06 May 2011

How I Almost Created "The Disaster Channel"

This could have been a real disaster.

About 20 years ago, I was on the editorial staff at Viking Penguin, which as the name implies, was a merger of two venerable old publishing houses.

Our company had been bought by the international media company Pearson, which also bought the venerable old merger-house of E.P. Dutton and New American Library.  It was the early days of the consolidation of publishing.

Pearson decided to move us out of our West 23rd Street offices -- and our compatriots out of their Park Avenue location -- and into the Saatchi & Saatchi building in lower Manhattan.  It was a sleek, stark, almost sterile contrast to the rickety bookshelf-cluttered walls and creaky floors of our old building.
The editorial staff was starting to be trimmed and many of us could see the writing on the walls.  Of course, there were no bookshelves to clutter them up!

I started kicking around ideas with some friends about what to do next.  I felt stuck.  I had worked in publishing and printing for much of the 80s.  What else did I know?

I had a short stint as an assistant to a baker when I first moved to New York and loved baking bread.  My friend Howie said my bread was so good, I should open a bakery.  (I've told part of that story here.)

But I had another idea: "The Disaster Channel."

That's right, The Disaster Channel.  Nothing but disasters 24/7.  There was plenty of existing content (movies, documentaries, news footage) and there were new disasters all the time.  We could have "Disaster of the Week" specials, send people out with video cameras to chase tornadoes, think of the possibilities!

It wouldn't take much to start and it would certainly be a hit.  People love disasters.  It would be worth millions, billions even, I reckoned.

My friends were mortified.  "How could you live with yourself if you did that?"

"Well, if The Disaster Channel was a success, then I could do my other idea for a cable channel," I replied. "The Poetry Channel: an all-poetry cable network featuring poets and celebrities reading poems, poets being interviewed, and films about poets or based on poetry."

Call it my "Evil Plan."

Needless to say, I didn't pursue either idea.  Since that time, The Weather Channel has picked up the mantle of disaster coverage. (Someone has even done a spoof announcement of the concept here.)

Could I have sold to TWC or was my idea too early?  I'll never know.

The road is paved with ideas -- good, bad, and disastrous.

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