Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Cafe Doors are now Closed

The world of Josh is no stranger to irony. In fact, we're very close buds. The kind of buds that leave crap at each other's houses and completely forget about it. That's why having my TV show cancelled roughly 90 minutes after doing an on-air editorial on the "liberation of losing" last week doesn't strike me as odd in the slightest.

Not that it wasn't a surprise, though. In the last several months I have often wondered how I would react if the KJZZ Cafe were to be cancelled. Mostly I wondered this during moments when I was tired from only sleeping four hours a day, and was thinking that as much as I hated to re-enter "job search mode", I would be relieved to return to a normal state of human existence. So while I did feel a bit of physical relief, I was still surprised at the immediacy of the cancellation. Maybe it was because management feared that if I knew I was about to produce my final show I would find a way to fit Bat Child, the Mutated Spider from "Tarantula", and the "I like Turtles" kid into the same broadcast. And now that I think of it, failing to do so is now my biggest regret from the Cafe's ten-month run.

As I begin to look back on the experience, it's easy to see things I wish had come out differently, but impossible to look at the greater whole without a considerable degree of satisfaction. Regardless of ratings, revenue, or popularity, the simple truth is that at the beginning of November 2007 I was a soon-to-be ex-English instructor with four months of part-time TV experience, and one year, one mucho learning curve and a couple hundred live broadcasts later, I am a legit ex-TV producer. Even if the show had been cancelled after a month, the herculean task of learning everything and doing everything we all did to get the thing on the air was almost satisfactory enough.

That's why it blew to have to hear the Deseret News churn out the same lame review their TV critic rolled out after watching one broadcast back in January when they reported our demise. I knew the show was far from perfect, but I also knew that it had grown considerably by the time it finished it's run. I wrote the News to set the record straight, but as of this writing, they apparently weren't interested in printing an alternative viewpoint.

Here's the full text of my letter:

Dear editor,

As I read Stephen Speckman's eulogy of the KJZZ Café from November 9th, I feel obliged to stand up for my colleagues. For ten months I worked as producer of the Café under News Director Dean Paynter. I have no argument with the economic realities of the mass media. If you don't produce ratings, you don't make money, and you get cancelled. Especially when your country is heading for a recession. I don't have any problem with criticisms of the show, either. We were a small, do-it-yourself staff that was largely learning on the job, and our product was far from perfect. For that I am more than happy to accept responsibility.

What I do take issue with is the decision to use Scott Pierce's review of our first broadcast in January to characterize the show. The KJZZ Café that was cancelled last week was hardly the show that started from scratch less than a year ago. I'm sure that if the Deseret Morning News were to go out of print next month, you would want people to evaluate your product by it's most recent work instead of a review of its first issue. In spite of its imperfections, the KJZZ Café made tremendous strides in the few months it was on the air.

By the end of this summer, the Café had become a unique venue where current issues could be addressed in a way they were not afforded elsewhere. The show regularly featured prominent public officials such as Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, Senator Orrin Hatch, Representative Greg Hughes, US Congressman-Elect Jason Chaffetz, and Governor Jon Huntsman. Dean Paynter's show dared suggest there might be more to local news than reporting on shootings and car crashes, and as the show developed over its short run, the steady increase in feedback we received showed that he was right. It was only unfortunate that these improvements didn't translate into increased ratings in time to offset the struggles of our national economy. But that had nothing to do with our product being "bland" or "ill-advised".

My colleagues and I were initially dismayed by Pierce's review, but ultimately we looked past the lame wisecracks about us looking like a bad college broadcast and used his criticism to improve the show. If anyone on your staff had bothered to watch the show after that first broadcast, you might have noted those improvements in Sunday's article. The KJZZ Café may go down in the ratings book as a failure, but I for one am proud of what we accomplished, and proud of everyone who was involved in it while it lasted.


(Former) Producer, KJZZ Café

So now with the Cafe formally behind me, it's on to the next adventure, whatever that might be. As I remain a single 30-something LDS dude, I'm still in that phase of life where I should probably be taking the kinds of career risks that I can only take when I don't have to worry about feeding a family. That's actually one of the big reasons I took the KJZZ job in the first place. Here's what I've come up with so far:

-Go get a PhD and use teaching as the full-time anchor while developing my creative skills in writing, photography and film on the side (most likely candidate: the Media, Art and Text program at Virginia Commonwealth University).

-Find a more traditional anchor job to bring in some bucks while developing the aforementioned skills (Anchor meaning like a boat anchor, not a news anchor).

-Dive headfirst into a freelance creative career and pray I get enough business doing photo shoots, short film work, and copywriting to bridge me into a stable lifestyle.

-Find a way to make money off this blog.

-Find a way to get more than a dozen regular readers so I can find a way to make money off this blog.

-Find a sugar mama to keep me in new jeans and eating Barbacoa three times a week...while blogging.

-Build a cart to wheel around downtown Salt Lake selling pizza by the slice and copies of my self-published memoir, "The Manifesto of the Modern Peter Pan".

-Spend an unreasonable amount of time on Facebook.

-Walk the Earth like Julius in "Pulp Fiction".

-Liquidate all assets and whatever my mutual funds are still worth, buy a Harley (or more likely a Vespa) and cruise the Earth instead.

-Take a reasonable road trip for a couple of weeks (possibly to DC or Seattle), write about the experience, THEN do one of the other things.

I guess the only thing I don't want is to be asking myself this same question a year from now. I don't know, maybe I'm being unreasonable, but I've always figured that there would be a day sometime in my future when I would be more..."arrived"? Not that I would stay in the same job for the rest of my life, but rather that I would be far enough into a career or some kind of career-ish thing that I wouldn't sweat losing a gig.

Of course, given my reaction to last weeks cancellation, maybe I'm already there. All I do know is that after going through this routine several times, I feel pretty confident that things will work out the way they are supposed to, both for me and my former co-workers. And that gives me enough perspective to appreciate the Cafe experience for the positive experience it was.