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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Writing News With A Union Label ► Throwback Thursday

Gather 'round, kiddies, and I'll tell you the story of when I was a News Writer for Citytv's BreakfastTelevision [sic] and wrote the perfect news script.

I worked at CityPulse for just over a decade. During my time there I cycled through every newscast they had: CityPulse at 6, CityPulse at 11, the weekend Pulses, and the short-lived LunchTelevision. However, most of my time was on BreakfastTelevision, some 8 years. I was with the show the day it was launched. While the station had an idea of what the show would be, it was up to us to give it shape and flesh it out.

I enjoyed the hell out of my job, but everything changed for me the day I wrote the perfect script.

The News Segment Producer, the person who gave the News Writers, Editors, Control Room their marching orders, had a soft spot for animal stories. I knew that whenever there was an animal story, either local or off the feeds, she would make sure to devote precious air time to it. On this particular morning she handed me some wire copy, told me there was VID on the overnight satellite feed, and tasked me with writing the script for it. It was a simple, but heartwarming, story of a university in the east closing en entire parking lot because an endangered bird chose to build a nest and lay eggs in it.

Kevin Frankish was one of the nicest people I wrote
for. "Choose alternate routes" is an homage to him.
Because it wouldn't come up until later in the show -- the last News Pack at 8:30 -- I pushed it aside. In the meantime there were stories to write for earlier packs. As I handled those first, it came to me in a flash how I should treat this purple plover story. I quickly banged it off, polished it, and then sheepishly took it to Kevin Frankish, which was not the normal chain of command. However, let's face facts: If Kevin refused to read it, there was little point in giving it to the producer for approval. I handed him the script and asked what he thought.

Kevin took one look at it, laughed, and said, "I love it!"

With his approval under my belt I took it to the News Producer who said, "Kevin will never read this."

"I just showed it to him. He loves it," I replied.

She yells across the room to the Assignment Desk, "ABOUT THIS SCRIPT OF HEADLY'S?!?!"

Kevin yells back, "I LOVE IT!!!"

That's exact moment my fate was sealed. Here's how it opened:
In Pembroke a pair of purple plovers picked a patch of parking lot to procreate.

The rest of the script was just a quick rewrite of the wire copy to match the footage. I printed out the obligatory 12 copies of the script and hand delivered Kevin's to him, leaving the rest for the intern to distribute as usual.

The Purple Plover
For the next 2 hours, whenever he wasn't on camera, I could see Kevin practicing the script. I couldn't wait to hear this jewel delivered. However, the minute my script hit the TelePrompTer, it all fell apart. Kevin started sputtering like Porky Pig, tripping his entire way through the opening line.

Finally he broke and said, "See the things they get me to read here? Headly, what are you doing to me?"

I was always thrilled when my name was mentioned On Air, because it was so infrequent. However, that was one of the last thrills I ever had at Citytv.

When my boss arrived there was steam coming out of his ears. As he passed through the newsroom, he screamed at me to get into his office, where he yelled at me and swore at me for a good 15 minutes. "WE DO NOT GIVE OUR ANCHORS TONGUE TWISTERS!!!"

"But it was approved up and down the line."


"But we're told to make our scripts cheeky and interesting."


"I was thinking that it would have been great had Kevin not flubbed it."


Here's my takeaway from that meeting: 
  1. We do not give our anchors tongue twisters;
  2. That day was the first of a non-stop campaign of harassment that continued until I finally left Citytv.
That was the day I became the office goat.

I had seen it happen to others before. Newsroom management would tag someone as the goat either overtly -- "Get the fuck in my office right now!" -- or it might be a covert whisper campaign that one could watch trickle down from up high -- "They're not our kind of people." It could be someone new. Or, it could be someone that was there for years and had never been disciplined before, like me.

However, the newsroom staff quickly learned who was the Goat Du Jour. Everyone up and down the chain of command fell into line, treating that employee as toxic. Over the years I saw one goat after another. Eventually the goat would quit or a newer goat would be chosen. Or both.

When I became the goat the harassment was relentless. My newsroom mentor -- someone in the know, who attended the management meetings with The Big Boys -- told me they wanted me to quit. Because I loved my job, I decided to tough it out convinced they'd eventually find a new goat. I was mistaken.

They started finding every little thing wrong with my performance. I took too long to write some scripts. I didn't spend enough time writing others. Because writing is subjective, and there's no sentence that can't be improved with enough editing, they kept finding individual sentences, out of context, that didn't meet their suddenly high standards. Keep in mind I had never been tagged for any of this in the previous 8 years.

Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada
Eventually management scheduled a weekly meeting with me and my union rep to rake me over the coals in a discipline hearing. Every fucking week.

It only made management madder at me when I first refused to even meet with them for these punching bag sessions unless they allowed my union rep to attend. Insisting on my union rights just became an invisible black mark, because they couldn't write it down. But, it sure pissed them off.

In the end I grieved the entire deal. It went to arbitration, which was a mistake. Arbitration is another word for compromise. I was off work for an entire year. At first I was off on a [possibly-related] Medical leave. When I was deemed well, they refused to allow me to come back to work. However, because I had started the grievance process, I couldn't look for work, otherwise Citytv could say I had quit and abandoned my job. I had to borrow money from family and friends to stay alive and my union advanced me some money as well.

In the end I was sent packing with a lump sum that felt inadequate, but my union told me it was the best I was going to get. Oddly enough, I was never asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Citytv, but they agreed to give me a letter of recommendation and promised not to bad-mouth me to prospective employers. That promise was broken when I had someone in the industry call to say they were thinking of hiring me.

After a lawyer told me I would have trouble suing for that, I stopped using Citytv on my resume. The decade I spent there mattered for nothing in the job market.

Post script: In the end all of those people who yelled and screamed and belittled and harrassed their underlings were fired in a purge when ultimate boss Moses Znaimer found out how they were really treating the people below them, including the on air talent.

If I had it all to do over again, I wouldn't write the perfect script.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Pet Sounds ► Monday Musical Appreciation

Previously on Not Now Silly:

Brian Wilson ► Happy Birthday, Genius ► A Musical Appreciation
On this date 50 years ago one of the greatest LPs of the Rock era was released: The Beach Boys 11th studio album, Pet Sounds. It was not an immediate hit, only rising as far as #20 on the Billboard album chart, far below their previous LPs.

Yet, Pet Sounds rises to the top of all critics' greatest lists. Rolling Stone pegged Pet Sounds as the #2 Greatest Album of All Time, right behind Sgt. Pepper. That's ironic because Beatles producer George Martin said that without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper would never have happened. No less a musical authority than Sir Paul McCartney has rated Pet Sounds as his favourite LP. In fact, he's been widely quoted as saying:
[I]t was Pet Sounds that blew me out of the water. First of all, it was Brian's writing. I love the album so much. I've just bought my kids each a copy of it for their education in life---I figure no one is educated musically 'til they've heard that album. I was into the writing and the songs. 
Double irony: Brian Wilson, for his part, was spurred on to write Pet Sounds by The Beatles'  Rubber Soul. From the WikiWackyWoo:
Wilson recalls that Asher played him the Beatles' newest album, Rubber Soul (1965),[19] it being the alternate US version that was configured by Capitol Records to have a cohesive folk rock sound.[25][nb 6] Wilson was immediately enamored with the album, given the impression that it had no filler tracks, a feature that was mostly unheard of at a time when 45 rpm singles were considered more noteworthy than full-length LPs.[26][27][nb 7] Inspired, he rushed to his wife and proclaimed, "Marilyn, I'm gonna make the greatest album! The greatest rock album ever made!"[29] He would say of his reaction to Rubber Soul: "I liked the way it all went together, the way it was all one thing. It was a challenge to me ... It didn't make me want to copy them but to be as good as them. I didn't want to do the same kind of music, but on the same level."[30] Later, he clarified: "The Beatles inspired me. They didn't influence me."[31][nb 8]

Which makes it a triple irony: Wilson loved that it had "no filler tracks" and "the way it all went together, the way it was all one thing," but it wasn't that at all. It was a record cobbled together for the U.S. market by his own record company, different from the canonical Rubber Soul that The Beatles released in Great Britain.



15 Facts About 'Pet Sounds'

At 50, Pet Sounds remains The Beach
Boys’ most puzzling, influential album

Five amazing albums that wouldn’t exist
without The Beach Boys’ ‘Pet Sounds’

Why Does the Beach Boys' 'Pet
Sounds' Still Have Its Hold on Us?
The rest of The Beach Boys were not so enamored of Pet Sounds. Here's the quick backstory:

After Brian Wilson had a panic attack on an airplane while on tour with the band, he retired from live performing. This gave him the time to produce the more complicated songs he had begun writing. When the rest of the band returned from a tour of Japan and Hawaii, they were presented with an almost completed album, with tracks laid down by The Wrecking Crew, a group of studio musicians who had played on hundreds of songs for everyone from Frank Sinatra to Phil Spector's Wall of Sound productions. All that was needed to complete the tracks were the Beach Boys' harmonies. However, they weren't convinced.
One of the issues was the album's complexity and how the touring Beach Boys would be able to perform its music live.[54] Wilson said that the band "didn't like the idea of growing musically ... They wanted to keep making car songs and I said 'No, we’ve gotta grow, guys'."[55] Marilyn said: "When Brian was writing Pet Sounds, it was difficult for the guys to understand what he was going through emotionally and what he wanted to create. ... they didn't feel what he was going through and what direction he was trying to go in."[56] Tony Asher remembered: "All those guys in the band, certainly Al, Dennis, and Mike, were constantly saying, 'What the fuck do these words mean?' or 'This isn't our kind of shit!' Brian had comebacks, though. He'd say, 'Oh, you guys can't hack this.' ... But I remember thinking that those were tense sessions."[57] Wilson believed the band were worried about him separating from the group, elaborating that "it was generally considered that the Beach Boys were the main thing ... with Pet Sounds, there was a resistance in that I was doing most of the artistic work on it vocally". The conflicts were resolved, accordingly, "[when] they figured that it was a showcase for Brian Wilson, but it's still the Beach Boys. In other words, they gave in. They let me have my little stint."[58]
Next month Capitol Records is releasing a giant 5-CD 50th Anniversary Edition of the iconic LP. According to Ultimate Classic Rock
Pet Sounds (50th Anniversary Collectors Edition) will include four CDs of various mixes, outtakes and alternate versions of the album as well as a Blu-ray audio disc featuring a 5.1 surround sound mix of the 1966 classic, often heralded as one of the greatest records ever made. The set will be released on June 10, about a month after the record celebrates 50 years.

Like 1997’s celebrated four-disc The Pet Sounds Sessions, Pet Sounds (50th Anniversary Collectors Edition) will include snippets from the studio as Brian Wilson pieced together his masterpiece. Backing tracks, alternate mixes and different versions (including some songs where Wilson or Mike Love sang lead on numbers that were released with other members singing) round out the collection.
As Not Now Silly is fond of saying, it's all in the grooves. Listen to Pet Sounds.

Crank it up and  D A N C E ! ! !