By Chuck Ross
It’s been a really crummy year for the health of journalists who cover media here on the trade side. Eric Schmuckler, 47, a longtime colleague at MediaWeek, passed away yesterday after a long-bout fighting cancer. This sad news follows the equally sad news last month that John Higgins, 45, of Broadcasting and Cable, had died of a heart attack.
What’s so remarkable—and at the same time sad—about Eric’s passing is the length of his struggle. It was more than a decade ago when Eric first found out he had cancer, and doctors gave him only months to live. If life can be compared to a championship fight, Eric was down for the count in round three but struggled back to his feet and lasted to round eight.
Cancer may have won the bout, but dammit, it knew it was in a fight. The disease got kicked around big time by Eric, who astonishingly won a bunch of rounds himself. And I know his wife and two sons were so happy Eric fought the fight.
As a journalist for MediaWeek, Eric loved to talk about programming with the Jon Mandels and Rino Scanzonis of Madison Ave. That was his playground. And he was as eager to tell them what he thought about a new or upcoming show as he was to hear their opinions.
Shows-actually Broadway shows-were the love of Eric’s life. And it was a great connection between us. I am nowhere the expert or aficionado that Eric was, but I do like good theatre. We’d talk about it endlessly. He’d see as much as he could, and was always telling me what shows were must-sees.
One of our last conversations was about John Patrick Shanley’s play “Doubt.” It had gotten good reviews, but I wasn’t excited to see it. I knew the play was about the priest pedophile scandals, and it just didn’t sound like intriguing theatre to me.
Eric said I had to see it. He said Cherry Jones’ performance was transcendent, and that the play itself defied both cliché and expectation. On Eric’s say-so, I saw it, and I’m so glad I did. He had nailed it.
What really brought a gleam to Eric’s eye was talking about the one person who he thought was a true genius of the theatre, Stephen Sondheim. Eric was certainly not alone in thinking that. I was thrilled to hear that in recent months Eric was finally able to meet and spend a little time with Sondheim.
So it’s only fitting to let Sondheim lend us our goodbye to Eric. This is the from the title song of Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” which is about the famous impressionist painting of the same name by Georges Seurat:
People strolling through the trees of a small suburban park on an island in the river on an ordinary Sunday…Sunday…
White. A blank page of canvas. His favorite. So many possibilities…
Services will be held this Friday, Dec. 29th, at Temple Beth Abraham, 25 Leroy Avenue, in Tarrytown, N.Y., where Eric lived, at 12 noon.