I always wanted to work in television.
It was my dream job from the age of about 13. I didn’t want to be an actor, producer, or writer. I wanted to be one of those cool, rich guys in suits at the TV networks who come up with ideas for shows and get to decide what makes it on the air. And I was obsessed with the idea of working at my favorite network: NBC. I thought, “How cool would it be to go to work every day at 30 Rock?”
When I was in college, I‘d been a summer intern for NBC News (I still have the NBC peacock towel that Willard Scott gave all the interns at orientation). So after finishing my master’s degree in communications from SUNY Albany and then working for a year in media buying for Ogilvy & Mather advertising, I realized that if I was really serious about a career in television, I needed to move to the west coast where most of the jobs were. I had already been rejected for full-time positions by NBC, along with every other network, cable station, and production company in New York City. Even though it was the toughest decision I ever had to make, I quit my job at Ogilvy and just blurted out to my parents: “I’m goin’ to Hollywood!”
A few weeks later, with two suitcases, a couple of hundred dollars to my name, no job, no leads, and no contacts in Los Angeles, my parents dropped me off at JFK. After a teary farewell, I boarded my flight to LAX, suddenly unsure of whether or not I was making the right decision.
With reality starting to sink in, my heart pounding with anxiety, and my head spinning with self-doubt and second thoughts, I made my way up the aisle toward my seat (coach, of course) all the way in the back of the plane. As I struggled to get by, a white-haired gentleman was blocking the aisle in first class. When he finally turned around and settled into his seat, I froze: it was Grant Tinker – the president of NBC.
Three hours into the flight, I was still debating whether or not to go up and talk to him. If I did, would I regret bothering him? If I didn’t, would I kick myself for eternity? Should I casually stroll by his seat, pretending to stretch my legs, and then “accidentally” drop one of my resumes onto his lap? Would he then be so impressed that he’d offer me a job on the spot? Or would he forever ban me from NBC for having the audacity to be such an idiot? Three times I got up and peeked through the first class curtain, only to chicken out and scurry back to my seat.
With less than an hour left in the flight, I decided it was now or never, do or die. Somehow, I summoned up the courage and, almost unconsciously, made my move: I marched down the aisle, straight through the curtain, stopped at his row, turned towards him and, in one long, rambling, run-on sentence, started spouting out the words that I had been rehearsing and revising in my head for the past four hours:
“Excuse me, Mr. Tinker. I hate to bother you. I was an intern at NBC in New York last summer, and the reason I’m on this flight is because I’m moving out to L.A. to try to get a job in the TV industry, hopefully at NBC. It’s my dream job. Again, I’m sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you might have just a minute to give me some advice or suggestions, or anything that would point me in the right direction once I get out there.”
That’s how Grant Tinker, one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, found himself looking up at a 24 year-old kid who’d just barged into first class and asked for advice. What happened next changed me — and my career — forever.
What’s it going to be? The thrill of victory or the agony of defeat? Find out in the exciting conclusion!