Glenn Brenner's agent is Steve Dickstein of Philadelphia. Dickstein has known Brenner since the seventh grade, and says he's "the most naturally funny guy I've ever met." But he laughs out loud at the notion that Brenner has consciously organized his sports program to reach the 75 percent who are not primarily interested in sports.
"Don't let Glenn give you that," Dickstein said. "He couldn't do it any other way. If he analyzed his gift it would be the death of it." Dickstein and Brenner are beer buddies with a somewhat irreverent attitude toward each other. Brenner describes Dickstein as a wimp, frequently defeated in schoolyard battle; Dickstein says he considers Brenner's success remarkable "for a person who has been essentially brain-dead for years."
In broadcasting, however, long-term contracts are not a laughing matter, but a matter of serious negotiation. Dickstein is quite willing to explain how he and WDVM conspired to make his client rich.
"It's a matter of options at contract time," Dickstein said, slipping from Philadelphia bonhomie into dialectic agentese. "Options can occur spontaneously, as when talent is contacted by another shop, and that is most fortunate. Or, the agent can attempt to secure options by expressing talent's willingness to relocate to another market.
"With Glenn, the options were spontaneous, although I did send a few audition tapes around, just to get his name circulating. Other stations had heard he was humorous, outrageous, frank and so on, but maybe they hadn't actually seen him. We had about eight offers, including a network.
"Yes, a competing station may even help out," Dickstein confirmed. "Especially a network-owned station, such as WRC, which might attempt to lure competing talent away. Say, to Burbank. For them, that would be a double benefit: The network station in Burbank would be improved, and the network station in Washington would be relieved."
(An official of Channel 9, in fact, says that's just what happened: "NBC was very much aware of Brenner, through a guy at Channel 4 whose initials are J. R. That sort of thing happens all the time, and I must say it's a pain in the a--."
(John Rohrbeck, vice president and general manager of Channel 4, chuckled yesterday when informed of his reputation as a volunteer talent scout for opposition braodcasters. "As a scenario, it makes sense," he said. "I'd just as soon all the other station packed up and moved out entirely. Actually, I have numerous conversations with other station managers regarding the status of talent we think might have potential. To my knowledge, the NBC affiliate in Los Angeles did not approach Glenn.")
"As far as compensation is concerned," Dickstein continued, "what it comes down to is that television is a marketplace, and you try to figure out what the traffic will bear.
"First, there's the Q rating. That's a highly secretive rating of a performer's recognition, both positive and negative, in a market. Howard Cosell's Q rating would show him highly recognizable both positively and negatively; that is, viewer reaction to him is extreme. But Glenn's Q rating is the highest in Washington, and it shows him both widely recognized and accepted. Willard Scott is another such person.
"Of course, I do not actually know Glenn's Q rating, and neither does he. That is information management protects. However, my business is highly intuitive. In other words, I asserted strongly to WDVM that Glenn has the highest Q rating in town, and nobody called me on it."
Dickstein slipped out of sports-agent doubletalk just long enough to laugh uproariously, and then slipped back in.
"Management also felt that Glenn's presence on the set represented increased money.That means that more people who buy television advertising prefer to buy it on Channel 9.
"And then there is continuity. Other shops have constant change. They are chronically number two or number three in their market. They change people's hair, they order new blazers, they decorate their microphones with the channel number, they keep changing the graphics around. It gives viewers a frantic sense. WDVM is interested in continuity of quality and talent."
Dickstein started Brenner's contract talks last August, and they continued until two weeks ago. Dickstein characterized the negotiation period as an enjoyable one.
"It was very friendly. We never argued about Glenn's skills. Maybe they would say -- 'Look, Brenner's established here. He doesn't want to go to New York. Maybe in New York he'll fail.' And I would say, 'Maybe he's missing the excitment. You know, the excitment of New York.'
"In something like this, both sides know there's a parry for every thrust."