Last week Jay Kossoff spent each workday watching home movies. Kossoff is no idler toiling in the devil's workshop. A senior producer at The Golf Channel, he had roughly three weeks to prepare a 90-minute documentary on the late Payne Stewart. "Is three weeks enough time?" asked Kossoff, who was watching film and video that Payne's widow, Tracey, had delivered to the channel's Orlando studios from her home at the nearby Bay Hill community. "We gave ourselves one year to do a two-hour special on Arnold Palmer."
When the 100th U.S. Open begins at Pebble Beach on Thursday ( NBC, 3 p.m., and ESPN, 5 p.m.), the presence of reigning champion Stewart (right, holding the 1999 winner's trophy) will enshroud it like a Pacific fog at daybreak. He perished along with five others in an almost surreal air crash last Oct. 25, with TV news channels covering the inexorable path of the ghost plane to its tragic end. Human nature and TV news and sports shows' ravenous appetites for programming dictate that this week the airwaves will be awash with retrospectives on Stewart. However, only The Golf Channel, whose special will premiere on Monday at 8 p.m., will have exclusive interviews with Tracey and the Stewarts' two children, Chelsea, 14, and Aaron, 11. It also has exclusive rights to the 12 hours of home movies showing everything from Payne quarterbacking his high school football team in Springfield, Mo., to his clownishly parading in a woman's one-piece bathing suit.
"We weren't the biggest TV channel to pursue this story," says coordinating producer Paul Farnsworth, who with Kossoff has interviewed more than 50 subjects since early last month, when Tracey decided to give The Golf Channel total access to the Stewart family and its memorabilia of the golfer. "But we had a relationship with her. It was trust, really."
On the day that Payne died, as friends and family gathered to console Tracey, the television at the Stewart home was tuned to The Golf Channel. Despite her shock and grief, Tracey took note of the coverage and was so impressed that two days later she asked if the channel would be able to supply a retrospective video for her husband's memorial service, which was to commence in less than 24 hours.
"It wasn't like cramming for a final," says Kossoff, who worked overnight with video editor Pat Devlin to produce the five-minute piece. "It was a final. We handed it in at eight that morning without even looking at the finished product."
Quite coincidentally, that effort has paid dividends. "I watched those home movies with Tracey," says Kossoff. "She smiled a lot that day. You know what's funny? As pressed as we are to get this documentary done in time, we're begging the network to push it from 90 minutes to two hours."