Larry Brill was born and raised in San Jose,CA. He has a Journalism degree from San Jose State University and spent 25 years as a TV news anchor in Oregon, California, Colorado and Texas. He is the author of The Patterer and Live@Five. Read an excerpt from his book, Live@Five below. Read his full interview here.
In the brief history of local TV news there have been a countless number of anchors who arrived in a new town on a campaign of hype designed to generate more anticipation than Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, only to be sacked when they couldn’t produce a ratings miracle. Stations insist they should get their money’s worth since the average anchor salary in a major market, even accounting for two thousand years of inflation, is well above the thirty pieces of silver offered for the carpenter from Galilee.
What do you suppose Jesus would say about the industry today?
“Christ, it’s a tough business.”
Kathy looks skeptically at the tube of Preparation H in her hand. Roy, the KDOA-TV anchor she dated once upon a past, had sworn the cream would solve all kinds of swollen ailments, including the puffy eyes that you can clearly see as Kathy leans closer to the mirror. Roy should know all about Preparation H; he turned out to be a real asshole. He dumped Kathy for a perky nineteen-year-old intern she had taken under her wing. Apparently the intern had been spending a good deal of time under Roy.
The ointment must work. She snitched this tube from anchorman Kent Abernathy’s makeup kit. It had been tucked away, along with a business card from Polly & Esther’s Refurbished Fashion Wigs and Toupées.
“The right look —It’s no hairy deal,” the business card proclaims.
You wouldn’t think the single light above the mirror in the station’s bathroom could be this bad for applying makeup. Kathy never noticed before; nor had she cared. Maybe she should have used the makeup mirror in the studio where the anchors do their faces.
“Grrr.” Kathy growls as she dabs the ointment under each eye and begins covering it with makeup. And were those crow’s feet there yesterday? Probably, but Kathy has been too busy to notice.
It’s been this way since Hunter hired the “News Kitten”. It didn’t take long for Kathy to come up with that nickname for Hunter’s pet project. This one caught on particularly well with the rest of the staff.
Hunter may think it was a good idea to hire Sugar Kane, but he isn’t the one being run ragged having to train her. Babysitting might be a better description. Overcoming Sugar’s child-like inexperience has turned into a bigger job than Kathy expected.
“Do this,” Kathy would direct.
“Why?” Sugar asks.
Kathy’s sister has a three-year-old with the same stubborn inquisitiveness. And Kathy has witnessed that conversation too many times. It always ends up with mom frazzled and frustrated. Kathy wonders if this is fate’s revenge for not having children of her own. Why bother? She has a newsroom full of them.
If that isn’t enough to add saddles to the bags under your eyes, Bakersfield P.D. is making sleep impossible.
The police scanner Kathy keeps near her bed has been squawking every night like a parrot on speed. Most of the calls are false alarms, or breaking news stories that don’t live up to their promise. Piddly stuff. Kathy used to sleep through it. Now every night is restless. And you never realize how long and lonely a hot August night in Bakersfield is until you can’t find the sleep to escape.
“Don’t be a fool,” she says to the mirror.
Blaming the scanners won’t get her anywhere. She knows Hunter has been on her mind too much, and not only at work. Hunter’s face peeks out at her from between the pages of the news magazines she stares at, but doesn’t read, in bed at night. His voice sneaks in between those annoying calls on the scanner. Hunter is the one keeping her awake at night. And Hunter is the reason for the Preparation H and the Mary Kay makeover.
Kathy wonders if he’ll notice.
Back in the newsroom, bodies are milling about. Day-siders are headed home; night-siders are working on stories for News at Eleven.
“Dinner with the boss?” The night-side producer Van Thompson has loaded the question with melodramatic innuendo suggesting a little office hanky-panky.
“Oh, come on,” Kathy implores.
Thompson says, “Girlfriend, I just wish this business had more gay news directors. Maybe then I could sleep my way to the top. You think?”
Kathy finds it odd the way this white, small-town gay guy could adopt the hip-hop vocabulary so easily. But in reality, their relationship has been close, and it has evolved over the past four years to the point where “girlfriend” describes him perfectly.
“Maybe youshould hit on Hunter,” Kathy suggests with a sly smile. “He could be gay, too. Just not so flaming obvious about it.”
“Uh-uh! Everyone knows he’s cuddling the News Kitten.”
“Sugar?” Kathy makes a weak attempt to hide the disappointment in her voice. She stares at Thompson for all of two seconds before he breaks.
Thompson laughs, “I knew it. You have the hots for him. It’s about time.”
Kathy wants to protest, but Thompson raises a bony finger to his lips. Her secret is safe. Except that she knows a secret in a newsroom is about as safe as a piñata at a party. Everybody will take a whack at it until the candy flows.
Over Thompson’s shoulder Kathy can see Hunter in his office, switching off the computer and shuffling papers. It’s the end of the day.
“Talk him into dinner at Uricchio’s,” Thompson says. “Nice and romantic. Good foreplay.”
“Stop that,” Kathy hisses.
“Or The Wool Growers.”
The Wool Growers is not only Bakersfield’s favorite Basque restaurant, but it has the distinction of being the bistro where Barbra Streisand and James Brolin dined on their honeymoon. Babs had the pork chops. No one seems to remember or care what J.B. ate.
Twenty minutes later, Kathy thinks Hunter actually looks a bit like James Brolin—the younger Marcus Welby M.D. vintage Brolin—as they drive 24th Street and across north Bakersfield. It’s just after seven o’clock, but the day hasn’t cooled enough to enjoy riding in Hunter’s aging convertible. The BMW looks in good shape for a twelve-year-old car. Kathy would have preferred to put the top up and the air conditioner on high, but Hunter explains the AC is on the fritz.
“How did the Five O’clock Report go?” Hunter asks.
“It went okay, considering the live van was hemorrhaging parts all over California Avenue this afternoon. They say it’s the transmission. But Hunter, I can’t believe you hired a tow truck to haul it half-way across town just so Valerie could do her live shot.”
“But it worked. You see what I was saying about not giving up so easily? We just need to be more creative. Think positive.”
“But it’s embarrassing that we have to tow our equipment around just to get on the air.”
“Well, a new live truck isn’t in the budget, and Santa doesn’t live here. I’ll see what I can do.” After a pause, Hunter asks, “How did they do tonight?”
“Who?” As if Kathy didn’t know.
“Kent and the News Kitten. How’d they do?”
Kathy uses both hands to adjust her sunglasses. “News Kitten?”
“I know what you call her,” Hunter replied. “All of you.”
Kathy squirms. It hadn’t been nasty. Not much, anyway. It’s just… just typical newsroom humor.
Her eyes hurt from the strain of trying to look at Hunter and judge his reaction without actually turning her head in that direction. Funny. Hunter doesn’t look angry at all.
She begins to wonder if he ever gets angry. Maybe Hunter is one of those festering slow-burners who will just go postal some day. How does he stay so cool? In the two months since Hunter arrived at KDOA, his friend the station manager has been fired and everyone in the news department has their jobs on the line. The ratings in July were another disaster and, speaking of disasters, two words: Sugar Kane. She is floundering on the Five O’clock Report. Kathy is panicked, and Hunter doesn’t flinch. He’s either the coolest customer Kathy has ever known or a complete idiot. In the news business, you never know.
“Kent and Sugar? It was another mess.” Kathy says. “Sugar still isn’t following her scripts very well. She throws everybody else off, and Kent is ready to kill her because she steps on his lines when they’re on camera together.”
“They’re not clicking,” Hunter says flatly.
Kathy sighs. She’s getting used to Hunter understating the obvious. “Well, if you thought pairing them on the newscast was going to bring up the ratings, we’re all going to be looking for jobs in the morning.”
Hunter doesn’t answer. He looks at her, but all she can see is the sun’s glare as it bounces off the metal frame of his RayBans.
“We’re not all going to be looking for a job in the morning, are we?” Kathy asks again with fear rising.
Oh no. That’s what this is all about. Hunter wants to get her away from the newsroom to break the bad news. They’re all fired. She’s fired. She should never have nicknamed Sugar the News Kitten. It’s as clear to Kathy as the crude, hand-painted sign in front of Dave’s Tacos where Hunter pulls the Beemer to a stop. Dave’s Tacos?Not even a decent last meal before the execution.
“Everyone is looking for a job,” Hunter says as he climbs from the car. “But no one is going to be fired. Not yet, anyway. We’re golden. No worries. At least through the November ratings period. After that…” Hunter leaves her hanging with a shrug.
“You’re not making me feel much better,” Kathy says. She matches Hunter step for step across the gravel lot. The crunching beneath their feet adds urgency to her voice. “How can you stay so… so disconnected? So calm. We are going to lose our jobs and you’re not worried?”
“Of course I’m worried,” Hunter replies. He reaches to his collar, unbuttons it and loosens his tie with one hand.
Like everything else, Hunter does it with ease. Kathy’s never seen Hunter with a hair out of place or his tie askew before. He tempers this relaxed look by adjusting his tie clip so the material lays flat and orderly against his shirt.
“To be honest, I’m flat-out scared,” he says.
“Scared?” she asks, surprised. “You don’t look it.”
“Scared enough to do something I never thought I could.”
Kathy thinks for a moment. “You hired the News Kitten.”
Hunter takes off his sunglasses and looks at her. Damn that look. He’s given Kathy that look once or twice before, sly and full of amusement. It’s as if he has just shared a naughty secret with her, and the look says they understand one another perfectly.
“I hired the News Kitten,” he confirms.
Kathy looks at Hunter with new admiration. It’s an amazingly candid admission. And admitting it was a desperate move proves Hunter isn’t as clueless as she had feared.
“It didn’t work,” she says.
“It will, trust me.” Hunter says. “I’m not as clueless as you think.”
Oops. If he thinks Sugar will work out in the end, Kathy is back to questioning Hunter’s sanity. This is getting too confusing.
Hunter says, “It isn’t working, but that’s just phase one. What do you want?”
“What do I want?”
Hunter points to the tiny stucco kitchen that serves Dave’s Tacos. “What do you want?”
Dave only offers three items on the menu. Beef. Beef tongue. And chicken. Take your pick for a buck and a half. Kathy shudders at the thought of beef tongue.
“Chicken,” she says quickly.
Since both of Dave’s plastic patio tables are taken, Hunter and Kathy dine while leaning against the fender of his BMW. He becomes evasive when Kathy presses him about phase two of his plan to save the newsroom. Hunter changes the subject.
“Is this great, or what? Only in Bakersfield can someone drop that shack on a vacant lot and have people lined up to buy tacos. Is there a real Dave?”
She inspects the chicken wrapped in tortilla. Disappointed, she wonders what lamb from The Wool Growers would taste like in a tortilla like this. She would even settle for the Basque pickled-beef tongue. So much for a romantic dinner. Well, at least she still has a job—until November.
“I’m not sure about Dave,” she says. “But the building is new. He used to sell out of one of those mobile kitchens. You know, a roach coach. And worse. For years, Dave—if there is a real Dave—used to park in any vacant lot he could find. So you’d have to drive all over town to find him.”
“I guess he’s settled down,” Hunter muses.
Kathy still can’t get much from Hunter as they stroll north along Chester Avenue sipping diet Coke. The sun is setting, and a light breeze carries the promise of a nighttime temperature that might drop all the way into the eighties.
“If hiring Sugar was just phase one,” she says, “then I assume you do have a phase two?”
Hunter nods but doesn’t offer any more. It’s as if he’s still formulating the plan. They stop walking across from a traffic circle that sits in the shadow of an elevated highway. A statue, about twenty feet tall, stands in the middle of that round patch of green on Chester Avenue. It waves to the motorists who barely slow down enough to negotiate the circle, let alone acknowledge the monument. Hunter asks her about it.
“That’s Padre Garces. He was the first white man in this part of the valley. Taught the Indians. Martyred, naturally. That’s how you get a statue.”
“Either that, or you have a good PR machine,” Hunter says.
He takes advantage of a break in the traffic to jog across to the traffic circle. Hunter stands at Padre Garces’ feet and looks down Chester Avenue toward downtown. When Kathy catches up to him, Hunter is nodding like someone who has just wrestled a decision and won. The light has returned to his eyes.
“Phase two,” Hunter replies. “You want to know about phase two?” He pauses as a big truck on the highway above them downshifts and fills the air with a loud, depressing moan.
“Crack babies,” Hunter says.
“That’s phase two?”
“You were right about Sugar. She’s not the answer. Sugar alone isn’t going to be enough to pull us out of this hole. Give me crack babies.”