Bicoastal Journalism: From Making DC Laugh to Praying for an LA Car Chase

johncorcoran

Now in LA,  John Corcoran got into journalism by entered a back-page humor contest in DC.

By John Corcoran

“Do a piece on how being an LA journalist is different from being a DC journalist,” Jack suggested. I’d done both.

Different environments for sure. One city is renowned for egotistical, celebrity-obsessed, scandal-ridden, over-pampered neurotics, and the other is. . .Los Angeles.

Actually neither town lacks morally wounded A-listers. LA’s are better looking but can’t gerrymander or accept campaign contributions, hence a shorter shelf life.

Washington didn’t exactly lose a Woodstein when I changed coasts, I realized; moreover I had also switched from print to someone who wore makeup at work.

Sure, why not?

DC—late seventies. Most of my freelance coin came from The Washingtonian. I specialized in humor before everybody and your uncle had a humor blog.

I mostly wrote survival guides on broad topics–area airports, Washington marriages, year-end reviews called “Nobody’s Prefect.” Jack’s nasty insistence that I provide facts with the laughs meant prodigious research. (I dreaded the words: “Still a little thin.”) Where was Google when I needed it?

Draft turned in, Jack did his thing—so-called “invisible” editing that left the writer’s ego intact, copy improved enough that maybe it would have brought a smile to the face of Harold Ross if he was still alive.

But then the cathode-ray beast beckoned with its larger paychecks and promised glory. So I covered entertainment and reviewed movies for 20 years, mostly in LA. I’m now semi-retired with—surprise!—my own humor blog. Where once I drove past Bob Haldeman’s pad, I’m now a long egg toss away from Justin Bieber and a Kardashian or two. (They never call.)

TV “journalism” is a group sport demanding brevity. The news beast eats like a shark and must be fed daily. It’s the wham-bam-make-you-cry-on-camera-ma’am of communication.

One anecdote sums up its pitfalls. In 1995, Seagram’s was buying MCA, including Universal Studios. A very big deal in LA.

At breakfast I learned that an “exclusive” interview with Seagram’s boss Edgar Bronfman would air on our station that night. Who scored the exclusive? I soon found out I did.

One of our cameramen had gotten a sound bite from Bronfman. It was “exclusive” because it was at a fundraiser, not a presser. Build around that, Cork.

Two problems. It was the wrong Bronfman—the mostly retired Edgar Sr.—and the bite wasn’t much more than “no comment.” Young Edgar was hiding out. Daddy was saying, “Speak to the kid.” I tried to get the station to kill it. Nope, take one for the team, Cork, we’ve already run promos.

Using movie clips, stand-ups, fancy editing, graphics, and some chicken droppings, I produced a two-minute serving of chicken salad.

It was set to run at 10 past the hour. At nine past some bozo with a “born to be stupid” tattoo and a stolen car raced away from police and another televised freeway chase began. We went live, and I prayed the guy would elude police for at least 50 minutes. He did, the Bronfman piece was spiked, and I lived to fight another day.
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John Corcoran was a contributing editor for The Washingtonian from 1975 to 1983, an author, and he won seven Emmys as television writer, on-air reporter, and critic in DC, Boston, and Los Angeles. Currently a playwright, he also writes a blog BreakingSatire.
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A note from Jack Limpert: At The Washingtonian in the early 1970s we created a back-page humor contest, a little like the back page in today’s New Yorker. John, not in journalism back then, sent in a lot of funny entries so we called him to see if he could be funny in a more organized way. Washington journalism then, like now, needed all the humor we could find and John—we ended up calling him Corcoroni—wrote lots of funny stuff for 10 or 15 cents a word. Then television came calling, first in Washington, then in Boston and LA, and he’s had a wonderful career. The moral of the story for writers: Send your writing to all kinds of places. You never know.

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