Farmer File

Last Sunday CNN turned 33 years old. That sparked memories of some of the fun and funny things that happened in the early weeks and months of my time at the network some snotty, major network people called “Chicken Noodle News.”

My wife, Chris Curle, and I were among the “pioneers,” the original on-air faces and voices of the world’s first 24-hour all news TV cable network.

We met and interviewed a lot of famous people, celebrities, in fact or in their own minds. Some we loved, such as Bob Hope, Dudley Moore, Robert Duvall, Alan Alda and scores more.

Others? Gatlin was gross, Tomlin was a lulu

Singer Larry Gatlin barged into our tiny office at CNN, walked over to a desk where our researcher was eating her lunch, a salad, and plunged his hand into the salad bowl.

“Boy, that looks good,” Gatlin said, taking a fistful of the salad and eating it. She was speechless. And salad-less as well.

• Actress/comedienne Lily Tomlin, her companion and her dog swept into CNN’s studios for a live interview in a bad mood. Her companion carried Tomlin’s tiny dog, which through no fault of its own, apparently had developed the personality of its owner.

They plopped the pooch on a producer’s desk and said, “Have somebody feed and walk the dog.”

Meanwhile Lily Tomlin was busy making enemies in her own way.

She used our researcher’s hairbrush and makeup.

Then she looked at the interview set and complained about the lighting. As young, eager CNN staffers whirled around her, working on the lights, she continued to carp, hating the lighting, threatening to leave.

“I can’t do this, the lighting’s all wrong,” she repeated, standing up as if to walk out, then sitting down, up, down, up down.

In the end, she stayed. And on the air she was delightful, doing her many wonderful characters. Off the air she was the guest from hell. She insulted and demeaned the staff. We did not like her, but we didn’t dislike the innocent dog. It had no chance with that crowd.

Author Harlan Ellison was a prominent science fiction writer who had branched out into other literary works. He was booked to do a live satellite interview from our New York studios.

I had written a short introduction, explaining to the audience that Ellison was one of the premier science fiction writers of our day.

What I didn’t know was, Ellison did not like to be called a science fiction writer anymore.

It was as though Michael Jordan didn’t want to be called a great basketball player ever again, but insisted on the term ‘super athlete.’

So as we read the introduction on camera, live, in Atlanta, Ellison heard the term “science fiction writer,” got up from his chair in the New York studio and walked off the set.

When the director switched from us on camera in Atlanta to New York all we and the TV audience saw was an empty chair. We apologized, went to a commercial break, came back on live and pointedly called him a science fiction writer one more time as we explained to viewers what had happened. I hope he heard it.

Sylvester Stallone brought along his wife Sasha when he came to our show for a live interview. While he was on the air, Sasha propped her feet on a producer’s desk and began painting her toenails.

Wonder what she does when they’re out to dinner?

I don’t know whether CNN’s people still are having fun, but I hope so, as the network enters its 34th year.

don@donfarmer.com

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