Marty Callner isn’t a name that rolls right out of your head when you think of people in Hollywood, but the body of work speaks for itself. First of all, he created HBO’s Hard Knocks, and he should have received like 5,000 Emmys for that, but he also directed this video from Twisted Sister, this Aerosmith Video, among many others. He also directed the HBO specials for Jerry Seinfeld and Robin Williams, and got Emmy noms for those. I recently had the privilege of sitting with Marty for a phone interview, where we discussed his body of work, his involvement with HBO’s Hard Knocks, and lots of other sports. Part One of that interview is transcribed here, after the jump.
Marty Callner, Greatest TV Director Ever: Did I hear you’re from Cincinnati?
Josh Zerkle, WithLeather.com: I am from Cincinnati. I’m from Delhi, actually.
MC: I’m from Roselawn. In fact, my first TV job was working at Channel 9.
JZ: Ah, WCPO. What was your job with them?
MC: I directed the news and I worked on the Nick Clooney show. And I directed a children’s show called “The Uncle Al Show.”
JZ: Aww, you know I was never on “Uncle Al?”
MC: You’re lucky. He used to chase after all the mothers. If you brought your mom down there, you had to be careful.
JZ: But he was married though, wasn’t he?
MC: Yeah, he was married to Captain Windy. And one day before they went on the air, Windy took out Uncle Al’s car out without putting oil in it. So the show starts and Uncle Al goes on and rails her. “Now Captain Windy took Uncle Al’s Jaguar out today…and DESTROYED IT!” But that’s how I got my start.
JZ: And then you moved to Cleveland?
MC: I moved to Cleveland and did commercials for a year. And then I got a call from another director that I worked with in Cincinnati; he had moved to work at WBZ in Boston. They had an opening for director of specials, who would also be the Celtics and Red Sox TV director. Mainly the Celtics. I nailed that interview, and nailed that job. And the Celtics actually won a championship one of the years I was there. My basketball history is unbelievable. I grew up watching Oscar Robertson.
JZ: Oh, yeah! The Big O.
MC: And then when Oscar left, Cincinnati won the title. And then they lost the championship the following year, and this is when they had Tom Thacker, Tony Yates, Ron Baum. You don’t remember any of these guys. And then the third year they lost at the buzzer on a tip-in from Loyola-Chicago. And then I went to school at Kentucky; I was there with Pat Riley, who played in that famous game with Texas Western that changed basketball forever. And then I became the Celtics’ television director and then I moved out to LA during Magic Johnson’s rookie year and I’ve been a season ticket holder ever since. I sit7 rows from the floor at midcourt. I’ve seen some good basketball.
JZ: You’re watching some good basketball now, as a matter of fact.
MC: I think we should win, because of our experience and the home-court advantage. They beat us twice in the regular season, but it’s a different ballgame in the playoffs.
JZ: Definitely. Do you like that 2-3-2 format? People are making a bigger deal out of that this year.
MC: No, but I understand it. I’d prefer the 2-2-1-1-1, but the reason they do it is because of the East Coast-West coast travel. It makes sense for that reason, but I prefer the other format. I thought we matched up better against Cleveland, but we got the home-court advantage against Orlando.
JZ: I’ve thought that your team is pretty similar to Cleveland’s, actually. You have a strong point guard, a large, tall presence in the paint. It should be a good matchup for Orlando. I actually picked the Magic to win in six games.
MC: Save your cash. I know this Laker team. They’re on a mission. The Lakers were just happy to be there last year. The Celtics just wanted it more. Kevin Garnett just wanted it so bad, he played like an animal. That’s how bad I think Kobe wants it this year.
JZ: But they really struggled in the first round of the playoffs. Sometimes you can’t be sure which Laker team will show up for the game.
MC: They play well when they need to play well. They didn’t struggle against Utah like they did with Houston, but there was a game in there where the Lakers beat them by 40. But I could tell in the warmups that the Lakers were going to win that Game Six against Denver. But yeah, I’ve always liked sports, and that’s why I wanted to do Hard Knocks.
JZ: How did you pitch that? Did you go to HBO first? Or did you go to the NFL and have to explain your idea to them?
MC: It’s funny. I went to the NFL first.
JZ: And I’m sure they were just like, “F*ck you, buddy. This ain’t gonna happen.”
MC: Well, at first. I went to a guy I knew there, and they sort of said “F*ck you,” The guy’s name was John Collins, and I think he ended up being president of the Cleveland Browns. He said, “It’s a great idea. Do you think HBO would be interested?” So then I pitched it to HBO and they said, “If you can get the NFL, we’d be interested.
MC: So then I went out to the NFL owners’ meeting and I told HBO that I had the NFL and I told the NFL I had HBO. Next thing I know, I’ve got a deal. The first year, we did the Baltimore Ravens, and Brian Billick was a big PR guy, so he was into it. We hired Steve Sabol and NFL Films to do it. And the rest is history.
JZ: It’s brilliant. It’s reality TV. It’s football…
MC: It’s a real reality show, but the difference is…and this is how I sold it, on this story: The difference between making the team and not making it, is paper thin. It’s the difference between buying a new Mercedes and carrying your bags to the airport. What will the veteran do to keep his job? What will the rookie do to take that guy’s job? And many of these guys are trying to make the team for mama, daddy, and the rest of the family that supported them all through high school and all through college. And now, they’re expecting the house. There’s so much riding on that five to six weeks. And when that knock comes…
JZ: From the Turk?
MC: And he says, “Coach wants to see you, bring your playbook.” That’s real reality.
The latest season of Hard Knocks will feature the Cincinnati Bengals. It airs this August.