Who Stole My Country 127 – Armageddon: The Cast Part 2

Marty Schram began as a book writer on the project, but ended up with the title of Managing Editor, a bad decision that I encouraged because no one else had any news judgment at that point. I should have insisted on a television pro. Marty was a Scripts Howard columnist. Unfortunately, his insecurities made him virtually useless as an editorial leader. No one used the personal article “I” as often as Marty Schram.

I’m not sure Marty ever realized it, but one of my management jobs was keeping Marty and my producers from tearing each other apart. So instead of relieving my burden, Marty added distractions that kept me from doing my job. On the other hand, Marty’s heart was in the series one hundred and fifty percent. He was smart. He read everything. And he cared about the show, unlike Robert and Suzanne who were on some other trip altogether that had nothing to do with producing quality, documentary television.

Wussler had given his faithful assistant of 17 years, Tim Rockwood, the job of Senior Editorial Producer. Tim is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, with a remarkable memory for details. But he’s like the writer that Henry James had in mind when James wrote; “He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it. James thought it was the perfect attitude for a fiction writer, but it didn’t help me with editorial leadership. Tim’s head was crammed with information, but there were no unifying ideas behind it. Every fact was pretty much equal in Tim’s mind.   Tim also disliked fiction, so he didn’t have a clue about how to tell a story, which is the essence of successful television.

When Wussler hired me he said, “Now you will take care of Rockwood, won’t you? And I did, with great pleasure. Suzanne had other plans. Tim believed that Wussler would make him Vice President of Turner Productions at some point, so Suzanne had the job that Tim thought he had earned and deserved after 17 years of faithful service. It was not surprising that Suzanne felt threatened and took an immediate dislike to Tim. She told me he was incompetent. Finally, she ordered me to fire Tim. I wanted to keep him around.  To support my case, I quietly took her aside and explained the deal I had with Robert, but she did not seem convinced.

Suzanne talked to Robert who, of course, denied ever having asked me to take care of Tim. He confronted me the next morning with a Tony Soprano stare, “If Rockwood is screwing up, you fire him. This is your decision. Do you understand what I’m talking about? I sure did, and Tim’s continued presence on the staff remained a sore point with Suzanne. In the end, Tim was on the project longer than anyone, including Suzanne.

My production coordinator was Sandy Udy. Sandy had worked for Hedrick Smith for years, and I got to know her when I spent 18 months working on a Smith series on the economy. I liked her and recommended her, but she did not work out well with the Armageddon team. Joel wanted to fire her but got fired himself. When I took over I discovered that I had no real way of knowing what I was spending. Sandy played her cards so close her chest and used such an idiosyncratic accounting method, that I was always running blind. The data I got made no sense. She never let producers know what they had to spend. She was either incompetent or her obfuscation was a form of control.

Sandy had an authoritarian manner and thought you got the best out of people by browbeating them, so she was abrasive with junior staff members. Another big part of my job was struggling with Sandy and reassuring the staff after her wrath had exploded against them. Sandy ruled the third floor where we had our administrative offices with an arbitrary iron fist. Bad feelings ran deep and poisoned the atmosphere.  Production and editing took place on the Second Floor, which was a collaborative and creative place to work.

Our Post Production supervisor was Michael Wilker or “the Chyron operator as Tim Rockwood called him. For most of the production cycle Michael sided with Sandy, creating a kind of internal government in exile. Staff members told me they had to choose sides. My side or Sandy’s side. Michael was fussy but ineffectual, constantly organizing and making charts, but rarely lending a hand with any real work.

Michael had never worked in a pressure cooker before. An email Michael sent me shortly before I was fired, says it all. “Subject: Five Pound Sack” “I do not want to be the negative message deliveryman. It is not in my nature to say, “It can’t be done.” There is no way it can be done with a delivery date of March 10th. There. I said it. It scares the living shit out of me to tell you this because I want you to perceive me as a person who can get things done.

Of course he was right. Wussler gave the new team another 11 weeks of production time to finish the series and poured in more money. I understand the final budget was $9.7 million. There’s a saying in our industry, “Never enough to do it right, always enough to fix it.”

That was the management team. They were always at each other’s throats, behind each other’s back. Tim and Marty, like siblings trapped in a dysfunctional family, ran to me to dump on each other constantly. After spending time on the road together, they both told me that they would never travel with each other again.

Marty pointed out that “Robert likes to pull the wings off flies. Wussler, in turn, referred to Marty as “the Coney Island Jew. Marty wondered if Robert was anti-Semitic. Suzanne Arden also asked me once if I thought Robert was anti-semitic. (For what it’s worth, I don’t think he was.) Tim told me that Sandy hated Susan and me. The staff said Sandy terrorized them. Sandy stayed pretty tight with Marty, who didn’t think much of the staff either. She always defended Michael. Michael, like a moist eyed deer caught in the headlights, wished everybody could get along. All these fragile identities got in the way of direct, professional conversations.

I asked Wussler if I could fire Sandy and Michael at the beginning of the summer and bring in two strong people who could help me unify the staff, take hold of the details needed to complete the project and provide accurate, useful budget figures for the final push. Wussler was in a law suit with Joel Westbrook at the time and he said he didn’t want to give Joel any more ammunition. Sandy and Michael had to stay. I learned in 2017 that in the end Joel and Lynn won their lawsuit!

My producers maneuvered with amazing grace and fortitude under the sporadic direction of this dysfunctional team. Rick King, Ginny Durrin, Daphna Rubin, Susan Koch, Tom DeVries, Naomi Springharm  they had tough, almost impossible jobs but they pulled them off.

 

 

 

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