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Robert A. Mills

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Blogs by Robert A. Mills

THE KING IS DEAD (or at least in his throes)
9/25/2010 6:22:32 AM
By the time this gets posted, it will, in all likelihood, be yesterday’s news. But get real-—isn’t that true with 99% of the Op-Ed pieces published today?

CNN’s Larry King is headed for the scrap heap (‘bout time, some say.) And the smart money says either Katie Couric or Piers Morgan will occupy the questionable “throne” at 9 PM. . . . I have been advised by an unimpeachable source that Mr. Morgan was Jon Klein’s choice. And Mr. Klein (soon to be replaced by Ken Jautz) is the erstwhile CEO and president of CNN, so that’s that.

Anyway, several years ago I made a wager (which I intended to immediately welch on) with my former partner-in-prime time, Tom Decker, after we had both retired from the broadcasting dodge. I bet him that Ms. Couric, wooed away from NBC by CBS when Dan Rather left, would be network TV’s No. 1 anchor within three years. Yeah, right.

The wager was that the loser would visit the winner and treat him to dinner at a restaurant of his choosing (I live in metro-Atlanta, and Decker lives off the fat of the land in eastern Florida; both of us have easy access to the world’s finest eateries. No, Virginia, they are not all in NYC.)

Of course, the three years have come and gone, and Katie Couric is as far from leading the pack as my first novel is from making the New York Times best-seller list—-or anyone else’s.

But she was a contender for Larry King’s old job; by now she may either have it (apparently she doesn’t)—-or it will become (and it is) Piers Morgan’s. Frankly, to paraphrase ol’ Rhett, nobody really gives a damn.

I seriously doubt either Couric or Morgan could make much of a dent in MSNBC’s or Fox News’s ratings-—CNN’s major concern-—except for the initial flurry of curiosity.

Their résumés notwithstanding, neither one would be my first choice-—come to think of it, Larry King himself would not make the cut in replacing for Larry King. He has always been a prime example of how difficult (impossible?) it is for radio stars to make the switch to TV.

Naturally, there are exceptions: Art Linkletter, Arthur Godfrey, Bob Barker, et al-—but their ilk has for years been few and far between. Ironically, going the opposite direction, from TV success to radio, is a no-brainer. Maybe the mess is the medium.

What’s interesting is, both Decker and I began in radio. But nobody ever heard of us until TV came along (we were always just local bumpkins in any case, but you get my drift.)

Transitioning from radio to TV back in Western New York was simple: we just showed up and smiled. That was more than 50 years ago.

But you know something? Nuthin’s changed.

Woody Allen was right. He said, “80% of success is showing up.” That’s really all we did. When somebody wanted to put on a show, we invariably showed up. What we did when we got there is the other 20%. It's called talent’. There was always some suspicion we possessed 2%, not 20.

Anyway, I remember a show I once did called “Welcome Inn” (you can guess its format.) It was years before Bob Newhart met Suzanne Pleshette, and I played sidekick to Pat Somberg on this twice-weekly local nonsense (live at 1 PM) that, for reasons still being debated, captured the market with pseudo-celebrity interviews.

On one occasion, the circus was in town, and we somehow
persuaded Clyde Beatty to bring a baby elephant (some baby: all nine hundred pounds of him!) to the TV station. It so happened the set was located on the seventh floor, and the elevator was much too small for the pachyderm’s bulk.

No matter. They simply prodded him up fourteen flights of stairs (it never occurred to anyone that elephants will walk UP but never DOWN a staircase—nobody, including Dumbo, thought to check with Marlin Perkins.)

As it turned out, the baby elephant was deliriously happy in the studio, and he was a delight to work with (the pooper-scoopers earned their paltry pittance with plastic pails that day.) Did the show die? No, it just turned a little pail. Rim-shot, please.

The show was sponsored by a paint store. As the commercials were live and performed by the co-host (me,) I came up with the brilliant idea of “painting” the cuddly peanut-chomper—-all I had to do to prove how well this particular paint covered the world in one coat was to dip my roller in the pan and apply a few strokes to the animal’s side!

Piece of cake. Or creamy semi-gloss exterior house paint, actually.

I made three mistakes: 1.) we used white paint because it showed up better on black and white TV, 2.) the hide of baby elephants is not smooth; it contains zillions of tiny bristles, like steel pins, and 3.) I was wearing a blue blazer, aqua shirt and yellow tie.

Naturally, with the roller soaked in paint, I made just two swipes over Dumbo’s flank and was spattered in white paint: glasses, hair, blazer, shirt, tie, saddle shoes and all. Better I had been cast in a precursor of “ER”.

It brought the house down (two cameramen, a floor man, three control room technicians and a bored director.) The sponsor was ecstatic (not immediately, but he was later when he sold out his entire inventory of house paint.) In fact, it was well after sunset before the circus handlers finally got the elephant back to street level and into the truck.

Clyde Beatty got even, though. As a consolation, we had him back on Thursday. This time, he brought a tiger and a cheetah, both on leashes.

“Don’t worry,” he said, unsnapping their collars. “They’re tame as new-born babes.” I think that’s when the phrase “Sick ‘em!” was coined.

Moral of the story? Katie or Piers, I hope one of you gets what you deserve from CNN. I can hear Wolf Blitzer now: “Sick ‘em, Ted!”

Copyright© by Robert A. Mills

Note: My Op-Ed Blog for Saturday, Oct 2, may or may not appear. I will be out of town and held captive by alien computers. If the piece, called A PRECIOUS GOLDEN BOBBY, is delayed, you’ll get it Oct. 9 (or thereabouts.)


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