“Max”- imum Humor

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was part of the entertainment business.  A struggling wannabe actor, I made bills every month – well, most months – by working in the technology side of the industry.  I had a number of freelance jobs over the years with ABC Television, MTV, and others.  But after many weeks of begging, my 40-hour-a-week day job started with the three-year-old E! Entertainment Television cable network in November, 1993.

When I arrived at the E! Channel I ran into this guy:

Max proudly displaying the wedding gift he received from me. $200 worth of gift certificates to In ‘N Out Burger. You can see that he liked it.

… Ron “Max” Baer.   Max and I worked east coast prime time, the 3-11 shift, for the better part of seven years, not counting military leaves of absence.  Some quick calculations show that together, we were forced to watch close to 15,000 hours high-quality E! programming.  Having worked there both before and after I did, he’s watched probably five or six times as much high-quality E! programming.

Well, E! programming, anyway.  Some was quality and the other 14,999 hours… Well, you can figure out what I mean without me having to openly disparage my former employer.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun place to work — particularly at first.  While many of the tasks were mundane and mind-numbingly boring, people like Max made it a fun place to spend eight hours every day.

Max and Dr. Darren Jones (left) on the front of Tim Sweeney’s Christmas Card from one year back then.

Max was unflappable in a crisis and I learned a lot from him and his extensive prior experience with E!, its predecessor Movietime, and other master control jobs he’d held over the years.  I recall one weekend we were working together, Max was seated at the switcher, legs crossed, hands folded casually in his lap conversing with me when the whole plant went dark.  Boom!  No power.  No TV.  No lights.  Nada.  A few weeks prior, E!’s crack (addicted)* engineering staff had just installed a brand-new, uninterruptable power supply for the critical equipment in master control.  It failed on first use and there we sat in the dark.

A mere two or three seconds passed – if it was even that long — and Max make his “I don’t effin’ believe this” face.  Without uttering a word, he calmly reached over, pulled out a notebook containing the phone number of people to call when emergencies happen, and made the call.  He didn’t even uncross his legs.  That’s how unflappable he was.

When hired at E! , I and everyone else was issued this badge…

… which got me in the building and into the master control area where Max and I worked.  Most often, I’d plop down my stuff and my coat, often leaving the badge attached to the coat or on top of the pile o’ stuff that I brought in for the day.  Then I would go about retrieving from the media library the videotapes containing the next day’s commercials and loading them into the ACR-225 commercial playback robot:

Ampex Corporation’s ACR-225. Mercifully, these digital videotape systems were replaced with hard-drive-based storage and playback some years later.

Unfortunately, I often left my badge vulnerable to parody and alteration as Max, bless his heart, had a predilection for sketching funny things on Post-It notes and sticking them to my badge like this:

“Dub Boy” refers to Craig Burritt, who worked in duplications making, yes, dubs for everyone.

My badge was always fair game for him because of my own absent mindedness.  So he had ample opportunity to modify my badge with funny Post-It’s over the years and I was always delighted to discover them.

Remember Day Runners? How about Thomas Guides?

The other day, I was sorting through some stuff in the junk room and rediscovered the little remnants of the Post-It Notes that Max had attached to my badge over the years.  They were all stuck to two Day Runner pages that I had saved precisely to preserve these nostalgic little gems.  I was so delighted to have found them and I remembered all the genuinely good times that Max and I had while we were doing fair-to-middling master control work.

Now, I’m delighted to post them here.  I know they won’t be funny to the vast majority of you, but Max, I hope these bring back some memories of the olden days when 1” videotape ruled and TV’s were closer to being square.

One other thing you should know.

In the early days of my E! career, I told to my new E! colleagues the story about how I got nicknamed Liz.  It was short for “Lizard Lips.” When I was teaching high school band at the SHAPE American High School in Belgium, the music students bestowed upon me that nickname.  It stuck and I embraced it.  It also got shortened to “Liz.”  So many of my colleagues knew me more as Liz than they did as Dan. Hence these modifications:

Sunday night at E! network control was “X-Files” night. We’d swing the steerable satellite dish around to pick up the east coast Fox network feed so we could watch it three hours earlier and fast-forward through the commercial breaks.

Max had a large appetite and an adventurous palate when it came to food.  Me?  I’m a burgers and fries kinda guy.  Max recognized my dislike for sushi with this:

 

I have no clue what this means in ANY context.

I presume that this one… Well, shoot, I have no clue on this one either.

Last one. Who didn’t love “The Simpsons” in the 90’s?  And who doesn’t love donuts?

That’s pretty much it.  Thanks, Max, for making years of boredom bearable.  And remember, you can’t spell “loser” without E!.

Max, his lovely bride, Juile “Sparky” Baer, and their wedding party. I was honored to officiate. Sparky was also a colleague at E! master control.

I found this photo of Max after I already posted this. I’d have used this one at the top if I had known where it was hiding.

* I’m definitely kidding about the E! Engineering Staff of the day. They were terrific folks and did back handsprings to keep things on the air.