Production Assistants: Like any sports team, ESPN makes cuts. A tryout for a production assistant's job lasts six months, then the candidate is either released to the real world or is retained at ESPN with the potential of advancing to associate producer and beyond. Competition is so stiff that 35% of all those lucky enough to get tryouts are dumped after the trial.
Suzannah Rugh: Rugh, 23 and a native of Berkeley, Calif., came to ESPN for a trial a year ago. Rugh was selected after she gave her résumé to Al Jaffe, director of talent and production recruitment, at a sports careers convention in Phoenix. At the time Rugh, who graduated from Lake Forest College in the spring of '91, was an intern at a TV station there. "Mr. Jaffe received 400 résumés in all, and he picked out five to interview," Rugh says. At the interview Jaffe asked Rugh a nasty question: Who did she think would be runner-up for the NBA rookie of the year, and why. She flubbed the answer, but she must have impressed Jaffe nonetheless, because she was soon on her way to ESPN.
"One day I'm wearing shorts to work in Phoenix, the next day I'm in Bristol," she tells John. "I love what I do. I hate the hours, and I have no life. I tape SportsCenter on my nights off, and last night, my only night off, I watched Monday Night Football. I'm working Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year's Eve. Some mornings you wake up bummed out and you think, Oh, my god, I live in Bristol!"
Glenn Jacobs: He is 22, a scholarly-looking young man with large glasses. He tells Bill that he has just been accepted as a PA. "I am just thrilled to have made it through my trial," he says. "You see, I'm a government and theater major from Connecticut College, and I took the job originally because I planned to be an actor and I wanted to see what TV was like behind the scenes. I was under sort of a stigma here because I had no TV background, and I wasn't sure myself if I could do it. Now I've proven you don't have to be a technical wizard to succeed here."
Jacobs is watching the Philadelphia 76ers versus the Charlotte Hornets on this night and cutting highlight tapes for the 11:30 and 2:30 SportsCenter. He says quite seriously, "It isn't brain surgery, but it is pretty demanding. You need to develop a creative thought process that allows you to say to yourself, I am the only person in America seeing this game. I am the only source in the whole world for people to enjoy this game. Therefore I have to be organized, I have to be creative, I have to be perfect."
Get This! ESPN PAs sometimes work six nights a week in their bunkerlike rooms, striving always for perfection, but—Get this!—they are paid more like Oliver Twist than like the high-ranked college graduates that most of them are.
John asks Rugh, "Do you even make as much as a stewardess?"
"How much is that?"
"Nineteen thousand to start."
Her eyes grow wide. "No, I don't earn that much."