Maybe, I thought, I need to get away. Someplace like, say, Bangalore, India. No, really: I was contacted by a recruiter for the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media about being a visiting professor for a year. When I mentioned it to my wife, she said, “Why not? What a great experience that would be for the kids.” I smiled, but I was thinking, Oh my God, have things really gotten so bad that even my wife thinks Bangalore is a good idea? Of course, she may have been swayed by the salary of $600,000 a year. At least, I think it was dollars. If they paid me in rupees, it would only amount to a little more than $13,000.
Thankfully, in March 2009, Ray Murray saved me from ever having to find out the answer to the currency conversion question. When Ray was on Philadelphia television in the ’80s as cohost of “Evening Magazine,” he was second only to Jim Gardner in popularity. He went on to start Banyan Productions, a company that helped popularize reality television with the show “Trading Spaces.” “I am a recovering TV talent myself,” Ray told me. He looked happy and relaxed. Not TV fake-happy, but really happy, like a man doing what he’d always wanted to do. I felt hope. “I thought that television statement you made was amazing,” Ray said. “Nobody takes responsibility like that anymore.” He was talking about the mea culpa I made following a court appearance three months after the FBI’s visit that was picked up and reported around the world. (My niece saw it in Italy.) He told me about a project he had been kicking around for years called “Coming Clean,” a show that follows people as they make amends to someone they’ve wronged; he wanted me to host it.
When I sat down to work on the concept, I called Bill Carey, whom I had met when I was 28 and working as the weekend anchor at WABC in New York. We had lost touch, but Bill was in the process of making his own career comeback. (He was arrested in 2007 after a well-publicized car accident but was later cleared of all charges.) We spent hours on the phone talking about “Coming Clean.” The subtext of two people who were seeking redemption in their own lives while working together on a show about redemption was not lost on either of us. A deep friendship was rekindled.
On my way back from a pitch about “Coming Clean,” I got a call from another old friend, TV executive Mark Brazill, the creator of “That ’70s Show.” He had seen my mea culpa on YouTube and called to tell me how impressed he was. During the conversation, we started kicking around the idea of a comedy about TV news, which led to a flurry of e-mails back and forth with concepts, storylines and character descriptions.