Bad news, fans of live TV debacles. KDOC confirms that it won't be resurrecting last year's infamous "First Night 2013 with Jamie Kennedy," which went down in history as one of the most spectacular meltdowns in local TV history. (Read my coverage from Jan. 3, 2013: KDOC-TV's New Years Eve Jamie Kennedy Catastrophe)
KDOC producer David Marquez tells me that the TV station quickly decided trying it again would be a bad idea. Instead, they've been focusing on taped community specials. KDOC's next live TV experiment will be much more legit: In January, the independent TV station will begin airing an 8 p.m. newscast from KABC-TV, anchored by David Ono.
Marquez can laugh about the Jamie Kennedy mess now, but he says the show and the aftermath from angry sponsors and other affiliates (the show was syndicated to 11 other stations) got pretty hairy.
"First Night" started from a real place: The idea of throwing L.A.'s own version of the Times Square New Year's Eve celebration. KDOC partnered with Jamie Kennedy Productions on the special, and managed to shut down part of Hollywood Boulevard for the event. Rehearsals went fine, Marquez says, and guests including Bone Thugs-n-Harmony appeared fit for air. "On paper, it looked like a legit broadcast," he says.
But a funny thing happened on the way to a live broadcast. Things fell apart. A communication gap between Kennedy, co-host Stu Stone and the producers (including Marquez) back in the live truck quickly created a problem. Talent pulled out their ISBs -- the earplugs that producers use to give instructions -- and then had no idea what was going on. Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, well behaved in rehearsals, kept cursing on live TV.
Part of the problem: Kennedy's team hailed from the film world, and weren't familiar with how live, local production worked. Here's how the New York Times -- yes, this made the New York Times! -- described the end result:
Presiding over the sometimes shaky-looking and decidedly seat-of-the-pants special, Mr. Kennedy and his co-host, Stu Stone, mixed it up with exuberant revelers (some of whom read directly from the teleprompters of the M.C.s), occasionally getting caught by surprise by their own live cameras and open microphones. Innuendos were made; obscene words were broadcast unbleeped; and Macy Gray gave a performance that had some viewers wondering if she’d started celebrating the arrival of 2013 well before midnight. The show concluded with Mr. Kennedy announcing from a crowded stage, “There’s a fight. It’s ending with a fight. It’s ending with a fight. Guys, please. God bless you, get out. Go to a cartoon.”
A video of the mess went viral. Marquez says the video didn't help: Sure, the broadcast fell apart, but some convenient edits by whomever uploaded the video (perhaps a frustrated former local TV employee, he suspects) made it look even worse.
The real issue came from the other stations that aired the special. San Diego's KUSI-TV pulled the special off the air after the first hour, but other stations in California, Oregon, Washington state and Hawaii aired it in its entirety. And they weren't happy. Ditto key sponsors.
Kennedy also fanned the flames by talking to press, including the New York Times, and proclaiming that the whole thing was planned: "It was totally supposed to be like that. We wanted to make almost an anti-New Year’s Eve show, and the recipe calls for unexpected. We had an open bar for our guests, we were unrehearsed. It was not glamorous. We shot at the apex of craziness on Hollywood Boulevard on New Year’s Eve, in front of one of the most highly visible places, the Chinese Theater, and it was more like a block party type of feel," he told the paper.
It was not totally supposed to be like that.
The legend of the special lives on -- it even has a Wikipedia page. Marquez says fellow pals in TV production around the country rib him whenever another local TV viral video pops up -- including, mostly recently, that Kansas anchor who cursed on the air. He's bracing for pals asking him on Facebook about this year's special.
Meanwhile, in case you forgot, here's the video of "First Night" that became a viral sensation: