Sunday, November 06, 2011

A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney

60 Minutes' offices were across the street from CBS broadcast center - a conscious decision to set themselves apart from the rest of CBS News.  Andy, looking to set himself apart from 60 Minutes, had his office across the street from 60, back in the broadcast center.  Which is why, in eight and a half years at 60 Minutes, I probably spent no more than an hour or two in Andy's company, but he managed to provide me one of my favorite memories of CBS.    

In January, 2000, when I was an associate producer working on a story about discrimination at a Federal nuclear facility in South Carolina. (Sexy!  Must've been Sweeps Week.)  The story was airing that Sunday, and had managed to attract a great deal of interest from CBS management. (Amusing back story/ statement on modern corporate media: the piece centered on a series of incidents at a tritium processing plant a few years earlier.  And now, with the story about to air, CBS brass had realized that, during the period in question, the plant was owned by CBS. The plant's general counsel, a named defendant in a class-action lawsuit, was now our general counsel.  Andy was decrying this sort of thing long before it was fashionable, and if he'd known this detail, he'd probably have set himself on fire.)

So there we were in the producer's office, crowded around his desk while a half-dozen executives, lawyers and assorted title-holders, having abandoned their regular table at Gabriel's, attached weasel-words to the script the way medieval barbers attached leeches.  Several discussions were taking place simultaneously, half of which, thanks to Mike Wallace's provocations, had turned to full-fledged arguments, while in the middle of it, our producer struggled valiantly to keep pace at the keyboard.

Into this scene shuffled the 80-year-old Rooney, drinking it in from the hallway with an amused smirk on his face.  "My God," he said, with a chuckle.  "Where were all these people when the page was blank?"

And with that, he shuffled away down the hall, leaving behind a line that hit the jugular and the funny-bone simultaneously, and illuminated an obvious truth: that, for a writer, there's nothing more daunting than a blank sheet of paper. In short, it was the quintessential Andy Rooney.

In the subsequent 11 years of dealing with editors and executives, I've retold this story with some frequency, usually to uncomfortable silence.


Dave said...

Thanks for your insights. I'd always thought of Rooney as an affable old curmudgeon in his little commentaries, obviously missing some of his better qualities.

I've been holding back on using the term when commenting on your complaints....well, you have some footprints to follow.

Crazy Rita said...

I enjoyed the interview of Andy Rooney on 60 Minutes last night especially his comments about what he would do if could live his life over again. A man with few regrets.