Thursday, March 30, 2006

Just Do It

The tall reporter in the trenchcoat and floppy hat talks earnestly to the camera about his thwarted ideals. Images of his heroes, like Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, flash across the screen. His career, hasn’t amounted to much. We see him doing forlorn stand-ups and getting tossed out of a rock concert. He needs one big story to justify his career.

The man in the video is the man showing it to me on an ancient monitor perched on a riser at the Star Garden space: Dave Silverbrand. The clips, which Silverbrand edited together to create what amounts to a character in his play, are from his own career. There are six or seven of these taped segments which the audience will see, while the live cast accomplishes its scene changes.

This is one of the joys of this play for him, the live Silverbrand claims. “I get a chance to laugh at myself,” he says, “which I enjoy doing very much.”

Dave Silverbrand (the surname is an Americanization of a common Swedish name) was born in King City, south of Salinas, and grew up in various small towns down in Steinbeck country. In high school his English teacher suggested he attend a town council meeting and write something about it for the local radio station. He did, and found he liked it a great deal. Until then he hadn’t even imagined a career in broadcasting, but after earning a B.A. in journalism at San Jose State University, he wound up in Portland, Maine, where he worked as a television reporter and substitute anchor for the next twenty years.

Silverbrand returned to California in 1992. After a couple of years as a reporter for KIEM-TV, he went back to school and earned his Master’s in English at HSU, where he also taught and was heard on KHSU radio. By 1997 he was back in TV broadcasting, as news director at Channel 6.

He showed me another taped segment for his play when I visited his Channel 6 office, a cramped, narrow space in the Eureka building where Eureka Television Group runs its four stations and his as well. The premise of this clip is that the reporter, now bored and angry because the “big story” he’s covering is moving too slowly, is being interviewed by a grade school girl for her school newspaper. She asks him general questions like “What is your job?” and he gives increasingly resentful answers, complaining that he is called in to anchor when “the little punk calls in sick,” and he loses choice assignments to reporters who bat their eyelashes “and shake their booties.”

As he continues to rant even after the girl says she has to go, the segment is genuinely funny. But it is pretty biting if not bitter, so I asked Silverbrand if that’s how he feels about his own career.

“Sure, this is how I feel, that’s the point,” he said. “In 35 years, I’ve had cases where I had to come in and fill in for the little punk who calls in sick, and I’ve been upstaged by the anchor queens, because they’re the anchor queens. There’s a lot about TV that’s superficial, and I’ve watched people just slide into these plum assignments because that’s the way TV is. It ticks me off sometimes. The rest of the time I’m having such a good time it doesn’t matter. That’s why I’m enjoying myself with this play. Because it gives me a chance to say a few things, without sounding like some grousing, grumbling old man. I can be a humorist and say the same thing. It’s great.”

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