Variety Game-Changers: The People Who Make TV Special

October 25, 2011 An AD/SM/PA Council West/DGA 75th Anniversary Event

DGA members and guests gathered at the Guild’s Los Angeles Theater on October 25 for an evening honoring the work of the Associate Directors, Stage Managers and Production Associates whose vital behind-the-scenes work bring the Director’s vision to life. Co-presented by the DGA 75th Anniversary Committee, Variety Game-Changers: The People Who Make TV “Special,” marked the AD/SM/PA Council West’s first event in five years. And in this year of game-changing festivities, there was much to celebrate.  

75th Anniversary Committee Chair Michael Apted took a moment to highlight the importance of variety television. “Variety is perhaps the one genre that touches our lives in a way that others don’t. It speaks to our nation’s values, to a sense of community, to something shared and treasured.” 

A video montage, produced by AD/SM/PA Council West member Gary Natoli, demonstrated the breadth and depth of the genre by interviewing the close-knit family of DGA members who make it happen.  

The panelists were then welcomed by Council Chair Valdez Flagg who said, “We are here tonight to honor the people who have had a magnificent impact on variety television. They are tireless workers who are rarely recognized and tonight is the beginning of our recognition." 

Serving as the evening’s moderator, Stage Manager Dency Nelson explained the integral role variety television had in the development of the medium then introduced the panelists: Directors Steve Binder, Louis J. Horvitz, Don Mischer, John Moffitt, Allan Kartun and Liz Plonka, Associate Director Jim Tanker, and Stage Managers Ted Ray, Ken Stein, David Wader, and Debbie Williams. 

Collectively, their careers span over five decades and chronicle the genre from its infancy. The panelists shared the intricacies of working in variety television through recollections of their experiences such as working on the Beatles’ 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show where Moffitt recalls the screaming was so loud it blew out his headset, and the 1983 Diana Ross Central Park concert that Binder described as the game-changing event of his career. The discussion also veered into the territory of the challenges of evolving technology with current hits like American Idol of which Williams has been a part since its inception. The careers of these veterans literally cover the history of television itself, a fact which was illustrated by their appearances in a reel of clips highlighting the most memorable moments from the past 50 years of variety television. 

The panelists also reflected on the various aspects of the genre that attracted them, and detailed the multifaceted tasks of executing a show in a world where there’s no such thing as a second take. Williams emphasized confidence as a critical aspect. “There needs to be implicit trust in the Stage Manager. Our face is the one everyone sees and there is an integrity that is involved in making people feel safe.” 

The mutual respect between the Directors and their team members was apparent and their familial relationship became the reoccurring theme of the evening.  “We all wear one hat,” said Horvitz, who took the opportunity to close the evening by thanking each member of the AD/SM/PA Council West 75th Anniversary Committee and the rest of his fellow DGA members.  

“We really are blessed to work with people we love,” added Binder. “Who could ask for anything more?”

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