True story, swear to God. I don’t know what made me think of this, but bear with me.
My boss at my first TV job was very hands-on. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a way that’d make anyone crazy. There’s something about knowing that the boss is in the trenches with you that does a wonder for morale. And then there’s micro-micro-micro-management, which can incite the urge to do bodily harm. He could do both. And what the hell, why not? We were the bottom-rated local TV station, something not unlike the inspiration for Weird Al’s UHF, only for real. What did we have to lose?
So anyway, the station was built into the second floor of a building in downtown Fort Smith that used to be a hotel. (Seriously – you could go look out the glass from our lobby and see the ballroom – now the building lobby – below.) The control room and studio were built into two smaller ballrooms. In the control room, there were two enormous shelves – one holding the mammoth 3/4″ videotapes of this week’s shows, and the other holding the mammoth 3/4″ videotapes of a motley assortment of stuff that we were recording to play back the following week, and stuff that we had already shown, which would soon be recorded over again. Once in a blue moon, a tape intended for one shelf would wind up on the other. And thus ensued mayhem.
Case in point.
I started our night syndicated episode of In The Heat Of The Night at 9 o’clock sharp one night, and it seemed awfully familiar. Then my boss called. Sure ’nuff, this one had aired something like four nights ago. (If it seems like I was a little slow to catch on, keep in mind that after a while, you tend to tune this stuff out and it all looks alike.) So here’s how the boss proposed to deal with the problem. “What I want you to do, Earl,” he said over the phone, “is grab the tape that’s on the shelf for tomorrow night, cue it up to the first act after the teaser, and roll that coming out of your first commercial break.”
I realized that this was crazy, and it’d completely wreck any attempt to follow whatever story was being told in either episode. Also, pulling the tape for the next night would leave us without a show to air for the next night. But I wasn’t being paid the big money to think about this stuff, so swap tapes I did. Between the teaser and act one, two completely different murders were being investigated in Sparta, Mississippi.
Also, apparently between the teaser and act one, Carroll O’Connor had gotten married to the city councilwoman. Talk about turning on the charm!
But there was one problem. This episode had just run too, even more recently than that one I had just aborted. Like clockwork, the phone rang.
“Okay, Earl, this is no good,” he said. “Obviously someone’s screwing up where they’re putting this stuff. I want you to grab one that’s on the ‘just recorded’ shelf, say like last night, and I’ll guarantee you that’s the right episode for tonight. Cue it up to act two, and switch off to that one coming out of your next commercial break.”
At this point, I did point out that the man was, in fact, completely crazy. But he’s the one signing the checks.
I grabbed the next tape, fast forwarded it to the appropriate place without even looking to see what it was, and gracefully swapped it out during the break, and lo and behold, when we came back for act two, Howard Rollins had retired and turned into Carl Weathers, and Carroll O’Connor was now the county sheriff instead of the chief of police. Damn, but O’Connor was a fast mover.
My boss stayed on the phone for this swap. There was a long silence.
“Well, that’s okay, Earl, I think we’ve done enough damage for one night.”
You ain’t kiddin’.