Posts Tagged ‘Discovery’

Letter From Claverack 12 19 2016 What we need is a little Christmas…

December 20, 2016

A few hours ago, I asked Alexa to play the Holiday Station from Amazon Prime and Christmas carols have been floating through the house since then.  The lights are illuminating the creek and I have sat down, at last, to write a letter.  The last one was nine days ago, which is unusual for me.  Normally, I write every two or three days.

The frenzy of prepping for Christmas has given me ample excuses to not think about the world…

Two Christmas trees grace the cottage; one small real one, bedecked with as many ornaments as it bear and an artificial white tree, which has been my tradition for years now.

The first Christmas after my partner left, I went to the lot where we had purchased our trees and found myself paralyzed, not wanting to get out of the car and so I didn’t.  Decorating our trees had always been a big thing and I couldn’t imagine how to get through that Christmas.

So I did the unthinkable; I went to Walmart and bought a pre-lit white Christmas tree which was the silliest thing I could think of doing and it made my Christmas.  It was so silly, I laughed, which was what I needed to do that year.  And a personal tradition was born…

A white Christmas tree adorned with all the ornaments that matter.  There are a few from my mother, one White House ornament given to me by Buddy, who helped decorate the actual White House Christmas tree.  He is gone, lost to AIDS before anything could be done and I have the ornament he gave me and it has a place of pride every year.

There are the wonderful crystal ornaments Lionel and Pierre have given me the last few years, two Christopher Radko ornaments from when I was on the Board of Governors for the TV Academy, ornaments I purchased the first year I was working at Discovery – that was an animal themed Christmas.


In the last twenty-four hours, I have made 16 quiches.  It has been my tradition for the last some years to bake quiches for my friends and neighbors and there are still a few more to be made but I have made most of them and will spend some of tomorrow delivering them.

My kitchen is not quite a catastrophe…

All of this is part of my life and a welcome distraction.

Today, Donald Trump’s election to the Presidency was ratified by the Electoral College, a fact I am still having a hard time getting my head around, which is why I seem to especially devoted to the Food Section of the New York Times.

At least twelve are dead as a result of lorry crashing into a Christmas market in Berlin.

The Russian Ambassador to Turkey was shot dead today in Ankara.

Aleppo is a catastrophe we grieve but seem to have no way to respond to and I still wonder about the boy in the photograph from months ago.  He will haunt me to the day I die.  Is he safe?

It seems I may never rest until I know and I may never know but I keep seeing that photo…

And as Christmas approaches, I am so grateful to be here, in the cottage, decorated as best I could for this most wonderful holiday, listening to Christmas music…

The world is always in trouble and it will continue to be that way.  And I will work to find ways to feel like I am helping the world not be in as much trouble as it is.  Maybe I will succeed, a little bit…




Letter From New York 06 26 15 Ruminating on Supreme Court Decisions…

June 26, 2015

It is about 11:30 AM as I begin to write today’s blog. Yesterday, I simply ran out of time and had to let it go though it niggled at me through the night. Yesterday saw Obamacare upheld by the Supreme Court, something that I was unsure would happen. The decision was 6 to 3 to uphold the law.

I was glad the law was upheld. I think it is a flawed law and that we should have something that more resembles universal health care but it is far better than the nothing we had before it. The victory in the Supreme Court has not squelched Republican’s desire to repeal the law, which they might get to do if a Republican is elected President. If they do, I hope they will have something in the wings to replace it. Right now, I don’t think they do.

This morning, as I was sitting doing emails, I received one from the Democratic Party announcing that the Supreme Court had ruled in favor of gay marriage by a vote of 5 to 4. As it was a notice that came from someone other than a news organization, I went online to find that, indeed, it was true. Gay marriage is now the law of the land.

My friend Lionel texted me, crying as he wrote the text, rejoicing and a bit unbelieving. My oldest friend in the world, Sarah Malone, phoned me and we discussed the ruling. She told me that Texas is already trying to wiggle out some way though I haven’t seen that anywhere but it doesn’t surprise me if they were.

I am unbelieving. I did not actually think, until the last few years, that this would ever happen in my lifetime. I grew up and began to deal with the fact I was gay about the time Gay Lib was beginning to form as a movement. I was not active in the movement; I was working on building some sort of career.

In 1983, a senior executive in the company I was working for told me that I would be fired if it were discovered I was gay. In another company in the 80’s, I was under pressure to get married. It was clear that unless I was, I would not progress up management’s ranks. The President and CEO was very conservative. He was generous to a gay employee who contracted AIDS, and seemed to think it was fine in the creative divisions of the company but I was on the business side. It was never articulated directly but there are ways of communicating that do not include direct conversation.

When I was at Discovery in the 1990’s, I commented to the President of the time, Ruth Otte, that Discovery seemed very homophobic. She agreed but nothing changed until the very late 1990’s or early 2000’s, under then CEO Judith McHale.

I never lied but never admitted I was gay. I cleverly skirted the topic. Not necessarily appearing gay, I had female friends who accompanied me when it was expected I would appear with a date. When asked, I acknowledged but never volunteered. That was probably cowardly.

I grew up in a Midwestern Catholic family and it was clear to me that the worse thing a man could be was gay. It may be that as I grew into childhood, my father sensed I was different and that accelerated his emotional withdrawal from me.

When I was in high school, I was very lucky. I was never bullied and called names. No one ever called me “fag” or any derogative. Looking back, I find it amazing. Fragile as I was in high school, I’m not sure I would have survived the bullying that seems to occur so regularly today.

In the late 1990’s, in a long-term relationship, I became more comfortable with my place in the world. When accepting the job at the Internet start-up, Sabela, I made it clear to James Green, the CEO, I was gay. He shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said he already knew.

Telling my friend Jeffrey was difficult but he responded generously, as did most of my friends.

John McCormick, Sarah’s father, and I were having dinner with his grandson, Joe Eros, the night before Joe was entering the military, shortly before the invasion of Iraq. Joe left to celebrate with some friends and I got up to go but John motioned me down and ordered us another round of drinks. John was a deeply conservative Catholic, or so I thought. He told me that night he had know for a long time and that he needed to know that I knew he loved me, regardless of my sexuality.

It was a tremendous blessing. I cried a little on the train back into New York City.

My brother and I came to peace with it. My sister is uncomfortable but we still talk regularly and have a better relationship than ever. When I was telling my family, my mother was in a multi-level health crisis and so we never discussed it. When she uttered homophobic comments, I repudiated them but never told her I was gay.

Less emotional than many today, I acknowledge that we have crossed a milestone but it will not immediately eliminate homophobia. It may even strengthen it in places. Bu it seems more and more are accepting; going into today, a poll indicated that 57% of Americans believed the Supreme Court should rule the way it did.

It has been a huge journey and the journey isn’t over. But it is so much better than it was.

Letter From New York 03 17 15 The many aspects of nature…

March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

This is an odd day for me, always has been, as I am of German/Scandinavian descent and so there isn’t a lot of resonance in my background with the day. And the feel of the bacchanal that accompanies the day was far from the emotional bandwidth that resided within my family of origin. We were good German Catholics.

If you are celebrating today, be careful. Apparently tomorrow is a great day for dentists, having to deal with the results of fistfights from tonight.

It’s been a grey, grey, drear, damp day in Claverack with sudden bursts of sun breaking through the dark clouds for a few seconds, teasing one to hope for more.

Just back from a walk around from the neighborhood, I immediately went online to see if there were any updates on the Israeli election. There aren’t any yet. It’s a tight election and tomorrow we may know more but there are likely weeks of wrangling ahead to see who can actually form a government. Poised for the first time to be a power are Israeli-Arab voters who have joined together their numerous small parties under a single banner for this election.

Netanyahu has claimed they are coming out in droves and has said it is US money that is hiring buses to bring them to the polls. It has brought accusations of racism upon Netanyahu.

The result of this bitterly fought election, as ugly as anything American politics serves up, is important to America. Israel and the US have been historically close and I believe the majority of Americans would like to keep it that way but right now the relationship is frayed.

Chris Borland, a player for the SF 49ers, has decided at 24 to retire rather than to face the possibility of permanent brain damage. He is one of the best rookie players in the league.

Every year during “The Upfront,” billions of dollars are exchanged between networks and advertisers, buying great swaths of advertising inventory in exchange for what is hoped will be an advantageous price. NBC is facing a particularly trying Upfront this year with lingering problems from the Brian Williams situation, Today being in second place among the morning shows and has a ratings slump occurring at MSNBC.

It will be very interesting to see how the Upfront plays out this year. Discovery’s head, David Zaslav, has announced that he thinks this year will be “tepid.” Money is beginning to move toward digital alternatives.

I follow this because this was once part of my life, when I worked at A&E and Discovery.

Veering from advertising to humanitarianism, the island nation of Vanuatu is beginning to run out of food and supplies. While the death toll has been low so far, communications are still down and needs are going up. One organization ramping up to help is Save the Children,

Living alone, as I do, gives one a great deal of time to think. My friend, the writer Howard Bloom [“The Lucifer Principle” and others], calls nature a “bloody bitch.” And when I consider situations like Vanuatu, I have to agree. It will be years for it to recover. 40% of its income comes from tourism, cruise ships stopping by mostly. That is indefinitely suspended.

Nature is wonderful and awe inspiring. It is also destructive and capricious.

Right now a vast solar storm is occurring. If it gets bad enough, you might see damage to satellites, overloading of power grids and other fun things. And should you be living in the high latitudes, it will also be beautiful to behold.

Do you remember the movie “The Breakfast Club?” It was released thirty years ago and there was a special screening of it last night at the SXSW Film Festival. Amazing; seems like yesterday. Its stars Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy were there, also a little in disbelief that it had been thirty years.

Twenty years ago, Microsoft gave us Internet Explorer. Now they are going to kill it off and will launch a new web browser, specifically oriented to mobile users and integrating Cortana into it [their version of Apple’s Siri]. It doesn’t officially have a name but is codenamed Project Spartan.

Now I must finish up and go to the drugstore to pick up a prescription so I can keep getting everything together for India.

Letter From New York 02 24 15 Contentious Times…

February 24, 2015

Waking in New York City this morning, I grabbed my mobile and checked the weather. There was a wind chill of 5 to 10 below zero. I wanted to curl back up and wait for the day to warm. Thankfully, despite the cold, it was brilliantly sunny and therefore I felt brighter if not warmer. After a couple of cups of coffee and a hot, hot shower I ventured out into the world; my cheeks were burning from the cold by the time I made it from Riverside to Broadway.

After a few errands and some work on my Indian Visa application, I headed south to the West Village where I met up with my friend Mick Kaczorowski, Executive Producer par excellence, recently departed from Discovery, for a long, good catch-up lunch.

After lunch, I headed to Staples and purchased a printer for the NY apartment and then sat down to blog.

There is the growing brouhaha over whether Bill O’Reilly of Fox News “embellished” his war reporting credentials. David Corn in the magazine Mother Jones wrote an article about Mr. O’Reilly having his own “Brian Williams Moment” and Mr. O’Reilly responded with what I gather is typical vitriol by calling Mr. Corn a “guttersnipe.”

I don’t watch Bill O’Reilly or Fox News. I don’t watch CNN either. I am a cord cutter so I don’t have cable in my home. But in the moments I have had exposure to Mr. O’Reilly, I have found him distasteful so I haven’t searched him out online either.

His efforts to quell the controversy don’t seem to be working. They just seem to put the spotlight more on a situation that would probably have gone away if he had ignored it. But that is not the O’Reilly style. He has gone on to threaten a reporter from the NY Times and has drawn the ire of several colleagues who were with him in Argentina during the Falkland War. One of them has called his version of events a “fabrication.”

O’Reilly covered the war from Buenos Aires. There was a riot while he was in Buenos Aires. He did cover that. One reporter described that riot as the “chummiest” riot he had ever seen but there is footage that O’Reilly showed on his program last night.

The video shows unrest and chaos but no shots being fired. One person reporting on the O’Reilly tempest said that O’Reilly had “yet to find the bodies.”

Nothing much will come of this. Fox News likes controversy and I’m sure it will give a boost to their ratings. Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox News and master spinmeister, is thoroughly behind the consistently high rated O’Reilly. NBC launched an investigation into the Brian Williams story; Fox News will not look deeply at O’Reilly’s actions.

It says much about the organizations.

In other media news, Keith Olberman was suspended from ESPN for a few days over churlish tweets about Penn State.

Things continue to be tense in Ukraine and it is now being called this generation’s West Berlin.

There have been more suicide bombings in Nigeria and masked men kidnapped an 87-year-old American missionary, the Reverend Phyllis Sortor. Soldiers from Chad claim they have killed over 200 Boko Haram fighters.

The three British schoolgirls who flew on their own to Istanbul last week to apparently join IS have successfully managed to cross over into Syria. Also in the land of IS, dozens of Assyrian Christians have been abducted and taken from their villages. Thousands more have fled.

In less violent news today, Greece made more concessions and a four-month extension has been granted them to work out their future. Markets in New York and London ended up for the day.

Senate Majority Leader McConnell is working on a deal to keep the Department of Homeland Security from being defunded. It will be interesting to see if he can get the Republican Congressmen to go along with the scheme.

And, as widely expected, President Obama vetoed the Keystone Pipeline Bill, issuing in a new period of contentiousness between the White House and Congress.

What will be contentious for me is seeing if I can get the new printer printing tonight. I must remember to read the instruction book!

Letter From New York, Feb 10, 2012

February 10, 2012

Or, as it seems to me….

Last week, at the Renaissance Hotel in Washington, DC, gathered the glitterati of the non-fiction film business, if the folks who work in this world could be called “glitterati.” It’s mostly a hard working crowd, the folks who produce, program, schedule, develop the hundreds of hours that fill the schedules of any cable network that shows non-fiction programming. The event is called Real Screen.

Across the ballroom where the opening party was held, sponsored by A+E Networks, David McKillop, now SVP of Programming for A+E but who, until recently, was holding the same job for History Channel where he helped resurrect that channel from ratings doldrums with the like of Ice Road Truckers and Ax Men, not to mention Pawn Stars. Success there resulted in his moving to A+E, which had reached a ratings plateau. He is one of my favorite people in the business, a man who became a friend after helping resolve conflicts with a pilot I had worked on back in the days when he was with Discovery Channel.

I went to Real Screen without much of an agenda, not really being there to sell shows but to reconnect with people and work on distribution for Odyssey Networks. I spent Monday in the joyous process of seeing people, reconnecting, spending a few minutes with Steve Burns, who until recently ran programming at Nat Geo, who good naturedly was saying he was surprised anyone was talking to him since he didn’t have a budget anymore. But he needn’t worry; lack of budgets will not decrease his overall popularity; he is at heart a filmmaker and, as such, is well respected. He began his career in the cold and snow, shooting films for National Geographic.

When I first started going to Real Screen lo those many years ago, it was a clubby little world of a few hundred, most of whom knew each other unless they were neophytes to the business and looking for ways to “break in.” It’s different now, 2000 or more crowded the hotel. No one could get into the lobby without a pass; security was tight. In the old days, the lobby was full of folks who didn’t spring for registration but got the benefits of attendance by playing lounge lizards, taking up a bar stool and waiting for the world to come to them – and it did. No more. My friend Gail Gleeson and I had to meet across the street for a simple hello. Acadiana, a southern themed restaurant close by, found itself the recipient of extra business, I’m sure.

The cable business is in full bloom. The panels underscored the health of the present by focusing exclusively on that with no forward facing discussions about digital and its impact. The present is too rich, too full right now to worry much about a pending future even though that future is out there and coming on full steam.

That the present is full and rich and seen as getting richer was evidenced by the number of agents who attended. They were there from all major players; twenty-five from CAA alone! They gave extravagant parties, courting the cable players as they would court Hollywood. Let the good times roll.

Many of the young “Turks” making digital video successful would fall into the non-fiction category but there seemed no room in the tent of Real Screen for them – or at least not much room. Hence, the very nascent International Academy of Web Television that had its first awards show at the CES. Prediction: it or someone very like it will soon begin to have a conference like this but focused solely on those who are doing web TV, of which there are many and it’s a number that is growing.

Personally, it was rich, professionally helpful but ultimately, because I am now more of a new media person than an old media person, left me wanting something more, some workshops about the differences between producing for the web and for television – or are there any? But that’s not where Real Screen is now and may be never will be but that doesn’t change that the future is changing and we’re living in a more multi-platform world than ever before.

Letter From New York September 3, 2010

September 3, 2010

Or, as it seems to me…

On Wednesday afternoon, I was sitting at my desk, plunging through the mountainous amounts of email that had collected while I had taken a few days off. I was attempting to decipher from a long string of messages whether or not we were about to send a team to Nigeria. Then a new email popped in from a colleague: Have you seen this?

It was a link to a breaking story posted by the Washington Post. A gunman had gone into Discovery Communications, potentially with explosives strapped to his chest, and had taken hostages. I immediately felt shocked. Once upon a time, I worked for Discovery and still have many, many friends there both from when I worked there and ones made in years when I was producing some programs for various of their networks. I am on the Board of CINE and my friend Rita Mullin, the current President, works for TLC, a Discovery Network. I know someone on every floor in that building, I would guess.

What I did next surprised me. I immediately left the Washington Post site and went to Twitter, put Discovery in the search bar and started scanning the posts, and long before it was announced on any news organization I had found out the gunman’s name was James Lee, that he had posted a rambling, bizarre, disturbing manifesto online about his grievances with Discovery and their programming. He, for example, wanted no more celebration of births on Discovery Health [soon to be the Oprah Winfrey Network] because children were, I think he said, vermin that consumed the earth. I found a picture of him entering the building, taken by a Discovery employee who sent it to another employee, who then tweeted it.

I found links to the video feed from the helicopter flying over the building. There were poignant messages from friends of people in the building wishing them well and saying prayers for them. I looked for tweets from people I knew but found none. I knew from Twitter that people had gotten out of the building safely before it was on the general news sites. Heck, I knew a lot about what was going on before I got my first email alert from CNN.

I learned, rather quickly, that the hostages were taken in the lobby area. That particularly engaged me and I became incredibly concerned. There is a wonderful woman named Rosa who mans the front desk in the lobby of Discovery. She is a magnificent human being who is the perfect first person for a visitor to meet. She is warm, she is respectful, she is organized and she is engaging. I have visited there for years and when I arrive she jumps up and comes out from behind her desk and gives me the biggest mama hug I get in my life these days.

The thought she might be a hostage caused me great distress. When I heard the hostages had been taken in the lobby, I thought of Rosa. A well of tears came to my eyes and I sat at my desk and prayed, prayed for all of them but particularly prayed for my Rosa, the woman who always makes me feel more than special when I arrive at Discovery. She doesn’t hug everyone who comes there. I have followed dignitaries into the Discovery lobby. I got hugged; they didn’t. I have been with important people who found themselves thinking I must be important because of the way Rosa greeted me.

To think she was a hostage tormented me. I rested when I found out that the hostages were all men, enormously relieved Rosa was not one of them. I breathed more freely when I found out, through Twitter, that the building had been successfully evacuated, that the children in the Day Care Center were safe at McDonald’s. I was grateful when it ended. Though it ended with the death of James Lee, a tormented soul who wanted to save the planet, a good thing, but who chose a desperately sick way of doing it.