Hope and the Pope: Even TV Has Priorities

Aug 4, 2003  •  Post A Comment

For years, Bob Hope’s specials on NBC drew huge ratings. His recent death got some NBC veterans talking about an anecdote from 1978, recounted in the late Brandon Tartikoff’s 1992 book, “The Last Great Ride.” It was a Sunday afternoon in New York, Mr. Tartikoff recalled, and top NBC executives were huddled at 30 Rock. The company butler entered carrying a silver platter, with a white piece of paper, folded in half, and handed it to Fred Silverman, then Mr. Tartikoff’s boss. Mr. Silverman looked at the note, then passed it to Bob Mulholland, president of the network. Mr. Silverman said, gravely, “Tell News that we’ll pre-empt Disney tonight, and they can go 7:00 to 8:00.”
Mr. Mullholland nodded OK. After an uncomfortable silence, Irwin Segelstein, NBC executive VP, asked: “What’s going on, Fred?” Mr. Silverman, deep in thought, mumbled, “Uh, the pope died.”
When Mr. Segelstein heard this, he went nuts. Jumping up from his chair and pacing back and forth, “This is terrible. Just terrible. What are we going to do?” Mr. Silverman was getting irritated. “Irwin, I told you what we’re going to do. News’ll pre-empt Disney.” “I know that,” said Mr. Segelstein. “But what about after that? I just can’t believe this is happening to us.” “Us?” exclaimed Mr. Silverman. “What are you talking about, Irwin? The pope died. You’re Jewish.”
Mr. Segelstein stopped in his tracks. “Oh, the pope died. I thought you said Hope died.”