A Billionaire Ignores My Advice

A Billionaire Ignores My Advice

I had just returned from a whirl-wind tour of Europe. Six cities in 14 days. As a young American man in his twenties, I didn’t appreciate how old everything looked. Rome (ancient), Paris (Eiffel tower-so what?) Berlin (grim), London (too proper), Amsterdam (where does all the water go?), Copenhagen (beautiful blond girls with blue/green eyes – don’t remember anything else :) Why didn’t I stay?

I got on the bus in New Jersey on my way to what I expected to be a very exciting job – salesman for a television program distribution company, on Park Avenue, New York City. Once in the city, I proceeded on two more buses until I reached Park Avenue and 59th street. Standing on the corner looking south, I had to inhale as my breath was taken from my chest. Park Avenue was split in the middle by a series of grass islands between each numbered street, all the way to 43rd street, where  the view was blocked by the old Pan Am building strattled across the avenue. Both sides of the islands had canals laid with black asphalt – one going south, the other north. As my eyes were drawn south they were pulled up from the street to reveal each side of the avenue’s glass sky scrapers standing proudly, glistening in the sun.

“My God – this is America!”  I said to myself. In one moment, I realized what a great country I lived in. I wanted to run to my new job which was in a 38 story sky scraper on the left-hand, or east side of this great throughoufare, on fifty-third street. It was one of the great new buildings – The Seagrams building.

I took my time walking down the avenue and as I looked up at all of the sky scrapers. I couldn’t believe how may sales opportunities awaited me. I imagined myself spending a month alone making calls on just one street.

As I approached my new place of employment, I marveled at the steps leading up to a plaza with dual water fountains welcoming me to revolving doors and marble floors in an expansive lobby. A sign pointed to the entrance of one of the city’s Power restaurants: “The Four Seasons.”  I would later be mildly scolded for entertaining potential clients at my “Power Luncheons.” On any given day, you were lunching with the city’s power brokers, celebrities and sports stars. I decided quite quickly that I liked this life.

Much copied but not matched, the Seagram Building is generally recognized as the finest example of skyscrapers in the International Style.

The elevator whisked me up to the 36th floor and my new office. I loved it. It looked out over the entire city. The man who owned Sterling Communications, Inc., also owned Sterling Movies. He was known to everyone as “Chuck”,  or Charles Dolan. Before I was hired, I had to pass a screening test by a sales psychologist, something unheard of at this time. Two weeks later I received a call that I had passed, and could report to work the following Monday.

Sterling Communications also owned Manhattan Cable (now Warner Cable) and Chuck was in the process of laying millions of feet of cable underneath Manhattan’s sidewalks and streets. It was an enormous task, frought with political backlash, not to mention kazillions of dollars in financing. In these early days, I could sense that it was a touch-and-go undertaking. I can still vividly remember my first comments, “What is this guy crazy?”

Manhattan cable went to hotel rooms in those early days, and the company had a difficult time getting anyone in a hotel room to watch what was essentially a news ticker. And then came along Michael J. McCurdy with an idea that would transform the world of cable. I am sure that with this idea alone, Chuck Dolan would make me a vice president. After spending several days flirting with his secretary, I gave her a note for Mr. Dolan…would she please pass it on to him. She smiled, and said yes!

Weeks went by before I got the courage to ask her if he had seen it. Yes, he had.

That was it – nothing else. How could he not see the benefit of having “Live Burlesque” on his channel in hotel rooms! Surely every man visiting New York could not wait until he registered at his hotel. The press would have a field day. I consoled myself by rationalizing that he was just too busy to get back to me. :)

Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia:  In 1972, Mr. Dolan founded Home Box Office Inc (HBO) the first premium programming service in the cable television industry. After selling Home Box Office to Time-Life, Inc. (now Time Warner), he organized Cablevision Systems Corporation on Long Island, and has spearheaded many of the company’s advancements. In 1986 he took the company public, and since 1992 the stock has risen by 400%. Estimated worth is 2.3 billon dollars.

Oh yeah, he also owns Madison Square Garden, the NY Knicks, NY Rangers, and Radio City Music Hall. Me? I was wooed away a year later to a television production company as a producer. I loved every minute in a long career. Now?  I’m writing this blog :) If only Chuck had read my note :)

Mike McCurdy, Founder/Publisher   HealthNewsDigest.com

New York City’s First Marathon – From One Woman to 26,525

New York City’s First Marathon – From One Woman to 26,525

It was a balmy Saturday afternoon one fine spring when I received a phone call from an old high school friend of mine, Jimmy. He had just moved into New York City after a short-lived marriage. After we got past the reminicing, he asked me if I were working out anymore. Jimmy was the captain of our basketball team, and I had labored on our football team. “No, not really. Just elbow bending.”

Jimmy had developed knee problems, and was forced to quit his college team. “Mike, yesterday as I was taking a shower, I felt my butt, and it’s soft as a girls. I couldn’t make a muscle!”  He went on to ask me if I were interested in starting a morning jogging routine. The next morning we began running on an oval track in Central Park, that for me, develped into years or rewarding exercise. Not only did it get me back into shape, but it does wonders for your daily mental outlook.

I started to run the six-mile road that weaves through the park, every morning at 6 am. What do I remember most of those first few years?  There was only one woman brave enough to be in Central Park at that hour running by herself. Most curiously, she ran the entire six-miles with her head down, looking at the pavement. On most occassions I ran with a male friend, and if we came across her, we would run behind her at a comfortable distance, just to let her know she wasn’t alone.

As the years went on, the number of women runners greatly increased, until I noticed in the 90’s, that the number of women running, matched that of men. In the 2007 marathon, the field had 26,525 female runners! 

I ran in two early New York City marathons, underestimating how much training is necessary, and only finished 12 miles, each time. Instead of running 2 miles every day, I would have to run at least six, starting in January. In 1989 I began running six-miles per day, in an attempt to finish the race in November. One-week before the marathon, I caught the flu and was bedridden for two-days. On the morning of the marathon I bundled up and got myself to the start line on the Veranzano bridge. I made it through Brooklyn, Queens, and entered Manhattan at 59th street and 1st avenue. I was totally out-of-steam, but gallantly made my way to 75th street and First avenue, which is exactly the 17 mile mark. On that corner is a famous Irish pub, the Wicked Wolf, which I decided was my finish line. Everybody cheered me as I entered the establishment, and a cold beer was waiting for me!  I chugged it down – then quickly barfed it up…so much for marathons. Since then I just cheer on all of the women :)

Mike McCurdy, Founder/Publisher – HealthNewsDigest.com

Help! There’s a Blind Woman Trapped Underneath It!

The Big Black Dog Climbing Out of the Ground

I hate November in New York. Always have. Skies are various shades of grey – all month. This day, 10 years ago was no exception. For me, nasty means three elements hitting you at once. Wind, sleet and extreme cold fits the bill. I was walking west on 40th street between 8th and 9th avenues towards the Portof Authority bus terminal. I usually rented a car to go see my mother in New Jersey. Not today.

The bus was the most direct and convenient transportation. At 8am I could see throngs of people flowing out of the terminal, heads down, not wanting to speak or acknowledge anyone they might bump into. I gingerly walked on the ice-free foot trodden path that was at most two-feet wide that was bordered on each side by a mound of ice. The wind was so strong, that I could barely make out the head of a big black dog appearing to come up out of the ground. When it reached the sidewalk, it just stood there. Three-seconds later, a woman wearing sun glasses appearing up from the ground stood next to the dog and fitted her gloves tightly on her hands, reached down to the dogs back, and picked up the handle of her seeing-eye dog. They were coming out of the subway. I hesitated, allowing her to go ahead of me, although she was unaware of my action. She proceeded to walk towards the corner when a man shoving a clothing cart in front of her came careening around the corner directly into her path. His head was down, pushing and balancing the cart on the ice mounds, not watching where he was going. I started to Scream at him, attempting to calm my shrill voice and chocked on foul language before it escaped my mouth. He stopped when he looked up briefly to see my waving hands. The blind woman, was black and appeared to be in her early thirties. She stopped in her tracks, and screamed “What’s Happening – What’s Happening?”  I placed my hand on her shoulder, and in a firm but calm voice said, “Everything is Ok…there is just a cart in front of us that is going to move soon.” I looked up at the man who had stopped the cart right in front of us, and in mime, I told him to get the cart out-of-the-way. This time, I cursed in mime also. He looked me right in the eye, and lifted his hand to his ear and moved it side-to-side, then to his mouth and repeated the same motion with his hand. He was deaf and voiceless! He leaned down again behind his cart and came straight at us, pushing the cart with the empty clothing rack forcefully up on the ice mound and tried to go past us on the street side. As he did so, the cart slipped from the mound and started to fall directly onto me and the woman. I screamed for her to duck down, and with my hand on her back she guided herself to the ground, her seeing-eye dog laying right beside her. The cart was stopped by the empty clothing rack hitting the subway exit guard rail. The cart was tall enough to makeeverything I was looking at appear quite dark. I promised her that everything would be all-right, and on my knees, backed my way out of the lean-to enclosure and then stood straight up looking at a mass of people stopped in the street looking right at me and the cart. Standing ten-feet away, stairing straight at me were three black men appearing to be in their late 20s to early 30s. If looks could talk, I was about to get my head ripped-off!

“Hey You Guys” I screamed at them, “I’ve got a blind black girl with her dog underneath the cart!”  “COME ON, HELP ME GET IT OFF!”

In a split second they picked it up and removed it to the street. I saw the deaf man immediately get behind his cart, and go on his way.

I reached down to the woman, petted her dog, picked her up, and we walked together to bustling 9th avenue which was now only twenty-yards away. We stopped at the corner, and she profusely thanked me, and said that she would be OK, and said goodbye. I insisted on walking her across 9th avenue, and she repeatedly refused, which befuddled me. She relented and then told me that she just got the job two-months ago and wanted to prove to them that she needed no help in getting to work. It was Ok for me to walk with her, but not all the way down the block, lest her supervisors see us.

As we were mid-way across the avenue, she said to me “see that gas station on the corner? Do you see how that man has not cleared the snow and ice from his sidewalk?” I acknowledged. “We have requested that he clear it up three-times, but he hasn’t done it. But we’re not going to let him get us down!”

I kissed her on the cheek and said goodbye, as I watched her and her dog proceed to the non-profit agency for the blind, where she now worked.

My initial reaction was to go and find the three black men who helped us and tell them about the gas station guy…but relaxed and realized that the woman that I had just spent a slice-of-life with, was the strongest of us all!

Mike McCurdy, Founder/Publisher – HealthNewsDigest.com

All About Celebrity

All About Celebrity – Who Was the Nicest?

What is celebrity anyway? Do you immediately think of Paris Hilton or Britney Spears?  It’s been said that Paris Hilton is famous for being famous. As for  Britney Spears, a person with genuine talent; I actually feel sorry for her.  She has everything, and yet nothing. I hope she get’s it together. During my 9 years publishing HealthNewsDigest.com, and 25 years as a television producer, I have met my full share of celebrities from movies, tv, theatre, sports and industry, and a few politicians for good measure. From directing them in commercials, to interviewing them for HND. If you’re like most people you are already thinking, “Who was the nicest?”  Well, let me tell you of an experience I had a few years ago that taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. I was invited to make a lunch-time presentation to a major pr agency here in New York, on producing and distributing public service commercials for television/cable. The conference room, I noted, was filled with 16 women, all under the age of 30 - I guessed. All looked highly educated, attractive and well groomed. During a presentation of this type, a producer normally likes to drop names of who he/she has worked with. I rattled off a few names, and for good measure, I noted that I was the only one to direct Miss Helen Hayes in a television commercial!  There was a time when this was held in high esteem. This was not one of them. The room was deadly silent. I reached out into the air, and could not grab what I had said and put it back in my big mouth. I was dead. No one knew who Helen Hayes was, and perhaps even worse, I had dated myself back into the prehistoric ages. For those of you over 40, I know you feel my pain :) Here is her official biography:

 ”Helen Hayes’ career in entertainment surpasses most others in years as well as in achievements. She began acting at the age of five and didn’t stop until she was 85. Helen is one of only two women to receive all four prestigious entertainment awards: a Tony, Oscar, Emmy and Grammy. In 1983, the Helen Hayes Awards were established, encouraging other aspiring actors and actresses to reach for their goals as she had done.”

It was a great honor for me to be picked to direct her in a television public service commercial. The sponsoring organization was Prudential Insurance, for whom I had produced/directed 36 commercials. However, from here on in I kept it to myself.

One day, the perfect opportunity to redeem myself presented itself in the form of Jennifer Garner. Jennifer is not only a gifted, highly-talented attractive actress, but she has that rare gift of lighting up a room, once she appears in it. If you ever met her, you know what I mean. Last November, we ran this story:

(HealthNewsDigest.com) – New York – Actress Jennifer Garner joined leading medical officials at a press conference today to kick off the American Lung Association’s national Faces of Influenza public awareness campaign, urging Americans to get their annual influenza vaccination. The program is designed to help Americans put a “face” on this serious disease and recognize annual immunization as a safe and effective way to protect themselves and their families against influenza. The American Lung Association also hosted a free influenza immunization clinic, where hundreds of New Yorkers were vaccinated.

I ran this as the Lead Article for the week, and managed to have my picture taken with her, and have displayed it on the site ever since. At first I was getting calls from male readers telling me how lucky I am. But much to my happy surprise, far more young women were calling and asking “What’s she like ?” All of them spoke of their admiration for her. Wow, I thought. This is really working as a public service for the American Lung Association! Women are listening and getting vaccinated!

In one of my future blogs, I will discuss when and when not to use celebrities for a public service campaign.  I will also give you my 4 rules for producing highly effective campaigns.

So, who was the nicest that I have ever met?  That’s tough. But James Garner has to rank way up there for being a genuinely regular guy, and a class act.

Mike McCurdy, Founder/Publisher – HealthNewsDigest.com

The TV Public Service Commercial – How It Started – How to Produce One

The TV Public Service Commercial – How It Started – How to Produce One

So, Where did it all begin?  Well, circa 1966, a lawyer in Washington complained to the Washington Post that with all of the cigarette advertising in newspapers, there should be a public service ad for the anti-smoking people who did not have a voice (or a budget). This got a lot of tv stations across the country nervous. You see, when tv stations go up for license renewal, they have to show what portion of their schedule is devoted to public service time. Bam – Boom – Bang! A new industry was born!

Some producers in New York City and Washington, D.C. began producing what today is known as the tv public service spot. In the 1960s the spots were sixty-seconds in length, and usually were a call to action on safety in the home, driving safety, food safety, and on and on – and, the evils of smoking! The sponsors had a tag at the end of the spot that appeared less than 10 seconds, as the rule was that no sponsor mention could be on longer than that time frame. The big surprise, however, were who the sponsors were – (getting free airtime).  Companies like Prudential Insurance, Metropolitan Life, Avis Rent-A-Car, Gulf Oil, as well as non-profit associations, government, etc. As the 70s began, it became a cottage industry.

Today, sponsors of a public service commercial must be non-profits or not-for-profits. And, as the times changed, so has the length of a spot – to 30 seconds. One of the most popular questions usually is “Yeah, but how many of the airings are in the wee hours of the morning?”  Well, that has a lot to do with what time of the year you release your public service spot. During the summer months, stations in New York City, for example, may have as much as 100 minutes per day devoted to public/community service. That window starts narrowing as you get into September, and receeds even further in October and November. For example, in December, those same stations will have only 3 minutes of public service time per day, due to the heavy load of advertisers. Come January, that figure jumps right back up to 100 minutes. So, your spot will air in what is known as “run of station.”

As someone who has produced/directed over 200 psa’s, I’m going to offer you (for free :) my all-knowing wisdom in one phrase:  “Get Emotional.”    This is what sells public service messages. Don’t let anyone tell you anything different!  Here in New York when I watch the local network affiliates roll out one of their leading stars from their network show, and they say something like: “Don’t Smoke – It’s Not Good For You” – I always say out loud, “What Bull Shit. -  You’re promoting your show!”

If you’re planning to produce a psa for your company or client, the first thing to think of is the concept. Here is where a professional producer of psa’s comes in real handy. He/She can tell you what the current climate is for acceptance, what time-length, and how to distribute (extremely important).
When thinking of the actual production, here is my simple but highly effective procedure: Break the spot down into three sections – the opening, the middle, and the close. The opening should be pure dynamite! Very dramatic. You want the viewers attention.  In the middle portion, you tell your story. The close is a “Call to Action” and here is where we again get emotional. You’ve got to leave the viewer with a strong picture and message.

Distribution: I could write an entire chapter here alone. The distributor has got to be on top of current conditions, and have a strong working relationship with television and cable outlets. You should be getting tens-of-thousands of airings in a three-month period, with the life of the spot being six-months, although you will be getting airings for up to a year. If you would like further information, or a consultation, please email me at:  [email protected].   Mike McCurdy – Founder/Publisher – HealthNewsDigest.com