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.
By the start of the 1998-99 season reality TV, especially shocking clip shows, was beginning to become a part of the network TV landscape. That was especially true at FOX, where Mike Darnell (who would eventually become my partner in crime when I moved to FBC) was taking a bite out of our Thursday ratings. Mike’s primary supplier of these clip shows was Bruce Nash, a rather soft-spoken, unassuming guy who did not look like he would unleash these abominations on to society.
At NBC Vince Manze, John Miller (our top marketing execs) and I would implore Warren Littlefield and Don Ohlmeyer to get in the reality game. There was lots of justified resistance given the upscale audience profile of NBC during the Must-See TV era.
Rick Ludwin, our head of specials, had no appetite of these shows, so John and I became the unofficial reality TV executives. After all, I worked on “I Witness Video” in the early 1990s.
Whenever anything “off brand” came in, John and I would take the meeting. That included meeting with Vince McMahon when he was pitching “Smackdown” to the networks. One day we got a call, possibly from Rick, that Bruce Nash wanted to come in and meet with us. I will never forget the meeting.
Bruce came in with his agent and told us that although he was having success over at FOX, they refused to give him a commitment to a series. He pitched us his catalogue of videos under the title “World’s Most Shocking Videos.” We calmly asked him if this would be in addition to the FOX specials, and he said no he would bring his business to us if we gave him a series commitment.
Bruce then showed John and me a video of a man sweeping up in an elephant’s cage. The elephant backed up and the man’s head went up the elephant’s butt. There was a squishing sound. Bruce told us FOX would not let him show this video and that if we agreed to air it, he would take his business over to us.
I didn’t have to look at John to know that his heart was pumping as fast as mine. We had a chance to steal Bruce Nash from FOX! We told Bruce that we would check with Don about the video, but regardless, we could not call the series “World’s Most Shocking Videos.” We knew our sales department was going to freak out about this, and the name would be rubbing salt in the wound. We settled on “World’s Most Amazing Videos” and told Bruce we would get back to him.
As soon as Bruce left the room, John and I started high-fiving and babbling to each other. We could not believe what just happened. A 13-episode series commitment would bring Bruce Nash to NBC. We ran up to Don’s office, told him what just happened and showed him the clip. Don took a drag on his Marlboro and said, “As long as I don’t hear that squish on the air.”
“World’s Most Amazing Videos” premiered March 3, 1999, a Wednesday night. Stacey Keach was the narrator. Hey, we needed some credibility. Once again, I found myself as the program exec. We got away with a lot, and I told Bruce to go for it but never show a death on camera. Of course, one day a clip comes over with the police shooting a man holding a person hostage in a car. Keach’s narration says the police “neutralized” the perp. I called Bruce and asked if the police killed the hostage taker. “No, they neutralized him.” I did not allow the clip to air.
Bruce and I became pals. I pitched him several ideas, such as “Pro Wrestling Secrets Revealed, an homage to FOX’s “Breaking the Magician’s Code” specials. We piloted an early version of “Tosh.0” called “The Internet’s Funniest Web Sites,” but it never went to series. We were ahead of our time.
I pitched Bruce a dating show called “Me, Tarzan,” which he eventually sold to Turner as “Outback Jack.” When I moved over to FOX, I brought Bruce and Dick Clark in in to see Mike Darnell in an attempt to revive “Dance Fever.” Finally, before “The Biggest Loser,” we played around with a weight-loss competition called “The Weigh Inn.” I had a lot of fun playing off of Bruce.
In May 1999 a new NBC Entertainment president was appointed. No more Don, no more Warren. I knew my days at NBC were coming to a close.
Time for the final chapter in the Must-See TV saga, at least for me.