there to fill all the time necessary to get our numbers up. So it looks like we’ll have to introduce some other shows little by little until they are up to speed. South Park is a cartoon so that should be a good start. The Sopranos is a possibility too. I’ve heard it’s a good family drama.

Oops. Gotta go. Just found out they’re supposed to be getting in 2 hours a day of web surfing in addition to the TV and video games. We may have to pull them out of school. But that’s the price you pay. Parenting is hard work.


Mr. Seinfeld Goes to Washington - Publicity Still (Click for Larger)

Mr. Seinfeld Goes to Washington - Publicity Still (Click for Larger)

Mr. Seinfeld Goes to Washington

Can you believe it? This groundbreaking sitcom is coming to an end. Mr. Seinfeld Goes to Washington started out as a simple show about four friends and their wacky quest for the White House. But it has grown into a once in a lifetime television event. After a ratings dream season, the series ending episode will be broadcast on Tuesday, November 4th to what will no doubt be a record audience.

And who could have predicted this level success. Comedian Barry Seinfeld launched his career from his agent’s living room with very little television experience. He had some success in college, some local community theater and some late-night TV appearances but nothing on this scale. The critics were skeptical to say the least. As it turned out, his talent, drive and supporting cast were more than enough to create a wildly successful show.

It’s a little sad to see it end though. It’s going to be hard to let these characters go because we’ve come to see them as part of the family. We talk about them at the dinner table and around the water cooler. We tune in to their shenanigans to take our minds off of our troubles and it is a welcome break from the depressing programming we typically see.

There are so many great memories flooding back into my mind about the goings on in that little apartment they all shared in D.C. I’ll post a more complete list at the end but if you’ll permit me, here are a few highlights.

I couldn’t stop laughing the first time I saw the episode where Barry’s judgment was questioned because he was spending so much time with an unsavory character known as the “soup nazi”. “He’s not an adviser”, Barry would say. “I just like soup.” Or when Barry refused to wear the flag pin on his lapel and was chased through the streets by angry mobs who questioned his patriotism. Situations so outlandish they could only take place in sitcom land for sure.

But of course the show is more than just Barry. It’s a true ensemble. Who could forget the classic “contest” episode where a wager was made to see who could go the longest without saying “Wall Street” and “Main Street” in the same sentence. Hilarious. None of them lasted long but I believe George won that one.

Speaking of George, remember when he and Barry tried to sneak the marble rye back into the White House before George W. and Laura noticed it was gone. Great guest appearances like that are part of what makes the show so wonderful. And do you remember the time George tried to filibuster by simply saying “yada yada yada” over and over and told his fellow Senators he could go on forever. He said, “This is nothing compared to the hell I’ve already been through.” The other side had no idea what he was talking about but he looked a little crazy so they caved in. I laughed so hard it hurt.

And oh that wacky Elaine. My favorite episode from her had to be when she demonstrated her knowledge of world affairs by suggesting to a visiting Russian dignitary that “War, What is it Good For” was the original title to Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”. Priceless. Or there was the time she thought she only had a limited number of vetoes and spent the whole episode trying to figure out which bills were veto-worthy. She went back and forth about whether to veto some bridge project for the whole show. Brilliant writing.

And then there was Kramer. My favorite of his was the episode where Kramer dropped a Junior Mint and it landed on the President during the State of the Union address. “W” had no idea why everyone was laughing. Or when Kramer set up his very own oval office smack dab in the middle in his apartment and pretended to be president. So many layers of meaning there for such a supposedly meaningless show.

Of course they did threaten to write Kramer out of the show a bit later because he couldn’t keep his foot out of his mouth. The breaking point came when he lost his temper on the stump and let a couple of hecklers have it. It was way out of line and made things uncomfortable between he and Barry for a while to say the least. But they were able to, as they say, move on.

I’m not sure what will happen to all of these guys after this show ends. It’s hard to deal with the lows after tasting such highs. I think Barry will be fine. He’ll probably get a spin-off and be on the air for another eight years or so. Just a hunch. But I’m not so sure about the rest of the cast. They’re all pretty talented but I don’t know if they can make it without Barry. We’ll have to wait and see how it all turns out.

For now though, I’m really excited about Tuesday night’s finale. It’s tough to end a sitcom gracefully and few have pulled it off successfully. But maybe this one will be an exception. Maybe this is one we’ll talk about for years to come. I’ll be first in line for the DVD box set when it comes out. For what it’s worth, I sure hope this wasn’t just another show about nothing.


(Here are some more favorite moments from previous shows.)

“The Deal”
Elaine and Barry worked out a deal where they would ignore their differences in political ideology and sleep together. They thought they could still be friends as long as they followed a strict set of rules. The Bedroom Bill of Rights they called it. When Barry told George about it, he laughed at his friend’s lack of experience and correctly predicted it would not last.

George’s tax cut proposal came back much smaller than expected and he tried to explain “shrinkage” to a skeptical Elaine.

“The Puffy Turban”
A low-talking lobbyist asked Barry to wear a puffy turban on Meet the Press and all hell breaks loose.

Kramer gets Senator Larry Craig’s vanity plates by mistake.

“The Blouse”
Elaine sends out a new campaign flier across the country and it turns out you can see her NRA tattoo peaking out from beneath her blouse.

George pretends to be a lobbyist for Vandelay Industries in order to stop out of control pork barrel earmarks and Barry accidentally spoils the ruse. My favorite scene is George lying on the floor as Barry says, “And you want to be my latex lobbyist.”

Barry and George are mistaken for a gay couple and while trying to set the record straight, they repeatedly say, “Not that’s anything wrong with that as long as same-sex couples get the same civil rights that are granted to opposite-sex couples and as long as they don’t expect to be able to get “married” in the traditional sense of the word because that’s a decision for the church not the government.” By the fourth time they said that line I was rolling.

(If you have any favorite episodes, I’d love to hear about them.)


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