Bye, Tim

14 Jun

In 1994 I was hired as a sound engineer for Tim Russert’s CNBC (cable) show. It was a one-on-one program, unlike his already-popular and industry renowned Meet The Press on NBC, which tended to feature several hard-hitting politicos at a time. His cable show mainly dealt with artists and writers and sometimes politicians, but usually he kept it to more unique guests, since his Meet The Press was already steeped in that necessary evil we call politics. I was lucky and went on to be promoted, and directed The Tim Russert Show for a while, until I decided to exit the television business in 2000. I won’t go on too long here; cable and news networks have been running packages on Tim’s life and his fairness and greatness and integrity as a journalist ever since his un-timely death yesterday afternoon. I cannot be more eloquent than some of the things I’ve seen and heard and read about his life. I got a phone call from my mother, in Washington D.C. with the terrible news while I was watching the France-Netherlands match at a pub. And then, later, I received a phone call from my ex-wife, also, who knew how much Tim meant to me. He was one of the few men and women in the business whose integrity surpassed everything. He was fair but he demanded your best. And all of us on his crew gave it. We knew Tim personally. I knew his son Luke had big dreams of playing baseball. The last time I saw Luke, he was thirteen years old. Yesterday, I found out Luke and Tim had just returned from a trip to Italy–a college graduation gift his family gave to him. I had only one chance to work with Tim’s wife, celebrated writer and journalist and frequent Vanity Fair contributor, Maureen Orth. She was a guest on Chris Matthews’ show. I couldn’t gauge her; she was too guarded. But I figured if a man like Tim would marry her, then she probably was his complement.

One quick story about Tim. I was directing one Friday afternoon and his guest for the entire hour was Norman Mailer. Tim’s questioning style, also on display in Meet the Press every Sunday, is brilliant. He softens you up with fundamental queries, then out of the blue BANG! He’ll lay one down that’ll baffle the living hell out of you. For most of the Mailer interview, Tim lobbed softballs. As the last segment was coming to a close, Tim brought out the big guns: “Of the eight children, six wives, and thirty-nine books you’ve published, which was the most difficult for you?” Mailer hemmed and hawed and laid down some spiel about how each achievement or aspect of his life has had its own challenges and rewards. But that was it. Tim got the knockout with a flash hook that came out of nowhere. The Kid from Buffalo KO-ed the Heavyweight pugilist from Jersey. Afterwards, as we all shook our heads at how brilliant that question was, he got on the phone in the control room with his wife, Maureen, and I heard him quietly tell her: “I think I may have gotten Mailer finally flustered.” And he had. It was something Gore Vidal and Janet Flanner together couldn’t do in ’71 on the Cavett show.

And so it goes with the great ones. They step out of this crazy race at the most inopportune times. For us, I mean. We are selfish like that. We want these people to outlive us. People like Tim Russert give me hope. And that’s saying volumes, if you know me. It really is. I miss him. Since I left, eight years ago, he was the only one I kept tabs on and still thoroughly enjoyed watching. I was looking forward to his analysis during this election season. These are politically exciting times for people like me–something that doesn’t come along too often. Tim and his low-tech writing board would have fit perfectly into this monumental presidential race we are about to have. He is missed by many more than he or his family thinks. Bye, Tim.

(WordPress will not let me insert a photograph into this post. If you don’t know who he is/was, you can Google his name)


4 Responses to “Bye, Tim”

  1. Slyboots 14/06/2008 at 10:43 PM #

    I was really hoping you would write this. I thought of you when I heard the news yesterday. It is such a shame, as he sounds like an elegant and wonderful man whose life touched so many. I am really sorry for your personal loss, and for the rest of us who were peripherally attached to the man. And it’s funny, I was watching some of the coverage last night, and they spoke to all of the big names. That was fine, but what was really missing in the analysis was the voices of people like you who knew him on another level. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Anonymous 16/06/2008 at 10:16 AM #


  3. (S)wine 16/06/2008 at 3:44 PM #

    …and now everyone has overdone it with the obits. exactly what he would have loathed.

    hi laz, erin, and sly.

  4. Erin O'Brien 16/06/2008 at 4:12 PM #

    Thanks. I loved Russert.

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