His very first day on the task at CBS Studios, Donn O’Brien was appointed to act as a “gofer” for a young performer called Elvis Presley. In following years, chance composed him into remarkable roles in leading network operation at CBS.
When war correspondents reported from battle lines in Vietnam, O’Brien was in charge of in some way browsing payment to them – he was the network controller.
When “All in the Household” was breaking questionable ground, O’Brien was the network censor, as vice president of standards and practices. The program’s producer, Norman Lear, called him with concerns. (TELEVISION commercials were censored on quite various premises; companies had to prove that their products really worked.)
NFL commentator John Madden feared flying to games, but O’Brien was there with the solution. He and another network leader had hired him, and he ordered an unique bus to carry the guy he called “fantastic.” At that time, O’Brien was vice President of programming at CBS Sports.
Today a genuinea property agent with Ager Realty on Long Beach Island, and a previous cops commissioner in Glen Ridge, O’Brien is content in this Island paradise that his spouse, Nan, revealed him in 1958. He’ll reasonably keep that he’s not the only next-door neighbor with fascinating life stories to inform in this haven for a host of retired business executives. But the seaside dinner conversation can cover a cast of characters that is a who’s who of stars in an entertainment epicenter.
Ultimately, O’Brien also served on the board of directors of the National Association of Broadcasters and on the International Radio amp; Tv Foundation. After CBS, he directed the budget for production of “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report” from 1987 to 1992. Next off, he produced the original “Bio” series for Aamp; E cable network.
In 1956, the young US Marine veteran was in the ideal place with capability, and ran with it, literally. One task was rendering paychecks to 20 studios around town, so he sprinted the miles to keep the taxi fare stipend. The $15 “was a lot of money” when the regular pay was $2.50 a program.
The office was the sets of such now-classics as “The Ed Sullivan Program” on Sunday night and “The Jackie Gleason Show” on Saturday.
“About half of the theaters that are on Broadway now were television studios then, due to the fact that everything was transmitted live.”
He was a full-time student at NYU on the GI costs while working full-time at CBS. His dad was ill with cancer. At work, young O’Brien was in the middle of network show company history as it took place.
Pick an occasion and ask him about it – yes, he existed the day The Beatles debuted on “The Ed Sullivan Program” phase. He’ll tell you they appeared amazed at the craze unfolding around them.
Jackie Gleason’s ‘Luster’
To start someplace, as he required to this interviewer, we started with the dynamics of live television.
“I was working on the Gleason program when Jackie Gleason was actually doing ‘The Honeymooners’ live as a section of his program.”
The most remarkable angle about seeing from the sidelines as the charismatic actor worked was that “he never ever rehearsed.”
“He had a manufacturer play him and he would watch on the display upstairs then he would go down and do the show and do it live. He was dazzling.”
Gleason had actually read the scripts. However when the audience saw the bold bus driver Ralph Kramden rendering catchphrases like “to the moon, Alice!” they were seeing Gleason “interacting with his cast for the first time.”
Strangely enough, to those tuning in to the show still in syndication today, Gleason didn’t actually like Art Carney, whose character Ed Norton was the absent-minded sewage system worker. Nor did he say much to the backstage employee.
“He was a conceited …,” O’Brien began, of the character whose harsh Brooklyn childhood had actually inspired “The Honeymooners.” But he completed, “There was a sparkle there, and naturally, Sullivan was kind of the very same way.”
O’Brien was in charge of looking after the cast members and guests on the sets – “bringing them to makeup, bringing them down once more.” Many ended up being first-name associates.
To name just a few more on the list of celebrities whom O’Brien fulfilled in his very first year on “The Ed Sullivan Program:” Hank Aaron, Julie Andrews, Louis Armstrong, Maria Callas, Johnny Carson, Bing Crosby, Fats Domino, Eartha Kitt, Jack Paar, Michael Redgrave, Phil Silvers, Kate Smith.
“I knew all them over the years that I was there before I went on to other things; I got Christmas cards from them.”
Elvis and ‘The Fab Four’
As Team First Saw Them
A remarkable network career started that way from day one.
“My very first day on the task I was working backstage on ‘The Ed Sullivan Program’ and the cast of ‘ The ManyOne of the most Delighted Fella’ and the cast of ‘Showgirls’ were backstage and they were actually pissed since this person Elvis Presley was beginning and taking their thunder,” O’Brien recalls.
“They just weren’t of the same category as Elvis Presley, nor was I. I didn’t understand who the hell he was, truly; I had been in the Marine Corps, who was this person?
“They stated, ‘care for the talent,’ so I was accountableaccountabled for Elvis Presley. I took him approximately makeup, brought him down, got him ready; I was his gofer for the day.”
What transpired that Oct. 28, 1956 was “interesting,” O’Brien continues in his recollection.
“There have to have been a thousand individuals out on 53rd Street due to the fact that of him. And at the end of the program, we couldn’t get him out of the building. So we brought a limo service around to 53rd Street and afterwards we snuck him out the front door on Broadway. People damaged the limo.”
This “phenomenon” had pleasantly carried himself on the set as “the nicest, nicest guy,” O’Brien said.
The showgirls altered their tune. “He increased to each one of these women, ‘Howdy, ma’am.'”
O’Brien had advanced at the network by the time The Beatles famously debuted on the Sullivan program Feb. 9, 1964. But he was on hand to witness.
Twice, Sullivan had actually seen the female frenzy over the band at airports when he had actually traveled to England. He knew he wanted to reserve them on the program.
Sullivan later told The New York Times, “I comprised my mind that this was the same sort of mass struck hysteria that had identified the Elvis Presley days.” That is according to the main Ed Sullivan show internet site.
O’Brien was among 728 people enjoying from there inside Studio 50. Sullivan’s introduction was drowned out by the screaming audience. Across America, a record-shattering 73 million tuned in, three-quarters of the total adult audience in the US
“They were simply terrific, and they simply went up (from there),” O’Brien said.
“They were gangly young children. They were simply amazed; they had never ever been to New york city prior to.”
Into a Fight Zone
The degree from NYU in management and finance led O’Brien into that function for the network.
“I moved into the corporate world and I was involved in that for a while, and they found me and I think I discovered them, too. I was repairing things and putting out fires. For circumstances, at one time, I was the payroll manager.”
Simply as tv was live, payment systems were far from electronic. Nor existed FedEx.
“We were paying 35,000 people regular with checks in New york city for the whole country – for the company-owned stations, for CBS Home entertainment in HoIlywood, for Columbia Records production, for all of it – and it was a catastrophe,” O’Brien stated. In bad weather the airports were closed, “and I ‘d actually need to go out to my staff and send people with bags of checks to California, to Chicago, delivered by hand.”
O’Brien ended up being assistant controller of CBS News in 1968, directing long-range planning of 14 international and domestic CBS news bureaus and daily news shows.
“That was during the Cronkite era. … I was there throughout the Vietnam War, as a matter of reality. I was in the area where we were accountableaccountabled for getting cash to the press reporters in the war zones. We made use of to send out cash to them.
“We would enter into Western Union and send out $10,000 here and $20,000 there. All the unexpected they found that they had $2 or $3 million dollars unaccounted for.”
Apparently, the contributors were so hectic reporting on the war that they couldn’t drop everything and stand in line for the cashthe cash delivery, which resulted in problems.
“So, I made an offer with American Express; we were the first people to have company business cards.
“It was a different time. And, interestingly enough, the general from the Pentagon could not call Vietnam. They needed to Telex. How would you ever battle a war like that? However we had to correspond like that with our people.”
Not only was money susceptible in transportation, so was movie.
“They would be shooting film, not tape. The movie would then be put on aircrafts to come back to Kennedy Airport. We had bike individuals there to bring them in to our labs in New York, put them on an unfavorable, which would go to the newsroom. They ‘d cut the unfavorable and put it on the air. Satellite didn’t exist. It was actually a motorcycle guy being available in on the parkway in New York.”
For Every Commercial
Prior to a toy went on the air, network staff were, basically, playing with it first to see that it worked. The showing ground existed for every product sold. Those were the days from 1977 to 1981 when O’Brien became the network censor.
“You look at the commercials of today and you shake your head sometimes,” he observed as he described the more liable situation then.
First, his earlier promotion to controller in 1975 had brought the obligation of directing all financial elements of the CBS television network, consisting of CBS Sports, CBS News and tv operations in L.a and New York. Network censor was the next promo; the title was vice president of network program practices.
“I had 80 individuals working for me, 40 in New York and 40 in California. The New York workplace dealt with programs material, but we were also involvedassociated with commercial clearance,” he discussed.
“At that time, we were sort of like the ‘Excellent House cleaning Seal of Approval,’ because you needed to prove to us that your items work, that you were telling the fact,” O’Brien stated.
“So something as fundamental as ‘we have a golf ball that goes 10 lawns further than the others,’ they had to show it to us.
“If they had a toy, they needed to render the toy to us, and we had one of our individuals put it together and make sure it worked before we ‘d put the commercial on the air.
“We got about 30,000 commercials a year and we rejected about 18,000, majority.”
‘All in the Family’
On the programming side of censorship, program practices staff got the script “to see if there was anything offending in it” and would likewise observe the shooting. This was in the “Dallas,” “All in the Household” and “WKRP in Cincinnati” era.
O’Brien had the final word on what went and exactly what did not (although he states his leanings would be considered more liberal than conservative in manyin a lot of cases).
“As program practices vice president, I reported to nobody. If the chairman of the board phoned and said he didn’t such as something,” he paused and continued, “however that didn’t happen. I had an employer, the president of the broadcast group, but he could not tell me to put something on the air.”
Audiences enjoying in syndication today are reminded of what they knew back in the 1970s – “All in the Family” was breaking ground. Archie Bunker was bigoted, and America heard his racist remarks. But his character was scolded or balanced by liberal son-in-law Mike Stivic and by the conscience of his wife, Edith.
“That was all passed by us and passed through us,” O’Brien stated. “My boss was upset by ‘All in the Family’ since he was Polish. I said to him, ‘Then don’t enjoy it.'”
In O’Brien’s words today, “It broke such fantastic ground since of exactly what it performed in regard to race, and everybody understood he was a bigot, but his partner had not been and his son-in-law had not been, and it worked.
“There were most likely really couple of errors we made,” he said in reconsideration. “Among them was in ‘All in the Household.’ It was the show where Edith was attacked; someone was trying to rape her in the kitchen, and we didn’t alert individuals. The program victoried awards … however today they kind of warm people if something is showing up.”
The censor’s communication wasn’t with a program’s authors however its producers. “Norman Lear would call me and state, ‘you should take a look at that show.’ I may concur with him … or I might call him up and say there’s nothing incorrect with it.”
The producers, such as Lear with “All in the Family,” “didn’t desire to say no to their own authors,” O’Brien explained. A 2nd reason they asked his viewpoint was that producers had the programs and “wanted it to be OK for syndication” if they offered the shows to local stations later on.
One might question exactly what a censor of 35 years ago believesthinks about today’s shows.
“I’m not quickly offended, due to the fact that I have actually seen everything,” O’Brien responses, “however I frequently look at things and shake my head that they’re on the air. I don’t think the department that I ran exists any longer … cable came, and Katie bar the door.”
“The violence is another thing. My God, the violence can be overwhelming. When I was in there, the national PTA came out versus violence on television … exactly what they were discussing at the time was so lame compared with today.”
Asked to name programs he appreciates today, the network executive discussed “The Great Spouse,” between others, and stated he and his other half still see “60 Minutes.” They celebrate a 56th wedding anniversary this year.
When Not to Bid
On the Olympics
Understanding when not to bid for coverage of the Olympics might save an executive his task.
From 1981 to 1986, O’Brien ended up being vice president and director of shows for CBS Sports. The province included program talent, production content and acquisitions.
He reduces the description to “remarkable but laborious.”
“At that time there were just four major networks. Even though the understanding might have been that ABC, because of the Olympics, was better than any person else, we did over 100 more hours in a year than ABC did, and we owned NFL football, PGA golf, NCAA, we possessed the NBA basketball, boxing, we were the No. 1 in tennis, you call it. We finally put out an advertisement stating, ‘You saw it on CBS.'”
Travel every weekend was the standard, dealing with the owners of the sports teams. However he was on scene at the 1983 Super Bowl and all the big-ticket events.
“We never did the Olympics,” O’Brien kept in mind. “I would travel with a group to head out and quote on the Olympics, but then we would never ever get it, because we never ever might justify losing the amount of money the business would lose.
“At one time, ABC got the Olympics in Sarajevo; they won in a battle with NBC. We left without bidding, because our tolerance for losing money was right here,” he suggested with hand raised to an average level, “and they were way up right here.
“The person who bid for NBC returned and got fired. It was because had he victoried, he would have put NBC out of company. ABC won the Olympics and altered its management after that because of the money they had invested.”
Today, more cash can probably be redeemed by the variety of additional channels on which every aspect of the Olympics is aired, he assumed.
Back to the tasks of airing NFL football, O’Brien likewise had many of the on-air announcers reporting to him: “all the Pat Summeralls of the world, the John Maddens. I had the difference of making less than any individual who worked for me,” he said with a grin.
Madden singlehandedly developed many memories amongst those around him.
“He just changed the world of football.
“When we went to him and we attempted him out as an announcer, we wrote a contract that he was going to be an announcer for $100,000. We did a dual revealing live shot and we raised it to a million dollars. It was brilliant; he had a way of assessing it. And we put him with Pat Summerall and it was dazzling.”
By 1986, it can genuinely be stated that O’Brien had seen justalmost everything, not only in program material but in camaraderie with the stars.
He tells a story of getting back late one night, the factor being that some network people were out having beverages with Jonathan Winters. The comic was looking across the bar at an etched scene of a British hunt, and Winters was providing monologues in turn as every character in the photo, consisting of the fox and the hound.
The illustrious profession with CBS came to an end after 29 years at the request of one guy, a brand-new CEO who wielded the axe broadly.
“Larry Tisch came in and fired everyone,” stated O’Brien. “He took the company from 42,000 people to 6,300 in 2 years. He purchased a controlling interest in the business, ended up being president and put all the vice presidents in one space and said, ‘there are too lots ofa lot of individuals in this space.’ Likewise he put out an edict to fire one-third of everyone’s personnel.”
Today CBS is owned by Viacom, which O’Brien finds interesting because Viacom had initially been started by CBS as a holding company for the network’s programs, which was necessary by law.
Post-CBS, an active management and producing career in television continued up until 1993, after which O’Brien got in the real estate sales and rental realm with Ager Real estate, based in Brant Beach. Nan O’Brien, a previous research study chemist with Merck, works there too.
He has been very involved with the Brant Beach Yacht Club, and most recently, as a member of the board of trustees of Surflight Theatre as it fought to keep the theater afloat. Eventually, the theater went into Chapter 7 bankruptcy procedures on Feb. 23.
“We were going after financial obligation the entire time. It couldn’t catch up,” O’Brien summarized. “It’s tragic, but we did our extremelybest to get through and make it occur, however could not.”
One of his real passions for many years has actually been The Albert G. Oliver Program, a nonprofit he cofounded some 30 years ago to educate talented black and Hispanic youngsters in the five districts of New York City. “We have actually sent over 1,200 kids through prep school and college with a 99 percent graduation rate.”
Of life on Long Beach Island, “we have just enjoyed it so much,” O’Brien remarked. “I enjoy Long Beach Island, and our children have actually grown up here.
“We have a lovely home in Brant Beach. Sandy damaged the houseyour house across the street, but the water visited and parted and walked around our home. There was 6 feet of sand in the back lawn, and every other residence on the block had damage.”
No damage from the storm, a fascinating profession – Donn O’Brien can count his lucky “stars.”
mariascandale # 64; thesandpaper.net