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Written May 22, 2022


The multi-talented Ken Levine is an Emmy-winning writer of TV comedies like M*A*S*H and Cheers, sometimes also serving as producer or director.  He co-wrote the Tom Hanks movie Volunteers.

Lately he's been writing books and plays while contributing cartoons to the New Yorker magazine. 

Most importantly for our current discussion, Ken was a disc jockey (calling himself “Beaver Cleaver”) who later became one of the radio/TV play-by-play voices of the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, and San Diego Padres.  He's done a lot.

I “met” Ken by reading his daily blog, Hollywood and Levine, which includes a weekly podcast.  He's told us a lot about himself; at one point, curious about his audience, he invited us to email him something about ourselves.  I did so, pointing out that I got started in sports broadcasting by taking a tape recorder into the stands at Richwood High School and pretending to call games.  Ken had trained himself similarly by taking a tape recorder into the stands at Dodger Stadium.  He moved on from there to pay his dues broadcasting minor-league games until making it to the big time with the Orioles in 1991.

Ken promptly replied to my email, passing along greetings to the current Pittsburgh Pirates announcing crew.

In a May 2022 episode of his podcast, he discussed what it takes to be a good “showrunner.”  The showrunner is the writer who creates a TV series and oversees the writing and production of each episode with ultimate managerial and creative control — in other words, the boss.  Obviously a showrunner must be able to deal effectively with the members of the cast and crew as well as the network overlords.

That reminded me of a bad boss from my past.  It occurred to me that Ken might also have known this guy, so I sent another email.

Hi, Ken!  I don't know whether you ever worked with the late Steve Silverman, who for a time was Executive Producer of Broadcasting for the San Diego Padres.  I consider him as an example of a bad showrunner.

In my career in TV sports production based in Pittsburgh, I often worked with visiting broadcasters.  If the Philadelphia Flyers were playing a game at Mellon Arena, their team plane would also bring us their announcers and their TV director and producer and maybe an assistant or two.  However, most of the crew would be hired locally in Pittsburgh:  camera and replay operators, audio and video engineers, even graphics guys like me.

In the early 1990s, Steve directed Padres telecasts.  He treated his crew like idiots.  He knew best, and the crew rarely seemed to do what he wanted.  He also feared that all of us were out to make him look bad so that he would be fired and we could take his job.  When a replay didn't go right, he'd sarcastically inquire “Is there anyone back there in Tape?” or threaten “I'm gonna remote those machines and run them myself!”

Many local technicians refused to work for him.  After a few years Steve stopped coming to town; the rumor was that he had been kicked upstairs to Executive Producer.

Due to similar mistreatment from a different director from another city, many of us also refused assignments on those telecasts.  However, this director eventually became easier to work with — the speculation was that he'd changed his medications — and even now he has the same job.

I once was told that directors assumed they had to act like drill sergeants belittling their sorry recruits because that was the norm on ABC's high-pressure Monday Night Football.

Most bosses like that don't last long, however.  As you said, “There's only so many times you can whip the same horse.“  Since the Nineties, all the producers and directors I encountered have respected their workers.  They've even learned our names, praised us, and thanked us after the show.  It's the only way to go!

If you don't believe me about Mr. Silverman, here's an animated audio recording of his work (caution: bad language).  Ken replied the same day: 

Hi Tom,

I do remember Steve Silverman.  He was producing/directing Padres broadcasts when I was there.

He was Jekyll & Hyde.  Could be a nice guy during down time but a giant screaming a-hole while at work.  I would even hear some of the screaming over my talkback.  The one run-in I had with him was I'd say something funny on the air and he would talk in my earpiece trying to top it.  I had to tell him to stop that.  I wanted to hear the bare minimum.  Tell me when a graphic, replay, or promo is coming, or point out a camera angle of something he wanted me to comment on, but that's it.

I remember one time we were in Philly and I was complaining about Philly cheesesteaks on South Street.  He took me to an out-of-the-way place somewhere else in town where none of the tourists go.  The cheesesteak was even worse.

That's the only time I ever worked with a director like that.   Most of the directors I worked with were gentlemen and I'd hear nice things from the stage managers and local crew people around the league.

Thanks for listening and bringing up a name I hadn't thought of in 30 years.





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