Early on in my career, I discovered — somewhat to my surprise — that I had no interest in celebrity. I wanted people to buy my books and read my writing, but I did not care if they recognized my face or took any interest in my private life. (I believe this makes me almost unique in today’s America!)
So when my fellow crime writer Roger Simon first told me about PJTV, I wasn’t particularly interested. This was about eight years ago. Roger and I would bump into each other at parties, functions and in the occasional bar. He would tell me how hard he was working on this new online video project funded by someone named Aubrey Chernick. He would ask me to drop by the PJTV facility in El Segundo — which, given Angelino traffic, is approximately half a world away from civilization. I would say something polite and non-committal and then forget about it. I had no interest in standing in front of a camera. I had no interest in being on TV. (I believe this makes me almost unique in today’s America!)
But Roger is a pal so eventually I shoveled some coal into my computer engine (this was a while back, remember), powered it up and took a look at what PJTV was producing.
That’s when I first saw Bill Whittle. Having lived much of my life around broadcasting and broadcasters, I immediately recognized Bill as a network-level talent. And just as immediately, I understood that a video-outlet that catered to right-wingers would be able to have its pick of the top-level thinkers, artists and entertainers who were essentially being blacklisted on ordinary TV. I watched Bill’s videos and thought, “If I did something like that, it would look a lot less like Edward R. Murrow and a lot more like Monty Python.” I called Roger and asked him if he would allow me to try out some videos that were a bit satirical and off-beat. He said, “Sure.”
I wrote a script for a video I called “Shut up.” I joined a wagon train leaving for El Segundo and, having survived hunger, disease and hostile Indians, arrived in the Spring of 2009. I went into the studio and read the script into the camera — whereupon, the studio door burst open, Bill Whittle charged in, stuck his face in mine and said, “F*&% you!” This it turned out was Bill-talk for “Great job, and I will match it and do better!” Which very occasionally, he almost did.
For the next several years, recording my “Klavan on the Culture” series of video satires at PJTV was professional bliss. I was working alongside some of the most talented crazy people I’d ever met — people like Bill, Steven Crowder, Alfonzo Rachel and numerous others who clearly belonged 1) on big-time TV and 2) in a secure facility. Like just about everything that worked on the internet in those days, many of them had been first discovered by Andrew Breitbart. They were then ruthlessly pilfered by Roger using the power of Aubrey’s money. It drove Andrew crazy but when he complained about it, I would remind him of a little something I liked to call capitalism. Which also drove him crazy, but made him laugh ruefully.
Anyway, it was incredible fun and, guided by the cat-herding abilities of producer Owen Brennan (who went on to form the successful production company Madison McQueen along with Justin Folk, the artistic madman behind many of my KOC videos) had, I think, a genuine effect on the way online political commentary was done.
But monetizing video is one of the internet’s greatest challenges, and PJTV never quite figured out the trick. In the way of these things, that original, magical collection of talent went off to various other venues. PJTV will cease producing fresh videos next month.
I’m so happy to have been a part of it, and so sorry to see it go. It was wonderful for a few years, and it left its mark. That’s no small accomplishment.
So goodbye to a visionary enterprise, and well done.
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