David Sheehan Goes Back to the Oscars
Pioneering TV entertainment reporter comes out of retirement for an Internet special
By Joe Piasecki
David Sheehan’s groundbreaking 44-year career as a television entertainment reporter began with newspapers — a nightlife column he wrote in the 1960s for the old Santa Monica Evening Outlook and an inability to get anything but print coverage for plays he produced at the Century City Playhouse.
The problem was that TV news didn’t have an entertainment beat at the time. So he pitched the idea around town, and in 1970 the local CBS affiliate made Sheehan the first entertainment reporter on a regular evening newscast.
A longtime resident of Marina del Rey, Sheehan emerged from semi-retirement last week to try his hand at another new medium, editing relevant footage from interviews with 25 A-listers into an hour-long special about the Academy Awards. “And the Winners Are” aired on Fox 13 the night before the Oscars and streams on YouTube, Starz, JLTV and other platforms through March 31.
TMZ founder Harvey Levin was still in college when you started at CBS. What do you think of TMZ and the direction it has taken entertainment news coverage?
Harvey and I go way back. I used to fight with him for the makeup chair. Both of us were on the 11 o’clock news on CBS, and for some reason we had similar habits of running late or at least cutting it close.
I was always committed to having my reports be thought-provoking — try to talk about the movie or the person in a way that would lead people to think for themselves. Sometime in the 1990s, after I jumped over to NBC, they said, “We don’t want so many movie reviews or reports; we want you to look at the Boston Herald and similar newspapers.” I said, “You mean yellow journalism, the scandal sheets?” To make a long story short I hired Howard Weitzman, an attorney who had defended OJ [Simpson] right after the white Bronco freeway chase. Everything was resolved amicably.
To answer the question, I don’t personally like it and I don’t want to do it, but obviously there’s a great appetite for it and you can’t live in an ivory tower. And Harvey does make it fun. He doesn’t take himself so seriously. He’s got a sense of humor.
But in terms of overall coverage, it’s either gossip or awfully superficial. Celebrity for its own sake, rather than “What are you famous for?” Like the Kardashians: Did they ever create anything?
In “And the Winners Are,” we’re talking about something kind of superficial — awards —but in the process they get into some really heavy stuff about their own lives and what it’s like to be in competition, how fame changes your humanity.
You address the #OscarsSoWhite controversy in your special. Do you think online video is going to help diversify Hollywood?
I do. All of these platforms are an avenue or conduit that allows and thereby stimulates diversity of everything — gender, race, religion, you name it.
How did the Oscars do this year?
I thought Chris [Rock] did a wonderful job. He got a few zingers in there.
What was your favorite interview?
Marlon Brando. He didn’t do many interviews. I was really young, so it was a big compliment that he watched me on the news and chose me for a chit-chat. He was willing to talk about his opinions of Hollywood and the media. He expressed concern that we were going in the wrong direction and weren’t having enough dialogue. That diversity of opinion wasn’t being expressed.
During the interview he said, “For example, you haven’t really argued with me much. You don’t interrupt me.”
Toward the end of the interview I said, “Marlon, let me interrupt you…”
And he threw his coffee cup at me, the paper kind we got from the machine in those days. There was still a little coffee in it. Got all over my shirt.
He said, “You just did that because I told you to!”