This is the final chapter of the Masked Scheduler’s look back at the scheduling and business decisions that built the Must-See TV lineup on NBC. You can go here to read previous installments.
This chapter is less about scheduling and more about the end of my career at NBC. Although now that I think of it, it was about how I scheduled my departure.
By November 1999, I knew that it was time for me to move on. Over the years, I had been offered big opportunities at UPN and Turner Broadcasting. I was also approached about scheduling a French network (the Masked Wife speaks fluent French, by the way). Not long after I started at NBC, I got a call from Hong Kong asking if I was interested in moving there to oversee a group of satellite channels. Here was the conversation:
Me: “I just moved my family kicking and screaming from New York to L.A. No amount of money would get me to move them again to Hong Kong.”
Them: “Wanna bet?”
Me: “This call is over.”
I remained at NBC out of loyalty to Warren Littlefield and Don Ohlmeyer and out of pride and respect for what we all had built at NBC during the ’90s. None of that was the case anymore. Then a miracle happened.
That November, on a Sunday afternoon, David Nevins called me. David and I had worked together at NBC, and he had moved over to FOX to work with Doug Herzog, who was then president of FOX Entertainment. David now runs Showtime.
“Man, we could really use you over here,” he told me. “Would you meet with Doug?”
I was ready for a change and I loved what FOX represented, both in scripted and reality. I met with Doug and others and by January, I knew this would be my last season at NBC.
I never connected with the new NBC leadership. One day an executive was brought in to run the studio. Prior to coming over to NBC, he had run one of the other broadcast networks. The week he arrived, he called and asked me to lunch. As soon as we sat down this happened:
Him: “I just wanted to clear the air and tell you I’m not here to do your job.”
Me: “So you’re here to do my job?”
Him: “No, that’s why I asked you to lunch.”
Me: “Well, now that I know you’re here to do my job, go ahead. I seem to remember that you got fired because you couldn’t take me on when it came to scheduling, so go for it.”
These are the people you sometimes have to deal with in the biz.
In January, I told Scott Sassa I had no interest in renewing my contract at NBC. I may have also told him what I thought about certain executive hires. I’m not a very nice person.
In late February, there was a management meeting. I told Scott, and he agreed, that I should not attend. The night the meeting started, I received a call from John Agoglia, who was the head of business affairs at NBC for most of my time there. John asked me if I knew who Gail Berman was: “She’s gonna be your boss at FOX, kid.” As soon as I hung up with John, Warren Littlefield called. “Word at the NBC management meeting is that [the President of NBC Entertainment] fired you today,” he said.
I won’t go into what happened next, but I never returned to my job. I started my new gig at FOX in June. After I left, several people rotated through the scheduling job, and there were other rapid high-level changes at NBC. The stability and camaraderie that existed during the Must-See TV ’90s was gone.
Fast forward to January 2004. “American Idol” was about to start its third cycle and its second during the regular season. Reality shows were becoming a ubiquitous part of most schedules, and NBC had just introduced a new competition show, “The Apprentice,” featuring Donald Trump. The show was originally scheduled to go up against “Idol” on Wednesday nights, but Jeff Zucker, who was running NBC at the time, decided to move it away from what appeared to be a growing juggernaut. “The Apprentice” would air at 9 p.m. Thursday. The knife was stuck in the heart of the defining night of Must-See TV.
Within an hour of the announcement, Warren Littlefield called. We acknowledged that what we had inherited from Brandon Tartikoff, and built into a cultural phenomenon, was over. To this day, we remain proud of what we accomplished and the friendships that have lasted over time. Warren and I spoke this Sunday. I complimented him for winning the Emmy for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” on which he’s an executive producer.
Speaking of Brandon Tartikoff, at the peak of Must-See TV, Brandon called me to discuss the scheduling of a Tom Clancy miniseries he was producing. I had no patience for these calls, but this was Brandon, so I was more than happy to have the give and take. In 1992 Brandon had written a book titled “The Last Great Ride.” His premise was that a network could never accomplish what NBC had accomplished in the 1980s, led by “The Cobsy Show” and several quality dramas. Towards the end of our conversation Brandon congratulated me for our Must-See TV success.
“But it will never be as good as what we did in the ’80s,” he said.
I replied, “Brandon, it’s better.”