First TV Job / Miles Davis

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Around 15 years old, a neighbor who worked at Channel 17 in Philadelphia gave me passes to dance on the TV show “Dancin On Air”, a sort of American Bandstand rip off for the 80s trailer trash of the tri-state area.

 

I wasn’t a dancer but that wasn’t the point. I’d be on television. That, and I had passes to invite the prettiest girls in my grade to score points since I had no “wooing” qualities.

 

One girl in particular who always had right of first refusal was Jennifer Genaro, OMG I was in love with her from K-6th grade. Then I was in love with Paul Scarfone from 7-12. Both Italian, smooth olive skin and smelled good.  I’d sit behind Jennifer in class. The shampoo in her hair smelled so good. Petite, beautiful smile, big brown eyes … I digress.

 

The dance tickets were a waste on Jennifer because her mother would never let her date me.  I was Jewish. I’m not sure how true that is, but Jen is married and her mother is dead so, you know … my recollection is fact.

 

Meanwhile, my mother noticed that the TV show’s producer, Mike Nise, a middle aged, disheveled, schlubb of a guy would ogle her with overly demonstrative, octopus-like contact when in his presence. So like any good mother who wanted to help her son, she led him on until he gave me an internship.

 

Every day after school my mother would pick me up from school and drive me 30 minutes to the station to work on “Dancin on Air” and the national sister show “Dance Party USA” on the USA network. The difference between shows? The sign. NKOTB, Jack Wagner, a few of the Jacksons … they all came though Wynnfield, PA to WPHL.

 

Years later when I’d move on to bigger things, I stayed in touch with Mike Nise. He was very nice to me but as I grew up I realized he was full of shit. He’d say to me, “Michael hang on. I got the Tonight Show on the other line”. I’m sure Mike was on with The Tonight Show … for tickets. But he was a nice man who stepped in something good. Maybe he’d do it again.

 

As a sophomore in high school, I skipped morning class to go be in the studio audience of a local morning talk show called “People Are Talking”, a franchise format being used in multiple markets.  It was hosted by people like EXTRA’s Jerry Penacoli, Comedy Tonight’s Bill Boggs and the original trash TV host Richard Bey.

 

Richard was my favorite. Sport coat, black t-shirt, jeans, cowboy boots, blue contacts, and make up so dark he could be either very tan or pakistani. He’d wear the make up the rest of the day. Maybe it was for the attention, maybe a skin condition. I recall his very bulbous nose that bent to the right, He liked himself very much but hey, so did the viewing audience.

 

I was mesmerized by the set. A fake home made up of a living room and kitchen. So real! I couldn’t keep my eyes off the big lumbering cameras, the prompters, the earpieces listening to direction from some unknown person somewhere else.

 

It was then I heard the two words that hooked me. “STAND BY”, and the red light went on. My heart pumped fast and hard. I didn’t watch the show. I was too busy watching the floor manager. I was worried for her. Would she get Richard’s attention to tell him to “wrap it up” or “go to break”? What if he was too engrained? Her sign language was subtle and nonchalant. Fascinating.

 

When the audience was being led out to the lobby, I took a right and stepped into an elevator. I couldn’t leave just yet. I was behind the big metal doors of KYW-TV3 where the magic happened for shows like “Evening Magazine”, “Check It Out”, Eyewitness News and the late night horror show, “Saturday Night Dead” starring Elvira rip off, “Stella” the man-eater from Manayunk. I was stopped once being asked if they could help me. I somehow pulled a name from the rolling credits I had just seen from sitting the studio audience and without a blink said, “I’m waiting on Rob Daniels”. I then gave myself a tour of the station.

 

My father was chairperson of a telethon produced and broadcasted at the station. So that combined with my little infiltration, introduced me to on-air personality, Nancy Glass who later hosted and anchored several national programs. She was tall, blond haired, blue eyed and very funny on the air. A little crush had developed. She introduced me to the Director of Programming, Lisa Nee. Local stations rarely have this position anymore. In the mid 90s budgets dried up for local shows with the exception of news, parades and the black or Hispanic community outreach shows required by the broadcast regulators.

 

Somehow Lisa agrees to hire me as an intern. I was 17 and the youngest intern hired at an NBC affiliate. She also offered to pay for my bus pass to and from the suburbs to the station in center city, in addition to paying my parking on the one or two taping days I’d have to stay late. I don’t know why or how this happened but it was the most exciting time of my life thus far.

 

I had to convince my high school officials to allow me to be eligible for the “work/study” program usually a curriculum for juniors and seniors going to Vo-Tech. They agreed. I would do the state required courses in the morning, and then go to work at the station.

 

KYW-TV had a groundbreaking history. It was the first nationally broadcasted station, home to The Mike Douglas Show and a springboard for many network personalities. It was also the last wave of what local television “was”.

 

During my time there, the network and Westinghouse Broadcasting would bring their test shows to KY before going national. So the stars and guests that came through were numerous.

 

I remember Miles Davis was coming to perform live on the morning talk show in front of a studio audience.

 

I was assisting the producers in moving everyone into place and keeping an eye on Mr. Davis as we got him in the make up chair after a very late arrival. The make up woman was Anne Amiko, a short, heavy, brunette who had worked on every star for the last 20 years.

 

Miles was leaning back in the chair like he was at the dentist. He had his pitch-black sunglasses on and was a little clammy looking. He wasn’t moving a muscle. I figured he was either tired from the road or perhaps had a cold. But eventually I heard the associate producers murmuring and worried. He had arrived high on god knows what, which was not uncommon for him, especially in his final years.

 

As Anne was leaning over him applying make up, Miles awoke from his embalming, reached around the big woman’s body, cupped her ample behind with two hands and attempted to pull her up onto the chair. With a “Come here baby!”, Miles laughed, Anne shrieked, she got a slap on her ass, he got a slap on his face, and the moment ended as fast as it began. But he was now conscious and semi-alert so all were happy.

 

I escorted him to the studio and handed him off to the floor manager during the commercial break. The band was set, Miles took his mark. There was a countdown, the red light, and host Bill Boggs introduced the legend, Miles Davis.

 

The band started playing and Miles stood there holding his horn bobbing his head to the music. A minute in and he still hadn’t played a note. Then finally, the band leads him into his solo, he pulls the famous horn to his lips and he gives one blow … and that was it. One note. The rest of the song he swayed. Not to the music, but to the precursor of perhaps falling over. It’s possible he didn’t even know he was in the middle of a broadcast. And if he did, he probably he thought he was still playing.

 

The producers were nuts over the expense and the embarrassment. They ended up shooting around him. The audience applauded, then went to break, negotiated the probability of a brief interview, followed by his people quickly hustling him out the door to the limo.

 

To me, this was great television. I have seen and been on both sides of many moments like this over the years where you just have to shrug your shoulders and say, “fuck it, it’s show business.

 

 

 More stories and stars in the critically reviewed, soft cover or e-book

“BREAKING OUT OF SHOW BUSINESS: What I Discovered by Not Being Discovered”

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