Back then, early oughts, I was field producing live shots for the Today Show. Not much money, but kinda fun way to spend an early morning. Usually pretty good stories, and the glamor. That too. So one night in April the crew booker called from Burbank – this would be maybe 8 pm Pacific – said there was a Rasputin dog (my language, not her’s) in Clear Lake and that Matt (Lauer, we’re all on first names here) Matt wanted to interview the dog.
Okay. The story was that the dog, a 10 month old female mixed breed named Dosha, had slipped out of her yard collarless and been hit by a car. And the responding police officer, seeing the animal as badly injured and in distress, had shot the dog. In the head. Put her down.
Dosha’s body, in an orange body bag, was put in the animal morgue cooler or something. Whatever, a bit later, couple of hours I think, the shelter staff found Dosha standing up in the refrig, still in the body bag, and quite alive. (The officer’s a very bad shot, Dosha’s vet whispered to me later.) I have met this animal and can say that all things considered she was in pretty good shape and in a better mood than I would have been.
So Matt wanted to do this story and I went to Clear Lake, arriving a bit after midnight Pacific. We were to go live at 7:40 Eastern with dog and vet.
At the vet’s office where the dog was and where we, the Today Show, had booked an interview with the vet, there were two satellite trucks. One for me, along with two cameras, and one for ABC GMA. Competition isn’t unusual and I said hey to the GMA guys whom I knew and didn’t think much of it. However, a bit on when I told the Today Show producer in New York – a person sitting in a warm office with plenty of coffee and snacks – when I told her that there was an ABC crew in Clear Lake too, well, she went batshit. She told me I represented NBC News! and was to tell the ABC crew that we, Today, had an exclusive. I told her that I guess I’d do that but that it wouldn’t work and that they’d think I was stupid. But, you know, I went in where they were setting up and told the GMA producer that Today had an exclusive. It went about as I said — they thought I was a jerk and they continued to set up.
Considering later, I realized that of course Today had booked an exclusive with the vet and failed to nail down poor Dosha, the runover and shot dog. GMA had the dog owner and the dog, not the vet. A ‘booker problem,’ one might say. Certainly not a producer problem. Anyway I stashed the vet in my satellite truck and told her not to talk to anybody. And, in spite of the strained environment, arranged with ABC to move the dog from their shot at 7:20 next door to mine in time for Matt Lauer and 7:40. My show producer, who of course works for one of the three people on earth who watch all the morning shows at the same time and consequently would know that Dosha was on GMA before she was on Today, she, the producer, called again, quite angry at my failure to enforce the exclusive, and told me as well that now I was to arrange a video only tease with Dosha at 7:25, and a second tease at 7:30. Anyway, she wanted live video going into the local cutway and at the opening of the Today half hour. As well as the interview at 7:40.
Please believe that I was exasperated but very professional, standing there talking on a satellite phone link in the dark and cold parking lot at, by now, maybe 3 am local. But, as I told my producer, Dosha was not available at 7:25 Eastern, and maybe not at 7:30, that she was going to be on ABC’s air then. And my producer said, I’m quoting here, “Get. The. Dog.” Very awkward. Listen, I said, the dog is busy. It’s the way it is. Nothing to be done now, at least for 7:25. And besides, quoting me this time, “It’s Just A Dog.”
Everybody made their slots more or less. GMA finished, we moved Dosha and made the video only 7:30 tease. Matt’s 7:40 interview with Dosha and vet was fine. As I said, considering that Dosha had been run over, shot, frozen, kept awake all night and fought over by fully grown TV producers, she was great. Me not so much. When our shot went down, the control room producer called me again, this time to announce that I had failed my duty to NBC News. I told her to go fuck herself. Pretty much in those words. It was cold, I’d been up all night, and she was unreasonable, still probably not the right impulse. And of course she told me I’d never work for NBC again and I haven’t. Win-win, I’d have to say.