Friday, February 27, 2009

An Independent Contractor Looks at Forty

Eighteen years without benefits, without security. You make the sacrifice because producing TV Sports beats working for a living. It also means you can do life on your terms. You can live six years as a single guy on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and do whatever it is that New Yorkers do. You can move from city to city, supporting your spouse’s career in local TV news. You can spend five months a year as a full-time parent. Then you turn forty. And your perspective changes.

“After all my years I’ve found, occupational hazard being my occupation’s just not around.” Jimmy Buffett

I’m not that different from Jimmy Buffett’s “Pirate” going from port to port, trying to build up my riches so I can come home for a while and spoil my family…just to hit the road again when the tank hits empty.

Seriously, eighteen years of this. What do I have to show for it? A low six-figure salary. A couple of random Emmy nominations. A Delta Platinum card.

That’s kind of over-simplifying things. My work is captivating. Live TV is the ultimate mix of stress and stress release. But where is my career going? What will I be doing down the road for my kids in these uncertain economic times?

"Any 20-year old who isn’t a liberal doesn’t have a heart. Any 40-year old who isn’t a conservative doesn’t have a brain.” Winston Churchill

Am I figuring this out too late, on the eve of cuarenta? Do I have to change my vote from this past election? Or do I just oppose this administration as I did the previous one. Not likely. I am happily trapped in a lifestyle now and a few extra tax dollars aren’t going to unravel it yet.

But what if the career goes away altogether? I am certain that more dynamic, higher-paid talent have been laid off in this recession. How will I be responsible to my family then? Don’t cry about it. Act your age. I’m a man. I’m forty.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Backtime with Stephen Howard: It's the Journey, not the Destination

If you’re ever on “Millionaire” and you’re stumped on world geography, this man is your lifeline.

Stephen Howard was an Academic All-American at DePaul where he is the #6 all-time scorer and is #5 in rebounds. But that was just Act I of his hoops career.

After two-plus seasons with Utah and a couple of cups of coffee with San Antonio and Seattle, you’d think he’d earn a “journeyman” label. Not even close.

Try professional hoop stops in: Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Puerto Rico, Philippines, China, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. That’s 12 foreign countries, and that doesn’t even count his time served in Utah.

Steve is a relative newcomer to the TV side of basketball, but you’d figure with life experience like that he’ll pick it up quick.

Where does a style-horse like the 6’9” Stephen Howard get his threads? In the Philippines, of course. He estimates 20 suits and 25 pairs of shoes, all customized and top-quality at a fraction of the cost that it would be here in the states. Then you go out with him and catch a glimpse of the designer wallet from China and the one-of-a-kind necklace from Lebanon.

Steve is 38, and features off-beat comedian quotes as his e-mail tag. He resides in his home town of Dallas, TX and will call the early rounds of the Big 12 Championship for the Big 12 Network. Then...back to life as an international man of mystery and intrigue? He'll be sure to keep you guessing about his next move.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Here's The Situation: Ron Franklin's Oscar Picks

Fans of major college football and basketball appreciate the drama (and occasional comedy) that comes through the narration of Ron Franklin. Ron not only appreciates the drama from the live action, but from Hollywood.

Ron has seen virtually all the films nominated and offers his predictions with his take:

Best Picture – Slumdog Millionaire - Just an incredible story of perseverance. The living conditions were captured in a way never seen before.

Best Actor – Frank Langella “Frost/Nixon” – An underrated actor “nailed” Nixon like nobody had yet.

Best Actress – Kate Winslet “The Reader” – She could have won for this or “Revolutionary Road” – which she wasn’t nominated for.

Best Director – Ron Howard “Frost/Nixon” – Felt like you were transported back in time and the tension really escalates.


Gran Torino” – A beautiful film and a definitive statement on prejudice and racism.

Leonardo DiCaprio “Revolutionary Road” – Compelling performance in a depressing turn about broken dreams.

There's the situation from a man who can call drama when he sees it.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Got an Eskimo Jones

Stillwater, Oklahoma isn't the easiest place to get to. But there is plenty worthwhile once you get there. The Cowboy hoops squad got some senior leadership from Byron Eaton today, closed out Baylor to go 6-6 in the Big 12, and kept their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.

After the game, you gotta go to Eskimo Joe's. The only problem is that everybody else does too. When we arrived were told it's a 90-minute wait. I looked at the list and we were immediately behind groups of 8,9, and 20. We went to the bar to take our chances, and were served promptly. After a cold beverage, time for the house specialty.

That's right, chili-cheese fries (If my wife happens to be reading this - I took the picture from the table next to us - I of course had a salad with a side of fruit). Anyway, our neighboring patrons sure looked like they enjoyed them.

Great place to watch the hoops, talk sports, and buy all kinds of gear. The kids already bounce around Savannah playgrounds in their Eskimo Joe's hoodies.

Unless OSU winds up in the NIT, and I happen to be assigned there, old Joe will have to keep a seat saved for me in the fall. My arteries hopefully will have softened up by then.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Attention Tannenbaum, Jets: Don't Sweat, Turn the Corner

I know the last week has been busy. I know there's no QB. That isn't exactly a new problem. I can remember as far back as December of '08 when that was an issue.

But the NFL's most important position has become so much right place, right time, right system. Two rookies led their teams to the playoffs, one to a conference championship game. An undrafted World League/Arena afterthought just took his team to the SuperBowl for the 3rd time. And, need I invoke the draft position of Tom Brady or does everyone already know it?

Finding a veteran top-notch cover corner, someone to put opposite 23-year old phenom Darrelle Revis is much more crucial. You think there are any guys like that out there? Ya think? You think one may have played all 10 of his NFL seasons on Rex Ryan's defense?

Chris McAlister has been (justifiably) overshadowed for years on a defense that has featured Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs. But a lot of those guys are free to make plays because McAlister has had one side of the field under wraps.

McAlister was a 3-way threat as a collegian at Arizona, and carried that to the pros with 7 career TDs, 3 Pro Bowls , and even an INT in the Super Bowl. He has had injury concerns in recent years, but that doesn't top the list of the 8 million reasons Baltimore cut him.

So Mike Tannenbaum, pick up the phone and get this corner off the market.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Going Green isn't always healthy

Meet the “Jet” bag – 20+ pounds of tapes, music, media guides, and ancillary production crap. It’s all heaped in there, and for the duration of the basketball season it is attached to my hip.

I have to take it carry-on because I don’t trust the airlines sending it where it absolutely has to be. I even strap it into my rental car with a seatbelt.

Sunday was the watershed moment. Carrying all this stuff – my lower back finally gave out. Any efforts to stretch it felt like trying to untie a pretzel with a wrench.

I’ve been downing Advil like Dr. House, without letting the pain make me quite as surly with my team. Though I reserve the right to surliness, since nobody has offered to take this green albatross off of my shoulders all season.

My wife suggests Bayer Back & Body – that’s the next move. In the meantime, I’m wearing sneakers to hoop game for the first time ever (I think) – it won’t score me any points in Holly Rowe’s Producer Style Power Rankings.

Nothing like a two hour drive and a 5:30 AM flight home to iron out the kinks. It will be good to get back to the casa and give my back...time.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Backtime catches up with Bob Carpenter

You might think witnessing and documenting Blake Griffin’s 40-point, 23-rebound performance would have been the highlight of my Hallmark Holiday away from home. Or maybe sitting a couple of tables from Jerry Springer at O’Hare.

It was actually my afternoon working with Bobby C. He’s the pro’s pro, and we go back over 15 years. Today’s rendezvous on the Big 12 Network is further proof that life is a circle.

Bob is now 55, and he'll be sure to tell you that he’s a “network has-been.” But don’t cry for the TV voice of the Washington Nationals. I asked him how many games he does in a season. He smiled “A hundred and sixty-two.” And he didn’t include spring training. Who needs a network when you’re already in the majors? Bob's partner in 2009 will be Rob Dibble.

He still calls Tulsa home in the baseball off-season, calling Oklahoma men’s and women’s games (both teams are ranked #2 nationally), and hosting Jeff Capel and Sherri Coale Coach’s shows.

Bob is the creator and distributor of “Bob Carpenter’s Scorebook,” the best baseball scorebook in the world for the serious broadcaster/TV producer/fan. He has sent out close to a thousand books, collecting some cash on the side. You can order it at

Well, it was nice to connect with a familiar face, and hear the familiar voice featured so many times throughout Mark McGwire’s 1998 run. We keep meaning to collaborate on the definitive baseball cliché book. Until then Bob:

See. You. Later.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Flying for a Living and Living to think about it

It’s a numbing scene. It’s background noise. Those of us in “the business” take it for granted every single day. Maybe you didn’t get your upgrade. Maybe it took too long to get service in the pub at B terminal. Maybe your travel department forced you way out of your way to save money. Life this time of year is about getting from Point A to Point B. But today was different.

Today we learned that Continental Connection flight 3407 left Newark last night and never got to Point B -Buffalo, New York. Now we all know that we are more likely to get hit by a bus crossing the street or get hit by lightning on the golf course rather than die in a plane crash, but it still hits home.

Having lived in NYC for 6 years, I could picture myself on a USAir flight to Charlotte, and a commuter flight to Buffalo seems familiar too. Maybe, wherever you headed today, on Friday the 13th, you thought how lucky you are that airport travel is more about hassles than potential danger.

Maybe when you left Point A today, you thought about your family. Maybe you didn’t sweat the small stuff. Maybe you booked your next flight.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Border War is Re-born

In this day and age, we in sports TV are often victims of political correctness. You can’t refer to a long pass as a “bomb,” a 3-point shooter as a “sniper” and certainly don’t call a long-standing rivalry “war.”

Except when Kansas and Missouri mix it up. That’s the “Border War” – both fan bases call it that. Local-based cable channel Metro Sports even put out a 2-hour documentary chronicling the history of the hatred called…(drumroll, please) “The Border War.”

I watched the entire 2-hour event, that was produced and created by Erik Ashel, and I’m convinced he’s the Ken Burns of Kansas City. His resume should go directly to Home Box Office.

What a lot of people don’t know about the feelings divided by the Missouri River is that they were born from actual war. Whichever side you were on from 1861-1863, there are still battle lines drawn today.

I had the pleasure of watching 15,000+ jam-pack Mizzou Arena on Monday night, in the biggest game in the brief history of that venue.

The Missourians, who had been doormats on the basketball side of the KU rivalry (There’s a reason the above KU T-shirt is displayed more prominently), were down-and-out again, trailing by 14 at the half. But the Tigers wouldn’t quit. They forced 27 Jayhawk turnovers, climbed all the way back in, and hit, effectively, two game-winners in the final minute.

Missouri is 21-4 and look to be headed toward a Top 10 ranking. Their next battery of tests will come in March, but well before the madness. They have a return engagement in Lawrence, Kansas on March 1. Then they welcome the #2 Oklahoma Sooners to Columbia on March 4.

Will Missouri fans dig into the history books to find a reason to hate Oklahoma? If they sweep Kansas, there won’t be any need.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Smart Alex can read the signs

Life is a series of decisions. This one was staring A-Rod in the face.

When you go to an MLB game and see Alex Rodriguez, he’s an automaton. He’ll do his standard machinations when he steps into the batter’s box, and take his customary deep breath. You don’t think of him as one who would ever sacrifice, until now.

He won’t garner a whole lot of sympathy for cheating with PEDs (baseball’s WMDs) while he was the highest-paid player in baseball. But he has come clean in a round-about way and America will forgive, if not forget.

The other choices were to be indignant (Bonds), defiant (Clemens), or evasive (McGwire). All three now are persona non grata with both MLB and their once-adoring public. Rodriguez took the path not taken, and for that alone, he should be respected.

Like everything Rodriguez does, this move seems very calculated. His unwillingness to reveal much in the way of specifics in the Gammons interview still leaves a bad taste. But, he admitted to a lot more than Jason Giambi, who continues to be popular in the baseball community.

Contrition is the key. This discussion, like any other from this generation in this sport, has a shelf-life. A-Rod’s playing career will almost certainly out-live it.

If anything, it opens the floodgates for many others to come forward who experimented during an era in which PEDs were overlooked by the baseball hierarchy and the athletes went untested.

Alex Rodriguez has stepped forward and shown some character in this February moment. Now Yankee fans, like myself, will expect our faith to be rewarded by him this October.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Backtime with Fran Fraschilla: Top 5 Restaurant Chains

If you know Fran, he’s the typical coach. He doesn’t appreciate the subtleties of the unique college town eateries. He’s a creature of habit and gave BACKTIME his definitive go-to restaurant “Fran”chise list.

1) McAlister’s – You can find this gourmet sandwich chain in practically every Big 12 city. Fran gets “The Patriot” (turkey, lettuce, and cranberry) each time. I’ve been there. He’d eat 365 of them a year if he could.

2) Panera Bread – Pumpkin muffin for breakfast. Morning routine. Keeps him regular.

3) Outback – Fran’s idea of fine dining: 7 oz filet with garlic mash.

4) Cracker Barrel – “Saturday is chicken & rice day” as Fran rubs his hands together in anticipation.

5) Applebee’s – The only place to eat in Norman after a night game. Unfortunately, what you eat in Norman doesn’t necessarily stay in Norman.

Sixth Man award to Bob Evans – You need that Big Boy coming off the bench with a hearty breakfast once in a while.

I picture Todd Blackledge reading this and his bus tumbling off the side of the road.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Lawrence, Kansas: A Midwest Oasis

When it's a dreary day in February and I ache for my family...when I think I'm just too road-weary, I get to a familiar place and catch my second wind. There are so many superlatives that make Lawrence my favorite college town:

My favorite remodeled 19th century hotel.

My favorite hotel pub/restaurant.

The best mac'n'cheese in America. (sorry, Mom)

The haunted hotel room.
(I've tried a dozen times but the picture won't stay in line)

The best college basketball venue in America.
(the reason I'm here)

Now I can't call Kansas my favorite team. The truth is I want every game to be a buzzer-beater and I don't care who wins. But let's just say I hope the Jayhawk program continues to thrive so I can continue to come back here.

Kansas won yesterday to go 8-0 in the Big 12. Now they head to Coulmbia, Missouri for Big Monday that will be the biggest game for Mizzou in years. That campus will be crazed. Let's see what kind of a show the Tigers put on!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Bridge & Tunnel Hit and Run

"Don't let the past remind us of what we are, not now..." CSN

My yearly trip back to the old neighborhood was actually a trip to Newark. A train to a subway (I was embarrased I couldn't remember which was the express or the local) led me to my old front door. The slice of pizza was nostalgic. The old seat at the Dive Bar, although clear of smoke in the air, was just old. Seeing the family for dinner was comfortable.

Back to business - Seton Hall taking on St. John's in a Big East "old school" matchup in Newark. Now this takes me back. Back before the Big East was powered by teams like Louisville and Marquette. The Big East is like the Borg from Star Trek, assimilating teams left and right to add to an all-powerful collective.

It reminds me of what a Jersey kid and NYC dweller loved about the Big East. A couple of local schools who fed off local talent. Now St. John's and Seton Hall are fighting to stay relevant in the Big East 2.0. Both teams are very young - 8 of the 10 starters are sophomores, and the future is in their hands.

Hope you catch the action from "The Rock" - the Prudential Center. It's the newly minted jewel of downtown Newark, and may or may not have been built by Ralph Cipharetta representing Soprano family interests.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What Exactly Do You Do?

Art Garfunkel was once asked that. Paul Simon wrote the songs and played the guitar, while Garfunkel provided only half of the vocals. Garfunkel rambled thoughtfully about being a producer of the record (back when we had records), and how he had to manipulate all the subtle nuances to create the final package.

As a producer, I can relate. When you watch a sports broadcast on TV, I’m not the guy calling the game, cutting the cameras, or coordinating the graphics. So what exactly do I do?

I have one boss who likens the producer role to a conductor of an orchestra, bringing all the different components of the show into harmony.

If I were my own boss (which, technically, I am), I would say that being a producer is about weaving a tapestry of storytelling and using all the personnel and equipment at my disposal to create a seamless journey through synergy and association. And I would make damn sure I was wearing a suit and tie when I said it.

Look, the real fun part of a production only really happens around getting all your breaks in, and running all your promos and sales obligations. That’s when it’s time to get creative and use your instincts. To try and anticipate what happens next and hope that you haven’t only mapped it out in your own head, and properly communicated it to your crew.

Content. Visuals. Replays. Graphics. Music. Forecasting. Sometimes you do nothing but enjoy the sounds of silence. A lot goes into producing a live TV show. I used to joke with a colleague that “You have no idea what I do.” That makes two of us.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Waco on the Way

When you’re on a long stretch on the road like I am, the Super Mario-like obstacles that impede your progress become less annoying and more comic.

Some years ago, I stopped complaining about the “now” and focused on the “next” – the only problem about problem-solving is my mind often races in 5th gear when my body is in neutral.

It all started earlier this week when my 2-day business trip got extended to 9 days thanks to the Oklahoma ice storms. The “now” was I wasn’t going to get home for a while. The “next” was a shopping spree at the JC Penney in Coralville, Iowa. I had three more games to produce and I didn’t feel right going to work in sweats.

After 4 days barnstorming in Iowa (I can now identify in some measure with the presidential hopefuls), I headed for the final outpost between the road and home: Waco, Texas.

On my half-filled commuter flight from DFW, some cowboy moved to the empty seat in front of me right before takeoff, then reclined his seat back all the way back as soon as we were in the air. This was a breach of frequent-flying etiquette and I pondered how to let him know.

If it were longer than a 20-minute flight I probably would have kicked his chair or unfolded my newspaper in such a way that he’d be wearing it as a hat. But I let it go.

It reminded me of the best revenge I ever got on a fellow traveler – it was many years ago. This husky 300+ pound guy sat next to me, dominated the armrest, fell asleep immediately and snored in my face for over 2 hours. When the flight was over, he had no clue where his shoes were. That was pretty mean, but it felt so good.

So I landed in Waco about 8:45 on a Saturday night and got to the Hertz counter. But there was no agent. In fact, there was no agent at any counter. But I had a reservation. There was nobody to cry to, so I collected my mountain of baggage and found an airport policeman outside. It was a helpful conversation.

EP: Excuse me officer, I have a reservation at Hertz, but there’s nobody there.

COP: Yeah, she goes home about 6 on Saturdays.

EP: Can I call a cab?

COP: Might take about a half-hour. Waco’s only got one cab company and they’re clear across town.

EP: Who do you have to be to get help around here, George W. Bush?

COP: Well he’s just John Q. Citizen now. If his helicopter lands at this airfield at this time on a Saturday night, he’s SOL. He’ll just have to call his wife to pick him up like everyone else.

I thanked him. I was just as helpless as before, but at least I was smiling. Out of the corner of my eye I caught the American flight crew piling into a hotel shuttle. I jumped in with them even though it wasn’t my hotel. I humped my gear a couple of clicks up to my hotel and got on line to check in. When it was finally my turn, an old woman in wheelchair cut me off – she nearly ran over my foot - and started asking the guy at the front desk a bunch of inane questions.

What was I going to do? Tell off the rude old lady in a wheelchair? The front desk guy took pity and told her “let me check this gentleman in first.” My first victory in Waco. Not even the ATF could take it away from me.

If you’ve never been to Waco, this is a very Christian town. The hotel doesn’t offer laundry service on Sundays. So here I am, at a coin-operated laundromat for the first time since I was an NYC bachelor. Oh, and I had to walk since I don’t have a car.

But the trip will get better. We’re looking forward to enjoying the Super Bowl at Cricket’s. My man Bubba was in Vegas for last night’s big UFC battle and he threw down some scratch for me. Big Monday is at Baylor for the first time in 8 years and it should be a great scene.

And I will be home in 48 hours. But got to finish the job in Waco on the way.