There aren’t many scenarios where one would not only enjoy working the graveyard shift but actually look forward to dragging in their sleep-deprived butts at an hour when most people are tucking their sleepy selves into bed for some proper slumber.
But for two, brief, fleeting, wonderful years, I was blessed with this paradox. The only reason it was so, was because of a hilarious genius named Peter Vesey.
At the time I was co-producing CNN’s morning show called “Daybreak.” The newcast aired from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. which meant we reported to work at the cruel hour of 1 a.m. to prepare it. When our executive producer moved on, Peter replaced her. His reputation as a brilliant broadcast journalist preceded his arrival and the team was excited for the chance to work with Peter and learn from him. We never anticipated he would also make working while others were sleeping so much fun.
Our pre-show meetings instantly transformed from robotically listing available stories, reporter packages and expected satellite feeds to uproarious discussions filled with Peter’s humor, logic and spot-on guidance while he constantly challenged us to try new production methods, accelerating the show’s pace, sharpening our writing and above all, creating a newscast that engaged and informed our viewers that hooked them to the screen.
We had fun critiquing the material, to the extent of Peter’s ability to create verbal caricatures of several correspondents. One, in particular, made every piece sound like an industrial film, intoning like a mechanical voice. We were sometimes a little cruel in our critiques but all in good fun while honestly assessing their strength and worthiness to make air.
In the control room, he ruled calmly and decisively while tossing in crackling bon mots to keep the crew loose and engaged.
Peter took a personal interest in all of us, always inquiring about our lives, families, health and career goals. He also didn’t take any shit. Anchors with an attitude were quickly shut down. Officiousness was dealt with an immediate smackdown. My favorite example:
The supervising producer sat across from Peter. There was perhaps one-foot between them. This was the 80’s so there was an attractive Trimline wall phone at each work station. One-inch separated Peter and the supervisor’s wall phone. Peter’s phone rang and when he picked it up, the voice on the other end of the line was the supervisor… only inches away. Instead of saying “hello,” Peter reached over to the supervisor’s phone, yanked it off the wall and tossed in in the trash and said, “what was it you wanted?” I’ve never stopped laughing about this in 30 years.
There weren’t many food options in the middle of the night and I’m a crappy eater anyway, so I gravitated towards the emaciated Polish sausages available at the small cafeteria located in the odd atrium that separated CNN from CNN Headline News. Of course, Peter silently took note of my foolish food choice and parked it away for future use. That came to pass when I moved on from Daybreak to a reporting position. Near the end of our shift Peter announced the team had a little going away gift for me. He brought out a rectangular cake pan covered in foil. Oh…a going away cake..how cool. Oh sure, there was a nice cake with vanilla frosting…and a big, fat raw Polish sausage sticking out of the middle. It brought tears to my eyes.
But now my eyes are tear filled again and my heart broken with the news Peter passed away after a short illness.
I hadn’t spoken to Peter in many, many years and a couple of months ago the director on our show passed along his number to me and said Peter would welcome a call. I didn’t make it. Believe it or not, I simply felt shy about it. Peter would have set me straight…and asked if I was still eating those stupid sausages. I would have welcomed that.