The Masked Scheduler is looking back at the scheduling and business decisions that built the Must-See TV lineup on NBC. You can go here to read previous installments.
I spent most of my career in scheduling trying to hide from the spotlight. I made a real effort to avoid introducing myself to the various showrunners. I enjoyed being introduced to them and seeing the expression on their face when they realized, “So that’s him.” I didn’t want to be their friends, and I didn’t want it to ever appear that they were influencing my scheduling decisions. The anonymity was part of the mystique, and I think it made it appear that I had more power than I actually had.
I knew that when confronted by an angry studio exec or showrunner, many execs would blame me for everything. I often received angry calls from these people, screaming at me about actions that I had no involvement in. I guess my colleagues knew I had a tough hide and could handle the abuse. Also, a lot of them were pretty spineless.
I would often be asked to dinner or lunch by these powerful people, and more often than not, they would cancel a few times, reschedule a few times and eventually they would vanish. At FOX when we ordered “Lie to Me,” executive producer Brian Grazer called me and invited me to lunch. He holds the record for most cancellations and reschedules.
This all leads me to my meeting with Marta Kauffman, Kevin Bright and David Crane, the creators and showrunners of “Friends.” As I have been documenting lately in the Must-See TV saga, as we entered the 1998-99 season we again found ourselves handcuffed by time period commitments. Two of those commitments were Warner Bros. comedies created by the “Friends” people. “Jesse,” a freshman series, and “Veronica’s Closet,” in its second season, occupied the 8:30 and 9:30 slots on Thursday night.
In early 1999, my assistant, Kathy Farrell, came in to my office to tell me the “Friends” producers wanted to take me to lunch. I had never met them, and although I would have preferred not to go, we set something up. After one, two or three cancellations (you see) they called and asked if instead of lunch, could I meet them at their offices, which were on the Warner Bros. lot.
At this point, Warren Littlefield was gone and Don Ohlmeyer had one foot out the door. Although I was working well with Warren’s successor, Scott Sassa, it was clear the place was moving in a different direction, and I was also thinking about my next adventure. Let’s say I was not in a very good place. So when I was asked to come over and meet the trio, I was certain they had some agenda. They weren’t interested in my good looks and charm; they must be concerned about something.
After some niceties, they came right to the point. Marta did the talking. It seems they had been told by who knows who that I was planning on moving both “Jesse” and “Veronica’s Closet” out of their cushy timeslots later in the season. They passionately made the case as to why this would be a mistake.
Two things. First, I had no idea what they were talking about. I had never brought it up and had no plans to make these moves. Second, with Warren and soon Don gone and feeling that my time at the Peacock was waning, I felt emboldened to speak my mind and vent my frustrations about losing control of our schedule.
I guess the simple thing would have been to reassure them that this was not the case, but that’s not where my head was. I calmly looked at the three of them, all of whom were now clearly set for life, and here’s what I said:
“Guys, when I come to work every day, I have only two objectives. I need to put food on my table and the table of all the NBC employees who depend on me and others to make the right decisions. I also need to make sure that I can send my kids to college and make sure that my fellow employees can send their kids to college.
“I have a feeling that you can send your kids, your grandchildren, your great-grandchildren and everyone in the state of Idaho to college, so I can’t worry about you. My priorities are the people at NBC.”
That is almost verbatim what I said. I left on that note. I’m pretty sure when I got back to Burbank, I relayed this to Scott Sassa. “We had no plans on doing this,” was his response. “I know,” I replied. He shrugged and we moved on.
“Veronica’s Closet” did move to Monday the following year, but “Jesse” remained on Thursday.
In 2007 I ran into David Crane at an “American Idol” taping. I complimented him on his show “The Class,” which was on CBS at the time. The next morning, I got a call from Peter Liguori, my boss at FOX.
“What the f**k did you tell David Crane?”
“What are you talking about?”
“He just called me. You told him that if CBS cancels ‘The Class,’ we would pick it up.”
“Peter, I would never do that.”
It never ends.