It's not that veteran CBS newsman Ike Pappas didn't have enough to do when he became one of nearly 250 CBS News employees who lost their jobs last year when the network trimmed its news budget. There was a lecture tour in China, a part in a Paul Mazursky movie with Sonia Braga, and several video projects.
But after 23 years in network television, Pappas wanted more than just to be busy. "You've got to have a better purpose than to sit around and listen for the phone to ring," Pappas said.
So Pappas recently opened Ike Pappas Network Productions right next door to the CBS Washington bureau on M Street. His idea is to use many of the network news people who have been laid off in the past year and a half from the three major networks to provide news and documentaries for independent television stations and videotaped presentations for government, industry and associations.
"There was this big black arrow in my head that said, 'This is the way to go -- roll the dice and see what happens.'"
Finding people who need work should be no problem for the company, which plans to give preference to former network news people. The news staffs of ABC, CBS and NBC all have been cut in the past several years. Although the networks will not say how many have been laid off, estimates of 600 to 700 industrywide are common.
"After I left CBS, I said to myself, 'What a waste,'" Pappas said. CBS Inc. President Laurence Tisch "is money crazy," he said. "So here we all are out here. But after CBS says goodbye, it doesn't mean they strip you of all the talent."
Pappas was one of the lucky CBS employees. His contract runs through May, and he is using his CBS salary and severance pay as seed money for his company.
Ed Danko, editor of "Face the Nation," will leave the CBS news program to work full-time with Pappas when the operation starts rolling, Pappas said.
Pappas will act as executive producer and the on-air person for most of the work and will hire free-lancers from a list of former network people who are used to working under deadline pressure and producing stories on their own, he said. He already has heard from nearly 100 people all over the country who are interested in doing free-lance work.
"This business is based on talent," Pappas said. "That's our stock in trade, the list and the ideas we come up with."
In addition to doing political campaign stories and pieces out of the party conventions for independent television stations, the Pappas operation eventually may provide stations with daily Washington reports, he said.
Pappas, who was the Pentagon correspondent for CBS for seven years, hopes to use his experience to produce videotapes for defense contractors that are making presentations to government, he said. Or he may do a series of videotapes for the home video market on defense issues, the space program and other topics.
Pappas said he felt no personal bitterness about the CBS layoffs. "I feel I haven't been fired. ... I've been emancipated," he said. "I feel more liberated than I've ever felt. ... What CBS has done in letting me go is to give me back my life for a year and a half with pay. For that, thank you, Mr. Tisch."